“Apply to Harvard’s School of Education for your Master’s,” she said, “You can get in.” Words of Encouragement from Strangers, 2017

Last summer, before my flight from Dublin, Ireland, to Porto, Portugal, I met a woman who encouraged me more than most people whom I’ve known for years. I completely forgot about this post, and that I had written it immediately after the encounter, while on the plane. I wanted to share it:

 

May 24, 2017

As I was standing in the priority boarding line for my very first RyanAir flight, a lady asked which line it was and then asked whether I was American. I told her I was; she was too, and we got to talking. From the way she talked, she clearly led an extravagant life, as she mentioned having have lived in multiple places around the world, with houses in not only different states in America, but also all over Europe. Yet, she was taking a RyanAir flight, suggesting that she didn’t need insane luxury. It was impressive.

 

I told her my plan for the future and the fact that I, unlike my siblings, have not accumulated any debt for college and that I am lucky to be able to do what I’m doing right now. As I plan to teach, she encouraged me. “Apply to Harvard’s School of Education for your master’s” she said, “You can get in.” She seemed confident in this and I believed her. “You’re traveling alone in Europe and you’re clearly adventurous. When people are interviewed for jobs or for schools, they don’t want to hear about how you interned for whatever banking company for whoever is important because everyone knows you were just getting coffee. Their program is a year-long or something like that, and you don’t get just a degree – you get a passport.” She basically meant that with that kind of education, I could do whatever I wanted, wherever I wanted. And she was right. And I had never really thought about it. “Put your itinerary on your resume,” she urged.

 

She told me that she had asked a friend who was some high up at some financial company or something of the sort whether or not he would hire someone if they didn’t go to an Ivy League school. The man told her that if they had made it as far as an interview, he would almost rather not hire someone from an Ivy League school. I never heard that perspective before. While nearly everyone else that I know has gone to school in 4 years, racked up debt or had their parents pay, and then carried onto their masters or internships or whatever else, that was never the path for me. I never imagined myself living the traditional 4-year college experience, in part because I didn’t want to live in a dorm but also because I didn’t want to enter the work force with five or six figures of debt. Even the woman’s kids all went to Ivy League schools and she saw the benefit of my living life differently. Of course, Ivy League schools offer their own advantages. But she still had confidence that I could do anything – and I want to do so much. This trip is only 3 months out of my life… and in a year and a half I’ll be done with school. And then I have the entire world at my disposal.

 

She encouraged me. A random woman who knew what I was doing and what I wanted to do and not even my name encouraged me to go farther than anyone else has encouraged me to go before. “If I see you tomorrow in town, come say hi, I’ll buy you a drink, or lunch, or whatever.”

 

And as I’m sitting here, on a 2 hour flight to Porto, Portugal, I realize how strangely comfortable it feels. I thought I would feel so… out of place everywhere I went. I thought I would feel nervous, scared, but I’m not. I feel right in place. Like this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I feel normal. I feel more like myself than I ever really could.

 

Being in Ireland, and introducing myself to so many different people, and letting them get to know me slowly yet all at once was so refreshing. There was no pressure. I didn’t feel confined to be any certain person. I guess that’s what it’s like when someone goes to college and meets all new people. I didn’t feel like who I am is too much or too little, or that I had to conceal any part of myself, or explain my past. I never felt judged. I think that had a lot to do with the company I was with, because I met some really amazing people. I am right where I need to be. I feel so lucky and I have never felt like the lucky one in my entire life. I always felt like I was at a disadvantage, always going through too much at one time, always having to overcome something, digging myself into deeper holes. But everything I have been through, the good and the bad, has made me who I am. It has prepared me for this. It has put me right here. And I am lucky. I am grateful. I am content.

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The Slowest Hourglass

I haven’t been the same since I returned from my first and only backpacking trip last year. A sense of uneasiness rests beneath my skin as I live out the mundane days of life at home in Florida. I feel tense, agitated, and often depressed thinking about the world that exists beyond the confines of where I live. Each day I feel more disconnected from who I was and from the people around me.

 

I remember being ready to return home. After all, 3 months by myself in over 40 cities in 90 days is exhausting. I yearned for the comfort of my own bed and the security of having a car, home, and family close by. But after being home for only 16 hours, I remember thinking to myself, “now what?”

 

I find myself still asking that question. I have to finish my degree. That’s the only thing actually keeping me here. I have one semester left, but that doesn’t start until the end of August. I’m living in a daze and not even the beach can cure the way I feel. Stagnant, stuck, unmovable, sinking, drowning, suffocating; all of these feel the same.

