After a particularly rough end to 2009, my best friend, Lara, and I decided to ring in 2010 the best way we knew how…with a trip to Europe. Our small plan grew to three countries over seven days: first, Ireland to visit my family, then Belgium to visit her friends, and finally, The Netherlands to celebrate New Year’s Eve. It fell perfectly into place, and on Christmas night we set off for Europe.
Never before have I stuck to a New Year’s resolution as I did this year. Maybe, that’s because the resolution I made was an easy one to keep. Rather than making resolutions to lose weight or go to the gym more often, I promised to live each day as I do while traveling, keeping a few goals in mind for the year. Those goals were to travel solo, visit Africa, take more chances, be more adventurous, and make more friends. It’s only been six months, but each of these has either been accomplished, or will be accomplished, in a matter of weeks.
I spend much of my life day-dreaming, and each time it’s about where I want to visit next. One day it’s Bhutan, the next it’s Morocco. Another day it’s Peru, and then it’s Ghana. The list is always growing and sources of inspiration are constantly surrounding me. I imagine my life as a permanent traveler, and never see an end to my adventures, as I believe that it is a part of who I am – something that I know will never change.
Several years ago, in the beginning of my love affair with the world, I would cut out pictures of countries, stuffing them into my journal. This journal was less a chronicle of my life, and more a place filled with lists of the countries I planned to one day visit. As I learned about new places, I would add them, knowing that one day I would visit the countries I once wrote down. And, as I visited each place on my list, I would check them off with excitement, realizing that I was beginning to reach my dreams and see the world.
One of the greatest adventures I have had in my lifetime occurred while traveling on the North Island of New Zealand almost three years ago. My cousin, Michelle, who is from Ireland, was spending her summer vacation traveling between Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji, and I decided to join her on the last leg of her trip. It would be an experience that would bind us together as sisters from day one.
All experiences that we have as humans affect the outcome of who we become. The more we experience, the more transformed we are over the course of our lifetime. Because travel involves opportunities that take us out of our comfort zone, the more we travel, the more chances we have to transform ourselves during our time here on earth.
For me, travel has been the basis of all of my changes. When I wasn’t able to travel, I made changes in my life that allowed me to begin traveling and with each trip I take that transformation continues. I’m not sure I can pinpoint the exact moment I changed, but with each trip I take, I see a significant difference in the person I am each time I return home.
During my family’s European adventure in 2006, we visited countries in both Western and Eastern Europe: Ireland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and Italy. But, it was the Eastern Europe countries, Croatia and Slovenia, that left me feeling transported to somewhere completely new and unique.
There’s something magical about the sound of a train pulling out of the station and jolting along the open spaces of the world. No worries. No stress. No pressure. Just the opportunity to sit for a while and watch life go by.
Train rides give even the most worn out traveler a chance to take a break, a rest from being on the road. It is the chance to stop and breathe throughout a journey. And, on that journey, the traveler is able to get an entirely different view of the country he or she is visiting.
Europe is a continent that I spent much time exploring during my early travel days. My first big trip out of the country was to Ireland; then I spent several of my college breaks visiting friends abroad. I took each opportunity to visit as many countries as I could. But, the one place I always dreamt of visiting was Croatia.
Italy is a country that means more to me than many others. Like Ireland and Croatia, Italy is part of who I am. My father’s mother, Evelyn, was born in Avellino in 1920, and later moved to the States with her family when she was twelve years old, so Italian culture has always been alive and well in our family.
But, it wasn’t until 2005, the Spring Semester of my sophomore year in college, that I took my first trip to Italy. My dear friend, Sara, was studying abroad in Rome for the semester, and extended the invitation for me to head over to visit her. I jumped at the opportunity to visit my friend and explore the city of Rome.