My first time out of the country was at age 21. I always knew I wanted to travel. But I had no idea what that meant.
I decided to move to Portugal by myself for six months. I had organized an internship though one of my professors, but it wasn’t through a university with other students. It was just me.
I landed in Portugal with every expectation of becoming the most worldly person I knew. I expected this transformation to occur pretty immediately after arrival. I hope you are laughing, because obviously, that isn’t what happened.
What greeted me in Portugal was a large mountain of fear, anxiety, loneliness, and self-doubt. Friends and family would tell me how lucky I was and how jealous they were, and I wondered why I wasn’t being magically transformed by the amazing power of travel I had heard about. I was slowly coming to the realization that I had just moved to another country. By myself, with no friends, without speaking the language. Maybe I was a little over ambitious, I thought. I had never actually entertained the possibility that maybe I wouldn’t LIKE travel! I decided I should probably give it some time.
I decided that it would get better. It HAD to! How else would I achieve the beautiful, boho, worldly vision of myself that I had become so attached to?
DEEP THOUGHT #1: Travel takes initiative
Funny thing… if I stayed inside all weekend by myself and ate pasta and watched Portuguese TV, things were not going to get better. If I continued to do that, I was going to stay lonely. Unfortunately there was no fun European nightclub fairy in my life that was going to come to the rescue, make me look great and set me up with super fun girlfriends and a sexy date. If I wanted things to get better, I had to make them better. I had to be my own get-out-of-bed fairy. Living in a foreign country when you struggle with a ton of anxiety is not buckets of fun! It actually really freaking scary. But I got myself out of bed. And slowly, things got better. I met people. I let go of what I thought I should be doing. I ate delicious pastries. I drank a lot of wine.
DEEP THOUGHT #2: Your travel experiences are yours
My friends and family had zero clue what my life was like in Portugal. Not from talking to me, and not from Facebook, and not from reading a guidebook or anything like that. I have a hunch that when you are sitting at a desk job or working on papers, that it’s pretty easy to do the whole grass-is-greener thing. And everyone said… WOW, I was in Portugal, and how exotic is that, and how wonderful it must be riding around the old cobblestone city on the back of a handsome man’s motorbike eating a croissant. Nahhhht!
Your travel experiences, the good and the bad, are YOURS. Nobody can understand what you felt surrounded by a school of fish off the coast of Thailand. Nobody knows what magic was going on inside of you at sunset, as the candles were lit around a golden pagoda, or what it was like sitting in front of the Trevi fountain at night. There have been so many amazing and infinite moments I have shared with people and places all over the world—moments of wonder, joy, and despair. I treasure these moments deeply and completely, and I know that nobody could ever begin to understand them.
DEEP THOUGHT #3: Nobody really cares
Prior to my trip to Portugal I thought everyone that knew me was a dedicated audience member of The Erin Show. Every day was a show starring me, and everything embarrassing that I ever said or did at a party would be remembered for all of eternity by all of the most handsome men in the world. And this concerned me quite a lot. What were they saying about me?! I hoped it was nothing bad.
When I moved to Portugal I learned that I was normal. I learned that I was just like everyone else and that The Erin Show was really only playing in my own head. I learned that the trophies given to me throughout my childhood were also given to everyone else. My first time traveling taught me that there are a lot of people in this world. A lot. And a lot of them travel. Yes, my trip was important. But it was only important to me.
Maybe it sounds like I’m being pretty hard on myself, but really… I am writing this with a huge smile on my face. The ability to make fun of myself is one of my greatest and most treasured abilities.
My first time traveling, like my first time in the wilderness, taught me so much.
The world showed me that there are learning opportunities everywhere, every day. And I’m always down to learn.