 

I’m not the same person when I travel. At home I am distant. I’m introverted. I’m focused on completing my journey in this place. I lack the desire to build connections. When I travel, I am the opposite of each of these. I keep to myself but not nearly as often. I’m social, interested in the people and world around me, and naturally build connections with all of the likeminded people I cross paths with. Nothing has made me question who I really am more than being “home”.

 

Next time will be different. Next time will start in Vietnam. I will move at a slower pace. I can make any city my home for as long as I want. I will be in no rush to move on, no schedule to abide by, and no one to listen to but myself. I will miss home but not in the same way as I did the first time. I will not yearn for a room to myself because if I want one, I will get one and stay there for as long as I want.

 

I am grateful for the life I live here, but I am ready to move beyond it. I feel as though I’m waiting for the sand in an hourglass, each grain falling slowly with each day that passes as I stare off into the sea, immobile and impassive, waiting for my life to start.

I’m ready.

Feelings Since Coming Home

I. Am. Bored. I thought I would enjoy doing nothing and relaxing before school starts, but going from doing so much for three months to doing absolutely nothing is making me go a little insane. I almost wish I could access my course schedules so I could get a head start on reading or something to keep me productively occupied.

 

The funny thing about being home is that nothing has changed except for me. Everything is and was exactly where I left it. My job, my bedroom, the beach, my family, the traffic, it is all the same – only I have changed.

 

I have been home for officially a week and it has taken me just about that amount of time to realize that I actually have changed. I didn’t think I did while I was away. It took coming home to realize how much I had changed while I was away because I didn’t feel the change happening. I think a lot of my restlessness comes from not being used to actually doing nothing except for a few serving shifts every week. Before I left for Europe 3 months ago, I was a full-time student, working, and planning for the trip of a lifetime. I was busy. I haven’t known boredom and doing nothing for a long time, it seems. It’s weird waking up every day, not having to do anything, nothing to explore. Not walking out of a hostel to a new city, surrounded by new people.

 

It’s weird going from travel mode to being at home, no longer a tourist. As a solo traveler, you have to talk to people. Socialize. There’s almost always someone to talk to. Traveling alone definitely brought me out of my shell. But at home, I’ve crawled right back into it. I don’t know many people here. I don’t have many friends who are right here. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. But not having anyone to socialize with definitely contributes to my boredom.

 

Yesterday I was on the beach feeling a little restless. It wasn’t how I wanted to feel in my favorite place. It took me a little while to allow myself to enjoy the nothingness again – to enjoy the way I used to feel when sitting along the shore.

 

Just like while traveling, I have to remind myself to enjoy the present moment. Life moves by fast. Appreciate every moment. Don’t take the time you have where you are for granted because as soon as you leave you’ll long to be there again. Never stop enjoying. Don’t forget how to enjoy what you used to enjoy because it is enjoyment nonetheless. Get out of your head. Pay attention.

Energized and Exhausted All at Once

Leaving to go home is just as surreal as coming here was, except at home I will at least know what to expect. 

My last days were spent doing relatively nothing. I am not necessarily tired of traveling, but I am tired of being a tourist. Doing touristic things. Surrounded by people who have no self awareness or know how to walk. If/when I do this again, I don’t want to be a tourist in the summer; I want it to be off season – less people, less heat, less money. 

When I got to London on Saturday, I napped and rode the metro around a bit and made my way to see Big Ben. It was right beside me the second I got off the metro. I tried to make my way down the street to Buckingham Palace, but the streets were so packed you could barely walk. It just wasn’t what I was in the mood for, and I don’t regret not taking advantage of my time there. 

I am more excited to go home than I ever imagined I would be. I am looking forward to going back to work and making money. I am looking forward to going back to school. I truly do feel energized. I’m ready. I took my time off and I’m ready to jump back in, full force. It’s going to be an incredibly busy semester, but I have never felt more ready, and I couldn’t be happier about that. 

Doing this… looking back on it… I can’t believe I really did it. I got through it. And it was so easy. It was so much easier than I thought it would be. And I’m so excited to do it again one day, but totally differently. If this experience and life in general have taught me anything it is that I can literally do whatever I want. Whatever I set my mind to. 

I was talking to a girl from back home who is only a year younger than me, who is struggling with where she is in life and has a lot to figure out. I gave her a brief insight into my life and what I’ve overcome. I look back at the worst times in my life, getting into serious trouble, dating the worst people, not caring about myself or my education, and I think back to that person and sometimes I can’t really believe it was me. It’s like speaking in third person. She did this. She did that. She had a bad reputation. But it was all me. I did those things. I had a bad reputation. But I’m not that person anymore. I’ve come so far. And now I’ve seen so much. I’ve been to so many places. I’ve experienced different cultures and have fallen in love with them. And I love my life. 

