when you travel alone, you find yourself
Everything I need to know about myself I learned while traveling. I’ve been all over this crazy world, and I can’t wait to explore it even more.
My first taste of real travel - not just Canada or Mexico (I’ve been to both multiple times in both adolescence and adulthood) - came to me during college when I studied abroad in Russia. I spent time in Moscow and St. Petersburg, learning about the culture and cities I’d studied and would continue to study as part of my Russian Area Studies Concentration I received from Villanova. It was a great first travel experience because I didn’t go it fully alone. I went with a group of other classmates (the vast majority of whom I did not know) and got to have a unique experience I’d share with that special group of people for the rest of college and beyond. Regardless of where everyone is in life from that study abroad experience, it is a unique bond we’ll all share. I can’t begin to relay how many I texts I received from that group of people when that song “We Are Your Friends” was chosen for that awful Zac Efron DJ movie. It still makes me laugh and then makes me love those people for being a part of my life at that time. Wherever they go in life, they’ll always be a part of such a beautiful set of memories in a country where we had a crazy overnight train ride from Moscow to St. Petersburg, watched the Russian ballet perform Swan Lake, ate rooftop risotto, played flip cup at the Baltika factory until the Russian workers kicked us out, felt very warm after one shot at the Vodka Museum, celebrated White Nights, had a European rugby team shamelessly tell the women they love them, drank absinthe, joked (and still joke) about that restaurant pectopah, built "Megabed," and had group outings to Pizza Hut before nearly getting in Russian bar fights. Every time I reconnect with one of those people, I’m reminded of a memory I’d nearly forgotten.
My senior year of college, I took off to Europe by myself. I booked a trip (that I’d have to work seemingly endless hours to pay off) and hopped on a plane to Germany. I got to explore yet another part of the world I’d only read about in books. I spent time with my late aunt, getting to know her whole history and truly bond; I backpacked through the German countryside; I traveled to Vienna to see some of the most breathtaking architecture I’ve ever seen; and I even spent time in Paris with a sorority sister who hopped on a plane to meet me for a night. We saw all the famous Parisian spots you think of when you think of Paris, partied at a discotheque on 80s night, ate the most delicious crepes from a sidewalk cart, and I even “smiled” with the Mona Lisa. I have countless photos from that Eurotrip and so many cherished memories.
The year after I graduated college, I needed to travel again, so I took time off my first job and booked a last-minute flight by myself to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day. I flew to Dublin, stayed in a hostel, made friends from all over, and grew. I had no plan besides get to Ireland, and you know what? It worked. I didn’t need a plan. I stayed outside the city in Swords, got a bus map, met up with some other Americans on the bus who became my friends, and explored the city with a new group of people. I ran into my aunt at the Guinness Factory (small world) and was mistaken for a celebrity at the Jameson factory (side note: the people who wanted a picture with me spoke French, so I have no idea to this day who they thought I was, but man were they excited to get a photo). I went to the leprechaun museum with my friends from the hostel, we partied together on St. Patrick’s Day and spent the day drunk by the River Liffey watching Irishmen break out in fist fights and then hug each other while chugging Guinness. We took photos and laughed and drank and exchanged stories about our lives, and to this day, we keep in touch.
Two of the best Australian guys I’ve ever met even took a bus trip with me through the countryside from Dublin to Galway. We spent the day together seeing the most beautiful country in the world, taking pictures by the Cliffs of Moher, and making memories together that others can only dream of. I even met another American tourist on that bus trip who ended up getting me my next job at American Express because he told me I was a friendly, intelligent person with great people skills. I think you have to be that way when you’re pushed, and that’s why I pushed myself to travel alone. When the bus trip ended and my Aussie friends headed back to Dublin, I spent the night on a friend of a friend’s couch and the next day exploring Galway alone. I saw the Long Walk, Galway Bay, Salthill Prom, and the Spanish Arch. I tried the Irish version of McDonald’s and drank Bulmer’s at a bar my friends suggested from when they studied abroad. I missed my bus at night and ended up having to wait to catch the one back to Dublin at 2 AM and made friends with a bunch of old Irishmen who kept Murty Rabbitt’s bar open for me so I wouldn’t have to wait at the bus stop alone, and I didn’t pay for a drink the whole night. I played darts and sang Irish songs, and they gave me green, white, and orange dart flags to take home with me so I wouldn’t forget them in Ireland. And even though I got drunk in a Galway bar with a bunch of old men, I didn’t miss my bus and made it back to Dublin on time to catch my flight back to the States. And I still keep in touch with the friends I made in that hostel. I even saw one of them last year while he was in town on a layover at LAX. We got In ’N Out, and I made him take a hat and stickers back to our other friend in Australia; he did, and I got a snapchat of him wearing the hat and holding the stickers as proof. Kindred spirits always find ways for their lives to intertwine; I’m thankful for my Aussie friends and everyone I met on that trip.
Shortly after Ireland came Costa Rica where I surfed and partied and shared a hostel with one of my best friends from college and four other people. It was $12 a night. We had bunk beds, air conditioning, Wi-Fi, lockers for our stuff, and a super chill common area with hammocks and foosball. I only packed a small backpack and still packed too much. We drank Imperials at night and ate Witch’s Rock nachos by day (arguably the best nachos I’ve ever had) while bumping into the one Tinder match my friend managed to find in the city of Tamarindo; he was weird, but he did buy us Guado Sours (so damn delicious!) so no complaints here. I convinced my friend to try surfing; she wasn’t very good, but she did stand up. We went zip-lining above the Costa Rican landscape, and never one to back down from a challenge, I decided I was going to zip-line upside down. I can still feel the rush of adrenaline just thinking about it. It was amazing and another memory I’ll never forget. We made friends with the guys who ran the zip-lining company; they all tried on our sunglasses and we joked and laughed over drinks and fresh fruit. And it was simple, and everyone was happy.
I often think about my experiences in other countries and how those memories have affected my current outlook on life. Not everyone is lucky enough or brave enough to travel the world by themselves, but I think if everyone traveled alone at least once, the world would be a better place. You learn a lot about yourself when you’re standing in Vienna, staring at a map you can’t read because you don’t speak the language, trying to figure out where the hell you’re going and what the hell you’re doing. It puts a lot of things into perspective. Suddenly, remembering that experience and how you overcame it and figured it out on your own without anyone’s help reminds you just how strong you really are. And once you remember that, you remember that there isn’t anything in this world that can happen to you that you can’t figure out as long as you trust in yourself.