The Road I Traveled

I have long since accepted that I fall in love too easily. Truly, I can't help it--somewhere between first sight and the inevitable end, I discover that I'm hopelessly head over heels. What's a girl to do? I'm a hopeless romantic, and falling in and out of love just seems to come with the territory. 

The first time it happened (the real thing, not some half-assed love), I was in a hotel. My mother and I had just weathered a terrible storm together on the Superior Hiking Trail. The trail map had been astonishingly inaccurate, our water purifier had failed, and our backpacks had become waterlogged and twice as heavy. Overall, it had been one hell of a trip, but I viewed it through rose-colored glasses. 

I had fallen in love with adventure. 

My mother (right) and I about to embark on a hiking trip with our dogs.

My mother (right) and I about to embark on a hiking trip with our dogs.

That particular trip was five years ago, and since then I've had a love affair with every place I've ever been. Never have I felt like I was cheating on my home--this was different. Every city, every coast, every winding road and misleading map had something to offer that "home" did not. 

Some trips were good, and some were less so, but each was special in it's own way. Even when I was absolutely miserable, I found some reason to love it. I suppose it's hereditary, to a certain extent. Both of my parents were bitten by the travel bug at some point or another, going so far as to be Peace Corps members in Swaziland, Africa, for a time. It seems only natural that I follow in their foot steps. 

In college, I was blessed with several opportunities to leave the Midwest. I was lucky enough to be able to do amazing things like travel from the Grand Canyon all the way up Highway 1 in California to San Francisco to taking a road trip from Minneapolis to Thunder Bay, Ontario.  My cousins were even kind enough to fly me out to Seattle for a weekend visit with them.

A typical tourist photo of the Public Market in Seattle, WA

A typical tourist photo of the Public Market in Seattle, WA

Every place I went had something new and spectacular to offer. 

My junior year of college, a chance to leave the country arose. Previously, my journeys outside of the US had been to Canada or Puerto Rico, and I was overwhelmed with the chance to travel to Europe. 

As with all things, there was a cost (ah, love is never free!). A few of my friends and I discussed going together--requirements for traveling to Florence, Italy involved taking a class that combined history, art, and religion as well as coughing up $3,000 to cover travel, hostel stays, museum fees, breakfast, and dinner. As someone who had student loans coming out of her ears, this was a steep cost. I was determined to go, so I decided it was worth it. 

The friends I had spoken to about going with me, decided otherwise. I spent the months leading up to the trip fundraising, applying for travel scholarships, and doing anything in between to be able to afford the trip. In the end, I was successful. By hard work and good fortune, I was the proud holder of a round trip ticket to Italy.

Winding streets of an Italian hilltown

Winding streets of an Italian hilltown

For the 10 days that I was there, I fell harder for Florence and it's outlying hill towns than I did for any other place I had been. For the first time in my life, I truly clicked with a place. I felt like I belonged. Italian to English book in hand, the romantic language rolled off my tongue easier than Spanish ever had. I'd never found myself to be truly religious (even with a Catholic upbringing), but in Italy, I found myself wholly in awe of churches built centuries before. It was easy to understand why people could believe in God when visiting churches that were masterpieces in and of themselves--how could Man alone make something so beautiful?

I was caught up in the wine-soaked culture. I loved getting lost down narrow, cobblestone streets that had existed for hundreds of years. Leaving was more painful than any break up I'd ever had. 

Even now, I find myself doing a mundane task and then being hit with the vivid memory of Italy. Eating gelato at the Ponte Vecchio, standing in the center of a church surrounded by whispers, buying perfume at the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, which to date is the most expensive and best perfume I've ever owned.

View from the top of the Duomo in Florence

View from the top of the Duomo in Florence

Some places just stick with you. For me, Florence was one of those. 

Since my trip to Europe, I've spent a summer living in Washington DC (I fell in love with being at the center of the nation, but was permanently bitter about the constant humidity), vacationed in Mexico, and been on a road trip from northern Wisconsin to California. Although I'm a poor as dirt recent grad, I'm still envisioning my next trip.

This August, I'll turn 23. If I have all of my ducks in a row, I hope to do an extravagant trip in celebration for my birthday. My list of places I want to go is endless--featuring Thailand, Greece, Paris, Africa, and more. I want to see the world, even if that means saving my pennies.

Truly, I believe traveling is the best kind of love. Every city and country leaves it's mark, and if you're lucky enough, it will change your life. When you experience the culture and the heartbeat of a new place, you learn to think differently. Your view of the world changes as you adjust your outlook to that of the country you're in.

L-R, me, my brother, my sister, and my mom at Yosemite National Park

L-R, me, my brother, my sister, and my mom at Yosemite National Park

I've been to less places than many of my friends, but I don't think my experiences have been any less valid. So often, people think they need an endless stream of money to be able to go somewhere new. While this is helpful, it isn't completely true. 

Travel to new countries is amazing and eye opening, but don't forget about travel to a new city in your state. This year, one of my goals is to travel to a new national park (I have my eye on Yellow Stone). I also want to visit Nashville, Portland, and Dallas. These aren't impossible, especially if you're like me and are willing to camp.

I encourage everyone I've met to travel, to be willing to see the world in a different light, to try new foods and new activities and to never, ever limit themselves. We were never made to stay in one place.

This is the road I have traveled, and in this case, I want to stay the course.