If you were to tell me this is what I would be doing five years ago, I would have called bullshit. But so much has happened in five years. I thought I had been through it all when I was only 17 but it was only just the beginning. My childhood and adolescence were the worst times of my life but I am so thankful for the experience and the hurdles I have had to jump over. Not a lot has been straight up given to me. I’ve had to earn it all. I am more thankful for my shitty childhood than most people ever would be because I have moved on from it and I have grown from it. I don’t linger in the past. And no matter how much I complain and bitch, I really do love my life and the way that I am living it.

On this journey I have met so many people. So many ages from so many places, traveling for their own reasons. And it has inspired me in so many ways. Some people work in hostels for accommodation, some do other farming jobs or workaways, and I have learned so much from these people and what they do. There are so many ways to travel the world and the world needs more curious people. 

I loved seeing so much in so much time but I am already looking forward to coming back so I can do things so much differently. I didn’t know what I was in for and I didn’t know about the number of opportunities there are out here. I can’t wait to spend more time in fewer places. Return to some places and see even more. But I am definitely ready to go back home for now. I am energized and exhausted all at once. Energized for life but exhausted from constantly moving around. I miss a routine. And one day I will create a routine in a country over here. But until then… school will come first. And I will enjoy my days on the beach. Loving life. As always.

An Ode to My Weight Gain

“You’ll lose so much weight when you’re in Europe” said every single person I told that I was traveling to Europe. 

My response? “Do you know how much I intend on eating?” 

I wasn’t kidding.

Who comes to Europe and doesn’t plan on eating EVERYTHING? Seriously. My budget for food per day was more than my budget for accommodation per night. That isn’t a joke either. I average about $20-$25 per day on accommodation. My budget for food was $30. I know. It’s a little much. But how can you go to Spain and not eat as much ham, olives, manchego, and tapas as you can? How can you go to France and not marvel at the amazing cheeses and breads and pastries? The pasta, meats, cheeses, pastries in Italy? The feta, grape leaves, gyros in Greece? Those little pancakes and stroopwafels in Holland? Pastel de natas in Lisbon? Ugh. I miss it all already. I’m getting sad. 

My plan for my trip was to eat my way through Europe. I succeeded. Without a doubt. If I were graded, I would have gotten an A++. Would have finished with a 5.0GPA. If it had the word “traditional” and was served with Nutella, I bought it. If the waiter recommended it, I bought it. And I finished it. Almost always. At home, I’m spoiled. I know that. I don’t really have to spend that much money on food because I live at home. Dinner and groceries are on my mom’s tab. Spoiled. I know. So when I have to buy my own food, it better be worth it, and you better BELIEVE I’m going to eat every last dollar’s worth. And I did. 

I don’t understand why anyone would come to Europe on a diet. Or would actually follow their whole “gluten free” or paleo shit. I’m sorry, but fuck that noise. You’re in Europe. Eat it all. Get a tummy ache. Shit your brains out. YOU KNOW IT WAS WORTH IT. Do you know how much gelato I ate? Too much for any lactose intolerant person to live through. 

When I’m home, I eat generally pretty healthy (besides the fact that I eat loaded nachos at my job once a week… but they’re really good…) so this vacation was a time for me to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. And then it’s back to my American life. Back to my “healthy” eating. Back to boring. 

I’m not kidding when I say I planned my trip in accordance to where had the best food. That’s why I skipped Germany, no offense, but I was already going to Austria, specifically Vienna, so I figured I’d get enough Schnitzel and sausage there to last. I have literally fantasized about eating olives and olive oil in Spain, the pasta and pizza in Italy, the mass amounts of cheese in France, and all of those food porn videos you see on Facebook of specialties from different places around the world. 

I have gained 10lbs. Averages out to only 3.3lbs per month, so when you look at it that way, it’s not that bad. I have probably consumed more wine and beer on this trip than I have in my entire life. I have never had to force myself to finish a cheese plate and then voluntarily order dessert. And it’s all worth it. I regret nothing. Not a single bite. 

The Simplicity of Home

I love where I live. That’s no secret. The beach is where I spend a lot of my time, waiting for the sun to set. I spend hours and hours sitting on the seashore. Sometimes reading. Sometimes doing absolutely nothing. I figured while I traveled I would get my fix of beaches elsewhere. The coasts of Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Croatia, Greece were all beautiful in their own ways. I enjoyed being there and appreciated their beauties. But it isn’t the same.

