The Great Opportunity

11,700 miles and 42 days later, I’m headed back home. This trip went by in a blur, and it’s crazy to think I fit 14 countries in such a short amount of time. My trip was filled with so many incredible sights and some great company. I was able to experience both sides of the European spectrum, from the bustling city life of Oslo and Helsinki to the quiet countryside of Albania and Macedonia. I learned more about the history of the Eastern European region than I expected and saw firsthand how these countries are regrowing and rebuilding in their own individual ways.

I met people who made me laugh, showed me hidden places, and inspired the wanderlust and creativity within me. They taught me what it means to live in the moment, embrace what you love and push yourself to further depths. I reunited with old friends who were part of the reason I fell in love with traveling in the first place. There were also many days that I spent alone, roaming around a foreign city stopping at the most picturesque locations.

This experience is one I wouldn’t trade for anything, but I would be lying if I said that every day was easy and perfect. This trip showed me more than the last that it’s okay to get homesick. It’s okay to miss the people you love and the home you’re familiar with when you’re in places that many would do anything to be at. We all encounter things in our own way, and we shouldn’t diminish what we’re feeling for how we believe we should feel. I had a few sleepless nights, sick days, and worrisome hours. Throughout every time I felt down, I realized that I was learning so much more about myself.

Without those struggles, I also wouldn’t have gotten to meet the people I did. I wouldn’t have learned about the history. I wouldn’t have swam in the Adriatic, climbed to the top of a mountain, walked miles and miles through stunning cities, tried reindeer meat or Albanian casserole. I wouldn’t have laughed as much or listened to hours and hours of my playlists. I wouldn’t have been shocked at how blue and clear water can actually be. I wouldn’t have stumbled across Greek markets and ruins. I wouldn’t have collected the new passport stamps that I did. Not every day or moment is flawless, but how lucky are we that we can overcome the little inconveniences to see a bigger, bolder picture?

Every day presented a new opportunity, a new thing to see and a new place to be. A new person to meet, a new food to try and a new memory to remember. But the greatest opportunity of them all was the chance I had to grow. I grew to push myself out of my comfort zone. I grew within my faith, my courage and my own self. I grew through realizing the little moments matter most, and to not let them slip away without fully grasping their potential.

These 42 days have shown me perseverance, humility, and self-reliance. I have learned how to keep myself going throughout the hard days to anticipate the joy that is to come. This may be my last long-term trip for awhile, so it’s bittersweet to be coming home. As always, thank you for keeping up with my travels and for all of your kind words of encouragement as I’ve been away. It means so much to know that no matter how far I go, I always have somewhere to come back to with people waiting with open arms to welcome me home. Until next time.

Sincerely,
Ashly

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