Back to Traveling

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a new post and I apologize for that. I unfortunately wasn’t able to travel this last year and time just goes by so quickly. This past year has actually been the longest amount of time I’ve ever stayed home in my life. I had my first whole winter in Buffalo, which was actually kind of nice.

The reason for my lack of travel, besides a new puppy I adore, is that I enrolled in graduate school last summer and have been working ridiculously hard ever since. After four years of being away from school, it was not totally easy to just jump back into it, but at the same time, it felt so right walking on campus again. I am finding happiness through learning, reading, writing, studying, creating, and working with incredible people. I feel stimulated and alive in ways I haven’t felt probably since graduating those years ago. I love to learn, which is one reason I love to travel. Sometimes it’s hard to find the balance in life, but I’m always working on that.

So, right now I’m sitting in southern Sweden and I just came back from a visit to Germany. It feels so good to be back in the travel mode. I love the rush of the airport, the feeling of stepping off a plane, and taking in the space and sense of somewhere new. It’s funny how something can be such a huge part of your life for so long and then with just a little time without it, you forget. But I think that makes it more magical when you experience that something again and start to remember and gain new moments.

I have a lot to share from my this trip and will be posting all about them soon!

Glad to be back 🙂

How Traveling Saved Me

When I was seventeen, I felt completely invincible. Like most teenagers, I felt I had it all and nothing was going to get in the way of my dreams. I was full of life, optimism, joy, and drive. I was preparing to graduate from high school with honors, I won trophies for my piano playing abilities, I had an active, healthy social life, I had a trainer at the gym and was in excellent shape, and I was studying accounting with hopes of a future career. Everything was going my way and I was untouchable.

Until one morning, I found out that I was, in fact, just as vulnerable as any other person.

My mom drove me to school like any other morning and we were just talking, getting ready to start the day. Then another car smashed into us and my life changed forever. It wasn’t so severe that anyone almost died or anything, and I know how lucky we are for that, but it was devastating none the less. From that moment, I was practically on bed rest for months, stuck in a restraining neck brace, hardly able to lift a finger without excruciating pain. I was on a lot of pain medication that made me foggy and exhausted. I missed the last few months of my senior year, they rearranged everything so I was still able to graduate with my class, but it certainly wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I was left out of events and activities that are important at that time in a person’s life. I didn’t get to do the typical Senior year moments. Everything normal just disappeared and faded away. There I was, completely defenseless to what was happening.

Months after, I was “on track” to healing and was supposed to be feeling “better,” yet I was still struggling with every aspect of daily life. Looking back, I still remember how much I suffered that year. There were days I was in so much physical pain that I couldn’t brush my hair or get dressed by myself. My skin was raw from the brace. I had crippling headaches that made it difficult to get out of bed. I couldn’t sleep because the pain would keep me up, and then the lack of sleep would cause more pain. I learned I would never have the same function in my left arm and hand. They kept telling me that I was young and healthy so I would be fine overtime, but I wasn’t. Time passed and doctors became more honest about the realities I would be facing after I wasn’t so young anymore.

And emotionally, I was a wreck. I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life, I’m not going to pretend I didn’t, but the car accident exasperated my anxiety to such an extent that it sometimes made it hard to function properly. I had horrible panic attacks, sometimes to the point where I fainted. I struggled with an overwhelming need to be in control, something I still work on. I felt that in a moment when I didn’t have any control, my life was ruined. So I put everything I had in me into school and the rest of my time was devoted to doctor appointments, physical therapy, and painful treatments. Some weeks I had four days a week full of appointments. I was prescribed Xanax to help cope. I tried seeing a therapist to talk about how anxious and depressed I was, but it only made me feel worse – like a failure when I wasn’t improving. Talking about what happened wasn’t healing me or causing my injuries to recover. My medical problems became my extracurricular life. I couldn’t get a job or join clubs in those first few years of college. Of course my social life suffered. Many of my friendships dissolved and my relationship with my boyfriend was strained and just didn’t take its natural progression because he often had to take care of me. We couldn’t go places or be out late because I was in too much pain. It’s not easy to be young and have to explain to your peers that you can’t go out because you’re body is failing you. It’s not easy to be young and to be forced to face real vulnerability and loss.

