“A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill
My journey abroad was one filled with days of both quiet solitude and joyful laughter. Nearly every day, I met someone new. Just when I would begin to feel lonely in the vast world, I would meet someone who brought a new light to the day and helped me back onto my feet. I came to realize quickly that these faces were all blessings in disguise, boosting my spirits and guiding me towards gratefulness and excitement.
When you begin to meet so many new people, you realize that there is a reality to this dream you’re wandering through. The reality is that some of these people you may always have contact with, and others you may never speak to again. But these people, these friends, are all part of your story. They’re more than just faces that you see once before they vanish into the realm of your memory. They’re laughter and inside jokes, knowledge and empathy, kindness and humility. They’re the moments when you wandered through empty streets under a sky full of stars, or sat along the beach with crashing waves beneath. The connections you shared with these people are stronger than any other, and they never leave you.
Brooke and I shared a small hostel room for a few nights in Iceland with four boys from the United Kingdom. They were university students who we chatted with during our down time at night. We talked about the differences between American and English ways and they helped us come to the conclusion that the odd flavor of a chocolate bar we couldn’t figure out was actually rum. I stayed in touch with the boys, and even ended up visiting them towards the end of my trip. They are some of the most respectful, smart and genuine people I have met before. I’m so grateful for the night we met in our Reykjavik hostel, because I’m not sure how I would’ve coped for those months without always having someone in my time zone to talk to.
I spent Saint Patrick’s Day with a group so hilarious that I don’t think I had laughed that hard in a long time. Comprised of members from Canada, New Zealand and the United States, we became pretty comfortable around each other by the end of that weekend. We criticized the minty flavor of McDonald’s Shamrock shakes, froze our fingers off for hours at the chilliest parade I’ve ever been to, and have several stories from Dublin that only we know about. The various shades of green during those few days color some of my fondest memories in Europe. I ended up met up with two of the girls from Saint Patrick’s Day again later on. I spent time in both Barcelona and Brighton with people whom I felt like I had known for years.
I also met a kind-hearted girl on a day tour of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, right at the beginning of my time traveling solo. I took the empty seat next to her on the bus and we ended up chatting and taking pictures for each other at all of the sights. I found out she was from a small Portuguese town that I had heard highly of before I left. We went on a pub crawl together for her last night in Ireland and listened to the blur of loud conversations and music all night long. When I was in Portugal, she happily invited me on a personal tour of her hometown Cascais and the surrounding area of Sintra. The most beautiful views in southern Europe were ones I saw because of her.
When I stayed in Madrid, Spain, I was with blessed with an incredibly gracious host family. Mayte, Antonio and Concha opened up their home to me and gave me some of the most memorable experiences. I tried more authentic food in that week than I had the entire trip. Croquetas, calamari, patatas bravas, pig’s ear; you name it, we ate it. We visited places I had never heard of, like Toledo, a medieval town that seemed to be frozen in time. I spent Easter with their family, and I felt so welcomed and loved, just like I was at home.
The world seems to become much smaller when you’re traveling. The borders between countries become practically nonexistent, and soon you’ve met so many people that anyone looks familiar. I ran into the same girl in my hostels in Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna. I looked over one night in Budapest to see the same Canadian boys I had met in Prague. I was walking down the street one day and saw my roommate from a hostel in Krakow. There is a peace in knowing that no matter where you go or how far away from home you are, faces are so comforting in the commotion of exploration.
But there are more faces and conversations engrained into my mind that I never had the pleasure of seeing or hearing from again. Like the party animals from my hostel in Budapest, who stayed out until the early hours of the morning with me. The comedians from England who made stories and chats that much more interesting. The sweethearts from my hostel in Vienna who helped me squeeze everything into my backpack when I couldn’t do it myself. The hilarious men from Romania who randomly performed an in-room karaoke concert to old Bobby Bare songs. The wise woman from Liverpool who shared stories of her more vulnerable travels through Eastern Europe. The intellectuals from Madrid who knew more about their city than any history teacher. The conversationalists from Rome who made sure I got home safely. The confident boys from Omaha who made me feel as though I was at home, even when I was 5,100 miles away.
Being so far away from home can make you feel smaller than you ever have. There are times where you just want to fly home and be in familiar territory with people who know your name and story. But one thing I learned very quickly, was that the strangers around me were in the same boat I was. They were feeling the same emotions and experiencing the same thoughts. We are all wandering away from the places we’re raised in search of something more, yet we all end up wandering together through the stories and moments we share. And those are ones that are tattooed onto our existence; ones that time and distance can’t erase.