“So, you’re just going to be posting cliché motivational travel quotes all the time, right?”
When I first broached the idea of a travel blog to my family and friends over a year ago, I expected some backlash.
“Why waste your time?”
“What about your day job?”
“Don’t most of them, you know, fail in the first year?”
“Everyone has a travel blog.”
“What does that even mean?”
As a writer, “my people” have gotten used to the whipsaw momentum of my idea train.
In the past year alone, I’ve presented 5 different novel ideas that I was too lazy or too unmotivated to pursue, I’ve made 6 of them read 3/4ths of a memoir that I’ve been writing for the past five years and this was hardly my first blog-related venture.
And when I came to them again, a fresh-faced, post-MFA graduate of 25, I’ll be the first to admit that my idea was half-baked, poorly planned with no organization to speak of.
On paper, it was destined to fail.
Growing up in the middle of suburbia in New Jersey, I never thought much of the outside world. Like most small towns, my world was condensed to the 31.74 square miles from Belmar – Manasquan.
And I’d like to tell you that I was one of those rebellious small-towners. The ones that dream of bright lights, the big city with pictures of far off destinations splattered across my bedroom walls (aka the O.G. Pinterest).
But I wasn’t.
My world was finite and I was okay with that.
Then I moved away for college.
Although jumping two states from New Jersey to Maryland wasn’t a dynamic shift, it broadened my world.
I did what most college students do, I became more adventurous, planned expensive spring break trips we’d never be able to afford (or convince our parents were “beneficial to our overall work ethic in college”), took weekend/week long road trips to the beach, to NYC or anywhere where our rust-bucket cars could carry us.
But it wasn’t until, one day, during my sophomore year, that the idea of travel really started to blossom in my mind.
After a rigorous morning of sleeping through my Shakespearean sonnet class in sheer protest, I found my then roommate flipping through a series of catalogs she had just snagged from an activity fair.
“Steph, I’m going to Italy. This is a thing.” She told me as I stumbled into the living room, still half asleep at 2 p.m.
“You’re what?” I asked back.
“I’m going to Italy,” she replied, as her fingers whipped the pages back and forth in the heavy study abroad magazine in her hands.
I brushed her off with a quick “yeah, okay,” before pouring a hefty bowl of frosted flakes and retreating back into my room to continue my protest through my 3 p.m. biology class.
For a week, it was all she could talk about.
Classes this, excursions that, flight times, food, pizza, wine, pizza (importantly noted twice).
It was annoying.
That is, until she got me drunk.
Let me explain a quick thing about my roommate (and Best Friend) Sarah.
I’ve seen marriage licenses that are less of a binding agreement.
After our third beer, and a line of cheap peach Burnette’s shots (because college), my only response to her saying “You should come with me!” was “Shut up and take all of my student loan money. I’m there.”
In retrospect, I own her more than I can even begin to describe for that night.
That’s because, four months later, after a semester of lost passports, visas that were so delayed we didn’t receive them until the day before we left (truth), managing to convince my (then) boyfriend we could handle the distance, convincing my parents that no, this wouldn’t be like that movie Taken that they just watched on HBO, convincing myself that no, this wouldn’t be like that movie Taken I had just watched with them on HBO, constantly packing and unpacking my suitcase in a panic, several quintessential crises’ and battling to justify that the extra debt I was tacking on was worth it to go the land of pizza and wine, we boarded a plane out of Philly to Florence, Italy.
It was single-handedly the most enlightening experience of my life.
Now, I get that anyone that goes to Italy will say that.
Poet Anna Akhmatova put it perfectly when she said “Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.”
But this trip wasn’t just about falling in love with Italy.
In fact, it wasn’t even just about falling in love with travel.
In a way, it made me fall in love with experience.
My life, until then was very linear: Wake up, go to school, go home, do homework, go to work, go to bed, rinse, repeat.
There were a few outliers in there, but I realized that I had never done anything in my life. I had never experienced something so unfamiliar.
I wasn’t growing as a person.
I was trapped in my middle-class, white, female, small-town American existence.
I wanted to constantly mist myself in the new culture, try everything once, go everywhere twice, dress, talk and breathe like an Italiana.
One of the best pieces of advice that I got before we set off on our five-month journey was to keep a journal and write in it every single day while I was abroad. (You see my current fav travel journal here.)
Take five-ten minutes every night and decompress my emotions on to the page and read it in its entirety when I got home.
I’ve always wanted to be one of those writers that journaled.
But even when I was an angst-ridden teenager brimming with pent up hormones and emotions, it was never something I could keep up with.
So, needless to say, I had my reservations.
But on the first day of exploring, as we filtered through the Central Market, with bags already leaving cavernous indents in our arms, I picked up a handmade leather (because Italy) journal and promised to give it a shot.
I became methodical about it.
I set timers, brought it everywhere, left reminder notes, had my roommate, boyfriend and parents remind me to do it.
Until, as the pages started to fill, it became a valuable part of my day. A time for me to express everything, discover myself, discover what the new world around me meant.
I read every single page when I got home.
And after the heartbreak of having to leave Italy, the true importance of that journal (the reason why this journal was the best piece of advice about travel I was ever given), could be boiled down to the first and last page.
Everything here is amazing and wonderful….but could this have been a mistake? I miss home, my bed, shit even the dorms, Gypise [my cat]....I’m just so scared that I’ve fucked up by committing to this.
This is an experience that I can’t find the right words to express. I’ve spent the last 133 days trying to figure out how. Spilling these pages with my attempts at breaking it all down and digesting it. I want more…..that’s all I can say…I want so much more.
I didn’t come home the same person that I was.
I was ravenous for life, for experiences.
I think most people expected that to fade, as the Italian glow faded from my skin, as graduation came and went, as grad school came and went and as I entered the workforce, but it didn’t.
Because seeing what this world has to offer isn’t a fad for me.
Travel isn’t about going places, seeing the sights and flying home.
It’s getting to experience the world in a new way everywhere I go, every time I set foot out my door or land somewhere new…
It’s seeing a world without boundaries and wanting to discover a new bit of myself in every corner and crevice of this world.
And that’s why this new journey in my life isn’t like before.
I do this because it’s a piece of me.
A piece I’m still learning to understand.
And a piece I can’t wait to share with you.
Until next time,