I was drowning both physically and mentally. I had the best support system around me with a loving family who did everything they could to help me, but no one really knew what I was feeling. I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t explain the way my body felt – the hurt, weakness, or physical and emotional exhaustion. I felt frustrated because I was so depressed and hated how much I lost, but I also knew I was lucky to be alive and in as good of condition as I was. So then I felt guilty for feeling bad for myself. I suffocated myself in overthinking everything about my life – my past, present, and future. I was afraid to do anything because what if it made things worse. The what if’s of life started to pile up and consume me and I knew people around me were tired of hearing it. I developed such strong social anxiety that I struggled to have even the most basic of conversations. So I kept focusing on school and what I could control, but it’s not healthy to completely absorb yourself in studies. I never even skipped a class throughout college because I would think “what if I have to miss because of my medical problems.” But all the A’s in my classes weren’t changing my realities.

But then I realized I had enough. I was drained of the self-pity and other people feeling sorry for me. I was tired of letting this one terrible moment control so much of my life. I had had enough of nothing improving. I was twenty years old and didn’t want any more regrets. I couldn’t stand the thought of being trapped in this body or this anxiety any longer. It had stolen enough of my life. So one day, I planned a summer abroad traveling around Australia and Fiji. Although I still had medical issues and was in regular treatment, I got the clear to go on this trip with some limitations. To pick up and leave was very unlike me, or maybe very much like pre-accident me that had faded away. I  decided I wanted to actually have a chance to live, like really live. So that was it. I packed up and took off across the world.

Being away that summer, I felt completely liberated. I had left behind all the baggage of this accident that had taken over my life for years. No one I met knew what had happened to me, I didn’t have the burden of appointments every week, I was able to do whatever I was capable of without people watching my every move, and my anxiety just melted away. Traveling gave me back the ability to focus on the small moments of every day and appreciate their value in a new way. It was like someone reached down through me and pulled out my soul from some depths where it been lost.

People who know me question how I can be so anxious at home over the smallest things, yet, when I’m in a country across the world I am able to just go with the flow. I really believe traveling saved me. I wanted to travel. That was always the plan and some part of my life, but my accident made that seem less possible. At home, I was obsessed with perfection and control, and my anxiety got the best of me most days. Yet, in a weird way my accident made me less afraid to go out and explore the world. I guess I felt that if something so tragic and life changing could happen around the corner from home, then I may as well go across the world and take my chances. There was suddenly less to be afraid of when breaking out of my everyday routine and trying something completely different than there was staying stuck in the same place each day.

That summer abroad changed me. It gave me strength, inspiration, and hope for a better future. I became more self-sufficient, independent, and motivated. I felt like my whole world had opened up again. These refreshing moments throughout my trip stayed with me. Experiencing being one tiny person surrounded by the immense Great Barrier Reef, humbled me. The joy of something like spotting a group of kangaroos on the side of the road made me feel like a happy child again. Staying in a Fijian village with people who have so little gave me perspective about my own situation. But mostly having real time alone gave me the chance I desperately needed to process the challenges of the last few years. The trip changed my attitude and outlook on life. As my experience came to an end, I dreaded going home and feared I would go right back to who I was before I left. But I didn’t.

And that’s when I really understood the impact of traveling. It changed my life, just like that terrible accident had, but this time it changed me for the better. I was excited about life again in ways I hadn’t felt for years and I couldn’t wait to go again and again. The experience of traveling became my addiction and greatest passion.

So I made it home and I pushed through school and work. I struggled with another troubling medical bump before finishing school when my dentist found a tumor growing in my jaw. I was faced again with my vulnerability, but I was able to get through it. After the surgery, they discovered the tumor was not cancerous and I would be okay despite some minor nerve damage in my face. But I continued pushing on and eventually I finished school with the highest honors in two degrees.

