“We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic to creativity. When we get home, home is still the same, but something in our minds has changed, and that changes everything.”
139 days ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect when boarding my flight out of Omaha, the most familiar and welcoming place I knew. I didn’t know much about myself or the world beyond what I was accustomed to. The first few weeks abroad were filled with mixed emotions; I was excited to experience everything I had the chance to, but it was also difficult transitioning into the traveling lifestyle. It was my first chance at fully being independent; I had no parents to provide for me and not much guidance on what I was actually doing. I was glad to have my friend Brooke with me for those first weeks because we were able to share the same emotions and it was so comforting to have a familiar face around. After a few days, I knew it was definitely going to be several months of extreme growth. And that it was going to fly by.
The past four and half months have felt like the blink of an eye. It was not an easy adjustment to accept the normality of nomadic habits; there have been ups and downs throughout this entire trip. Some days felt like I was floating on clouds above the most glorious of sights below. There were other days where I missed my family and my friends and my home. I watched birthdays and holidays and sporting events and family occasions happen through a phone screen. There were so many times that I wanted to hug my family and friends, and be with them throughout everything they were experiencing at home. I had days where I would be standing in front of the most magnificent structure or view and just wish that I had someone else there to be in awe of it with me. There were days I longed to just jump on a flight and have everything go back to normal at home. But I’m so glad I didn’t.
If I would have gone home, I would have missed out on the most exciting experiences of my life. I crossed item after item off of my bucket list. I walked miles across unknown lands, seeing things that I had never even heard of before. I placed my trust in the hands of strangers who became some of the most memorable people in my life. I laughed and smiled with friends who will forever hold a large place in my heart. I had some late nights where I learned that cities truly never sleep and some early mornings when the sunrise painted the pale sky in soft hues of peach and lavender. I became obsessed with places I had seen once and foods I had blindly tried. I have more photos and videos on my phone than I know what to do with. My headphones are nearly broken from the amount of times I’ve listened to music for hours through them. British slang has become common within my vocabulary, and I’m better at telling where someone is from based on their accent.
Other cultures and languages amaze me; how a way of life can be so different from one country to another is incredible. Europe has an authentic feel of history and pride wherever you end up. Citizens know the stories of how things came to be, and tour guides are some of the most intelligent people you’ll ever meet. There are so many monuments and artifacts treated with the utmost respect. Europe is also more than efficient, from the accessibility of public transportation to the mindful use of electricity. I’ve grown so used to walking everywhere that not having a car here doesn’t even phase me.
I learned how to cope with exhaustion and stress and overwhelming amounts of budgeting. I had entire days of being alone, showing me persistence and how to keep myself entertained. I stared out of plane, bus and train windows, reflecting on anything that came to mind. Pages upon pages of journaling rests in my well-traveled backpack and in the notes of my phone. These stories document all of the behind-the-scenes moments of my trip, the times I felt ecstatic and the times I was not. My time abroad wasn’t perfect; I made mistakes and had inconveniences happen, but each one helped me develop into a stronger, more courageous person. I have grown in so many ways; I am more self-reliant, determined, empathetic, and passionate. I found wisdom through conversations with strangers and felt connected to souls I had only known for a few minutes.
The thing I’ve realized about traveling alone is that you’re never truly alone. You find shelter in the comfort of a city, the warmth of a conversation, or the humility of a place. You find solace in the silence of bookstores or from the thumping of the drums in a concert. You feel peace when stepping in the leftover puddles of a rainy day or while watching the city life zoom by from a park bench. You start to focus on the smallest things in life and see firsthand how they bring you joy, like the perfect postcard or spotting a nice place to have lunch. There are so many instances of the “it’s-a-small-world” phenomenon. Americans feel like immediate family amongst entire cities of mixed cultures. When I met Nebraskans or Midwesterners, my entire week would be made. I saw a man wearing a Husker shirt once and almost sprinted over to him to yell “Go Big Red.” Something about having even the slightest parallel to a person makes them feel so much more familiar. Although the excitement of landing in a new country never gets old, finding tokens of memorabilia from where you were raised is just as humbling.
People would joke with me before I left home that I would fall in love and never want to come home. And they were right. I fell deeply in love with the genuine happiness of being alive, and the sheer bliss of discovering myself just as much as I was discovering the world around me. Everything was daring and raw. Everything was fresh and bold. I grew so used to feeling the euphoria of witnessing the unique moments unfold in front of my eyes. But everything also related back to home. I’d see a restaurant or street name or store and think of its familiarity. A specific activity or place would remind me of a person back home who would absolutely love it. My thoughts revolved around what my friends and family were doing, how the weather in Nebraska was, and how many days left until I’d be reunited with my favorite place on earth. The countdown finished quicker than I realized it would, but I am so gracious to have stayed healthy and safe throughout my time.
25,000 miles, 139 days, and 20 countries later, I am more than the person I was when I headed out on January 12th. I have stories to carry in my heart and mind for the rest of my life. I have an unquenchable desire to travel and endlessly feel the same exhilarating passion I have grown so used to. I am ready for whatever will happen and wherever I end up in the future. Because I know now that nothing is worth losing joy over. We are given a chance every day to take initiative and start something new. The world has more to offer than we can even comprehend. We are designed to go out and explore this vast society to find our distinct passions. Whatever they may be, we must strive for them. As I head back to Nebraska, I am ready for the next chapter of my life, and to continue searching out instances that bring me this same bliss.
Home, here I come.