The beauty of being home is knowing where to go to escape the crowds. But here I am a tourist. In some places my time has been limited. I haven’t been able to truly appreciate my solitude along the shore. Nowhere has managed to give me the same feeling I get when I am back home, sitting on my blanket, watching the waves crash, with no one around me as day turns to night. Sun setting, moon rising.

I miss and love the powder, white sand. The small crabs that pop out of their holes, watching me intently. The birds that fly by and stare at the sea the same way I do. Living in Florida for the last three years has changed me. I never imagined such a positive impact. To have such a relationship with nature. I love the shore more than anything. And no matter where I am, or how beautiful it is, nowhere gives me the same feeling I get when I am back home. Because that is where I became who I am. That’s what I miss the most. The calm feeling, the simplicity of home. 

Old Habits Die Hard // Expectations Ruin Reality 

I went from a tired mind of school and work and school and work to hostels, bars, and sight seeing. Something different everyday but somehow almost the same. I was definitely more social when I first started my trip as opposed to now. I would go on pub crawl after pub crawl. I would try to involve myself as often as I could, as if I weren’t comfortable being alone, but I always was. With a slower pace, I am more alone, and I enjoy it. I don’t feel obligated to do anything or see anything or socialize, because let’s be real, I’m just not the most social person in the world most of the time. Even back home, I hang out with maybe 3 people outside of work and school. I’ll go out every so often but I don’t party until 3 or 4am. I relate closer to a grandma than I do a person my own age. When I first started traveling, I was excited and social, but no matter what, old habits die hard, and I am forever an introvert living in a very social world. I don’t socialize out of obligation at this point on my trip, and I don’t do anything because I feel like I “have to” or would be missing out if I didn’t. A lot of people come to these big cities to party. I came to enjoy myself in food and culture, without necessarily getting hammered every night of the week.
And I’m enjoying myself. I might even be enjoying myself more now than I did when I started my trip. I’ve gotten into a nice groove all by myself. I enjoy planning my days according to myself, my budget, and my energy. I’m comfortable going into a bar by myself and sitting there with a beer and perhaps a journal to jot down some thoughts in. Limited amounts of social energy is a real thing and I find it more than necessary to recharge frequently. If I don’t, I get physically and emotionally tired. Reserved and inattentive. And I’m comfortable doing everything alone. Even sight seeing. I don’t need someone with me and if I want to socialize, then I will. 

Last night I went to a cool, underground bar in Prague. I had asked my walking tour guide for a good place to drink a beer that isn’t loaded with tourists and he recommended it. He said it wasn’t necessarily full of tourists, but not necessarily locals either – a lot of people from all over the place who moved to Prague and work there, or travelers. So I went. When you walk in, there’s a black metal gate door restricting you from walking right downstairs. You get a “chip” bracelet that you put money on and then you order beer or any other drink based off of how much money is on your chip, and if you run out, you just run upstairs and reload it. 
I put 100CZK on my chip, figuring I wouldn’t be there for more than 2 beers (most beers are 35-50CZK) and the guy buzzed me through the gate. I walked through and was met with darkness and stairs. “Downstairs?” I stupidly asked, because there were literally only one set of stairs. He joked and said “no, upstairs” and I made my way down. At the bottom of the first set of stairs was a big Irish wolfhound, laying there, uninterested in me passing by. At the bottom of the second set of stairs were a few old swings, to the right a brightly lit room with foosball tables, and to the left was darkness with some LED lights. I walked down the hall and found a “tea” bar and looked confused. An old man was sitting next to it and I said, “beer?” And he smiled and pointed down the hall. I got my beer and found a seat in the main area; it was early so it was pretty empty. There were two people sitting on stage, one playing guitar, and then a few other people just sitting and chatting. I sat there, sipping my beer, writing. As I finished my first beer and went up for my second, more people were slowly starting to pour in. One of the girls close to me was definitely an American, so when the other two people she was sitting with left, I asked her where she was from. 
We ended up talking for a while, and then more people came over to talk to us, and I ended up reloading my chip for more beer. On the other side of the bar was live music and I didn’t even notice it until the few people I was with all decided to wander around. Oddly enough I ended up meeting more Americans than anything else, but it still wasn’t that touristy. The Czechs talked to each other, and the English speakers talked to each other. Before I knew it, it was midnight, and I think I ended up walking home around 1. The bar was very close to my hostel, so before I headed inside, I grabbed some chips and took a seat outside. A homeless man decided to lay down right next to me before security took him away. 
For a city that I didn’t plan on going out in, on a night that I didn’t plan on staying out, and for desiring my alone time, I had the best time. I think the best things happen when you don’t want them to, or expect them to. 
Everything happens when you least expect it. Expectations always ruin living.