My biggest plan for the future wasn’t to get right into a career or go to graduate school. My plan was to live my life the way I wanted to and to see as much of the world that I could, as soon as I had the chance. I had been faced with two traumatic medical experiences that forced me to acknowledge how short life can be and how quickly it can change. I knew making plans for “someday” was not worth the wait. After graduating from university, I spent a year traveling. When I was home, I was completely inspired. I began to paint, to learn cake decorating, to work on photography, to write, and I even learned how to exercise with my changed body. I found new passions in my life. I found ways to manage my anxiety through these passions. And yeah, I still really struggled too. As much as I wish traveling could have healed me physically, it didn’t. There were times I suffered horribly and couldn’t move for days. There were plenty of tears over the years as I realized how much I would never be capable of again. But sometimes, after surviving the long plane rides, when I would be on the other side of the world, in warm weather with fresh air – I would feel better too. Home or not, there are always good days and bad days.

Now, nearly nine years since my car accident, I still have lingering pain, physical weakness, and limitations, but since leaving for that first big solo trip to Australia, I’ve been to 18 countries – about 2/3 of the countries I’ve seen in my life. I’ve travelled more around the States. I’ve been much more open to life and actually living in ways I hadn’t realized my accident had stolen from me. Traveling continues to help me work through some of the toughest moments of my life. I always look forward to a bright future with more trips. Traveling has saved me.

 

Overcoming Post-Travel Blues

I had the time of my life this past summer. Well, this whole last year actually. I was able to see places I’ve always dreamed of visiting – from Cambodia to Croatia. I was able to experience things most people never do. I was able to truly live and find myself through the greatest journeys I’ve ever had. During my last semester of college, all I knew was that I wanted to escape and get out of this town, to travel and see the world as much as I could – a lot of people feel that way and say it out loud, but I actually took the jump and did it. I took the goals I had created and I went for them, even when it was hard or scary or bad timing or whatever excuses people make every day for not going after their dreams. I understand why people don’t or can’t accomplish their ambitions, but I don’t understand people who don’t bother trying. Traveling gives me the greatest kind of high I can have, it gives me amazing excitement and passion – it makes me realize love is real because I love to travel more than anything. So even at the worst moments, even when I’m terrified or struggling, it’s absolutely worth it.

 

But let’s be honest, that kind of high is hard to come down from. When I came back after the trip of a lifetime this past summer, after a year of traveling to places some people have never even heard of, I felt on top of the world. Even though I felt homesick at times, coming home was hard and my desire to get back was so strong. When I came home to my messy apartment, friends who had their own crazy summers without me, time before my job started, and this seemingly empty routine waiting for me – it all just caused that amazing high from traveling to crash very quickly. A lot of people gave me a hard time for spending too much time traveling and not enough time developing a “real” life.

 

The week I came home from Europe, I wrote this:

It’s weird when you come back from a trip like that because there’s no way it doesn’t change you, that you don’t grow, see the world differently, learn about yourself and who you are, realize where you come from. And then you come back and you’re suddenly thrown into this routine again with people who were there before the experience that changed you. And that homesickness you felt while you were away turns into this travel-sickness causing you to miss being back out there now that you’re home. And then there you are and you suddenly find yourself surrounded by people you realize don’t actually know you that well, who don’t know the side of you that exists when you’re on the other end of the world. These people who have no idea what you’re going through. You look out the window at what’s going on out there, thinking about how much really is out there. You wonder who here would understand it. You can’t tell anyone how you feel because they haven’t experienced it; they’ve never left this town the same way. And you’re supposed to be happy when you get back to the people you love, so you feel guilty wishing you hadn’t come back. This emptiness just starts consuming you and you’re not sure if it’s the jetlag messing you up or maybe it’s having to face the reality of your life and who you were versus who you are, how you can be one thing here and another there. You try and mix the two together and it doesn’t go well at all because you need different survival techniques in each place and they don’t work the same elsewhere. The real world is different from the travel world.

You must think I’m crazy. This must sound nuts if you haven’t experienced it. I always find that coming home is harder than anything and everything that happens during my travels. Harder than getting sick in a third world country, harder than getting lost in a big city where they don’t speak English, harder than trying to understand the train schedules on a busy day. Coming home takes real work. But eventually you get by. You start adjusting back – so slowly at first you don’t even realize it and you try holding onto who you were when you were away because you like that person better and it felt more real than anything you were at home before. But there you are, going back to your old ways. Forgetting the small details. Forgetting why you felt free and alive in a way you never had before.

And that’s when I know I need to plan another trip before I lose that part of me completely. That need for something else in life – for freedom, for dreams, for change.

