Nearly a month ago, I left my job to travel my way around Europe. I left Birmingham, my home for the past three years, and Groot, my puppy (who is safe and sound in Tennessee, don’t worry). This change was marked by excitement, yes, but also an insurmountable fear. What 25-year-old quits her job to run around the globe, depleting her savings and leaving behind those work benefits whose importance her (and many) parents have instilled in their children since their college years?
This change has been different than I expected it to be. Although I could imagine how it feels to quit your job and pursue a passion (for me, traveling), I have come up against a few emotions that I honestly didn’t expect to have – and it’s been, even in the 20 days I’ve been gone – a character-revealing experience.
I used to say that this trip would be character-changing; this trip would – as I looked to the future – forever change how I saw the world and its people. My dad quickly corrected me, saying that the parts of our character that emerge during new experiences have been there all along – i.e., character-revealing. And, how that’s been true in my life.
A month ago, I thought I’d be desperate to be working again, antsy to be doing something or making sure my bank account wasn’t dipping too drastically or writing everyday to pitch stories. When you’re seeing the Alps in Switzerland, crying over the art in the Louvre, and drinking wine in Spain, friends – the last thing on your mind is the amount of work you should or could be doing. Part of me is anxious that I’m losing those skills that I learned at Southern Living that would make me employable in the coming months, but the part of me that’s so incredibly thrilled to be walking all over these beautiful cities is, without fail, shushing that small, worried voice.
My largest lesson in self so far has, without a doubt, been in the importance of language. I speak English fluently and enough French to get by. We are currently in Munich, Germany, where I’m spoken to in German. A few days ago we (my brother and I) were in Spain, our complexions shocking many native Catalonians when we replied to their slew of quick Spanish words with a “We’re so sorry; we don’t speak Spanish.” Although we were able to get around fairly well in France, I’ve come to the realization that feeling understood, and making sure others feel understood, is fundamentally important to me. A language barrier is frustrating, not just for the simplistic reason of not knowing what someone is saying – it’s frustrating to me that I can’t completely understand the tone, the quirks, and the between-the-lines context of how others are communicating. It feels incredibly rude to say, “I’m so sorry. I don’t speak your language, so could you speak mine?” This is what I’ve learned about myself – I value expression, communication, and the ability to leave someone thoroughly understanding your intentions above all else. For this reason, I may place greater emphasis on hitting the goal of becoming quadralingual by the time I hit 30. Simply, I want to understand how everyone feels.
I’m waiting for the loneliness to kick in. I started my adventure with both my dad and my brother (Ben), my dad leaving when Ben and I took off for Paris and Ben leaving in a few days (after spending a month with me exploring). For my remaining two months, I’ll be, for all intents and purposes, traveling alone. I’ll be meeting some friends along the way, and in some cities, it’ll just be me (I’m coming for you, Amsterdam!). But I’m waiting for the homesickness. Another lesson I’ve learned about myself, though, is that it hasn’t hit me yet. I like exploring and spending every day mapping out how best to see a whole city, but I also like having a space to come home to. For the sake of this trip, it’s my aunt and uncle’s home in Munich (my current space of safety). I haven’t been desperate to be back in the United States, though, except a day or two when I’d really, really like to pet my dog again. Otherwise, I’m doing okay. And, I’m really excited about the places to come.
So, as these things click inside me, I’ll try to share them. I think it’s important to show the other side of all those pretty Instagram photos – the not-so-glamorous, sometimes-uncomfortable parts of traveling abroad and traveling alone. It’s not me catching cabs in Paris; it’s grueling heat and about 50 baguettes (wait, that’s not bad!) and sometimes exhaustion settling in as I take a week to recuperate. I make dinner for my family; I bike to the lake; I sit at the library; I write. I’ll be posting a few city guides along the way too, as I come across places that are just too cool not to share, inspired by many others who have come before me (and, heavily influenced by my new husband, Rick Steves).
To following those urges in your heart that just can’t be put off any longer,