July 29, 2014

Eurotrip: Homeward Bound

“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.
-Alexander Supertramp, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

This morning in the hotel room was the first morning I woke up to my alarm instead of zippers opening and closing accompanied by whispering voices. It felt amazing to get a decent uninterrupted night of sleep. It’s been weeks since I’ve been able to say that. I made it through the London airport with no problems and no flight delays! Now I sit on this large plane (getting double the food since the lady next to me doesn’t eat 🙂 ) heading Home. I just closed my book and turned on the familiar “Digging Shelters” song so I can think. Home. Such a nice sounding word. The definition of that word has definitely broadened for me over the last few weeks. Part of me looks forward to returning to normalcy when I get Home, but I admit I could continue the travel life for quite some time. On July 6th, I left the States, alone, with nothing but what I could fit in my backpack knowing I’d have no one to rely on (not even my cell phone) while I made my way around five countries. I had no idea what to expect or what I was getting myself into, and now it’s coming to an end. It’s been a journey to say the least, and I will greatly miss the places I visited and people I met along the way. I will miss waking up each morning with the excitement of not knowing what my day has in store or who will become a part of it. I will definitely miss the adventure the most.

You hear often how good it is to go outside your comfort zone. While I’ve stretched myself beyond my comfort zone before, this trip took it to a whole new level. I underestimated the power of taking risks and overcoming doubt and fear. In my favorite book and movie, Into the Wild, the true character Alexander Supertramp writes, “The core of mans’ spirit comes from new experiences.” Looking back on the last few weeks and how much I’ve learned and grown personally, I think I finally understand more holistically what this means.

I experienced so much of what makes us human on this trip. While I’ve tried, it’s hard to articulate what the last few weeks were really like for me. It’s impossible to describe because it’s something that can only be felt. There was hardly an emotion I didn’t feel at some point: loneliness that miserable day in London; companionship when I met new people; fear, anxiety, and excitement as I arrived to each new destination; gratitude as people helped me when I needed it; happiness when things worked out – disappointment when they didn’t; youthfulness as I tackled new adventures; maturity being surrounded by so many young student travelers; insecurity being so far from home; confidence after all that I was able to accomplish on my own; love for the strangers who became friends; sadness for life lost my final week in Holland. I learned a lot of history and visited landmarks and buildings much older than America. I learned about religion, government, and politics both past and present. I had days of chaos in busy cities and days of serenity in peaceful countrysides. I spent time touring churches while passing by sex stores and prostitutes. I ate foods I didn’t even know existed. I met people of all races, colors, backgrounds, and ages each with their own unique stories. The human experience came full circle.

My adventures were as much about the people I encountered as they were the places I went. Here’s where I’ll squeeze in another Alexander Supertramp quote: “Happiness [is] only real when shared.” While I very much enjoy my alone time and find calmness and peace being in the company of my own thoughts, the people I met made my trip special and fun in ways it wouldn’t have been being entirely by myself. Over bus and train rides, hikes, bike rides, walks, drinks, and bunk bed chats, we shared experiences that cannot be replicated. Every person I met taught me something, and I took a piece of each one of them Home with me. I had conversations with people from almost 30 countries (I actually started counting), so I not only learned about the countries I visited but those I didn’t as well. I was surprised how much so many of them knew about America and what their perception of Americans is. A comment I heard on multiple occasions was that we know the least about the world, but we are the most confident. I found it both funny and disturbingly true at the same time. It was really interesting to hear their thoughts on some of our current issues and opened my eyes a bit to things they find absurd that are just normal to me. There were times I was proud of America, times I defended it, and other times I questioned if it really is the best country in the world as we like to claim. It was humbling to realize that we aren’t all we think we are. There were definitely moments that put a dent in the pride I feel for my country, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Awareness is always good in my opinion so I embraced those moments.

It sounds so cliche, but it was impossible not to do some “soul searching” on this trip. I know, I know, you probably knew this was coming; but honestly, I learned a lot while I was over there. I won’t dive too deep into this, but it wouldn’t be a good wrap-up post if I left it out.

For starters, I learned the value of taking time off and getting away from work both physically and mentally. Americans work a lot of hours, and we put so much stress on ourselves to be “successful” in the working world. In my opinion you’re successful if you’re happy, period. I met a lot of people while traveling who work temporary odd end jobs to make just enough money to go out and see the world. I mean really what is the point of working if you’re not going to live? Life is too limited to do it the other way around.

I learned the excitement of studying history. I’ve always been a science nerd but could never really get into history. This trip taught me that history can be just as fun to explore and as important to understand.

I learned to a new degree the impact of giving your time and attention to what’s real and raw in life. We live in a society where people are in constant competition with each other over fake appearances and fake things while seeking attention and approval from their cyber networks full of fake friends. After being away from it for a while, it was easy to see how much dwelling in all of that can bring you down and how it’s only as important as the emphasis you put on it. As for material possessions, it was apparent that Americans particularly have so much stuff and it’s not making us any happier despite us always wanting more of it. No thing has ever done for me what the experiences I gained on this trip have done for me. There is so much freedom and beauty when you detach yourself from all of it and focus on what matters most – real relationships and real experiences.

I learned to trust myself in ways I’ve never needed to before and read intuition I didn’t know I had. My boundaries and capabilities are much greater than I anticipated. Things don’t just always work out – you have to make sure they do. You realize when you literally have no one else to rely on or nobody watching out for you that you have to make things happen for yourself. There are definitely situations outside your control, but there are a lot of ones that aren’t. You have to be smart, make good decisions, and above all, not give up and throw in the towel. I don’t believe in predestined fates and I don’t believe the famous “everything happens for a reason” line. I believe life is what you make of it. It’s a combination of what you choose to do with it and your attitude and ability to handle the situations you don’t choose. Courage, persistence, and a willingness to push forward go a long way.

Lastly, I learned (or perhaps was just reminded of) the importance of being open-minded to different ideas and ways of thinking and living. I wish people could more easily remove bias and think openly as with openness comes acceptance. It’s tough to speak to that which you’ve never experienced first hand or accept ideas you’ve never been exposed to. It’s too easy to judge people, cultures, and ideology (even within our own country) that you’ve never bothered getting to know and understand. If I had one wish for the world it would be for people to have enough variety of experiences in life that empathy is almost impossible to escape. If we could see things differently than we do inside the bubbles we live in, we could all relate to and learn from each other a little bit better.

Though my trip was brief and I realize I’m no world traveler (yet!), I’d say the places I explored, people I met, lessons I learned, and time I spent all on my own, in some ways changed me.

I’d say Alexander Supertramp was onto something.