 

Obviously when I came home, the post-travel blues took over me. I felt very lost and confused about my place in this town, the direction my life was going, and how I would get through. The confidence I have when I’m on a plane heading to somewhere I’ve never been before seemed to disappear once I walked through a doorway I had been through countless other times. My first instinct was to plan another trip and run, but sometimes you have to take a break and focus on your home life too. That’s what everyone kept telling me anyway, and I get it. I love to travel; it’s practically an addiction. I certainly felt like I went through withdrawal for a long time after I returned home after this past summer. But now, four months after my backpacking adventure, things are finally truly better. I’ve gotten new jobs that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with, I’ve worked on relationships that definitely needed attention, I’ve focused on my health, and I’ve developed a home life that I’m extremely happy with (one that works for me).

 

For the first time in a long time, I’m feeling like I’ve found a purpose. This may sound very silly, but I think a lot of people my age struggle with this reality every day.

 

So there have been some small trips across the country over the last four months, which I will be writing about very soon (I promise)! And we all know I’m always planning another big adventure and working on something in my head – so get ready!

What I Get out of my Travels

Traveling is one of my biggest passions in life. Why? Because of everything I have gotten out of my experiences through travel. Of course it’s fun and adventurous, but it’s more than just that – it’s helped me develop as a stronger person and contributed immensely in making me the person I am. It’s experiential learning. Here are some reasons why going everywhere any chance you can can be so incredibly valuable.

  1. Traveling creates maturity and independence

Being in a different town, state, country, or continent can be scary and overwhelming! Whether you are alone or not, you will be in new situations where you have no choice but to act like a grown up and handle it. You will have to try things on your own, find that transportation, make that reservation, or talk to someone you don’t know. It forces you out of your comfort zone, which helps you grow.

  1. You learn it’s okay to ask for help

Although you become more mature and independent, part of that involves understanding that there’s nothing wrong with accepting others’ advice and assistance – this is a harder less for some more than others. There will be that time you get lost or confused. If I had started asking for help earlier in my travels, I would have saved the time it took to follow my old method of standing in front of a sign with a confused look on my face until someone came over and asked what I needed. It’s usually much more efficient to just ask! Often you can meet friendly people and may even learn something unexpected in the process.

  1. It’s always good to gain perspective

Traveling makes you aware of how small you are in the world. Billions of people live on this Earth with struggles and realities you cannot even begin to comprehend. Actually exploring and taking a look around gives you a chance to face this fact and change your view of yourself, the world, and your place within it. Suddenly some trivial issues don’t seem as important.

  1. You understand patience really is a virtue

In a time where everything has become instant through modern technology, many people lack the skill of basic patience. Even if everything is on time and goes smoothly, there will always be plenty of time to wait for flights, buses, trains, boats, other people, translations, or answers. Learning to deal with unwanted extra time is an important and worthwhile ability, even if it can be boring at times.

  1. You can find joy in the small things

When you travel to a new place, it seems like everything is new and exciting, even something as simple as a piece of bread. Experiencing this newness and discovering the ability to feel excitement over those little joys can be also be applied back home, you can gain a new appreciation for all parts of life with a fresh pair of eyes.

  1. Traveling often leads to a little modesty

In American society, direct confidence is often valued and seen in those who are successful. Experiencing being lost or confused in an unknown place can be a very humbling moment. Hearing what people in other parts of the world think of where you come from and learning about their values can change how you see yourself.

  1. It provides the chance to learn new perspectives of history and culture

Traveling often leads to museum visits and tours, but even if it doesn’t, any interaction with locals can help broaden your knowledge about a place, its history and culture, and how the perspective from that place may be different than from what you learned in your home country. Textbooks and Wikipedia articles can help inform you so much about a place, but actually going there and seeing it doesn’t just teach you, it actually affects you.

  1. Flexibility will make for a better experience

When you travel – whether it’s to the next town over or on the other side of the world – you have to be willing to be flexible. If your expectations are for a perfect trip, it will be a disaster because something will always cost more than planned, someone will get hurt or sick, something important will be forgotten during packing (Murphy’s Law of travel). Be flexible and positive, and you can even try applying these to “real” life once you’re back home – you may be surprised to find it makes you happier.

Welcome!

Hi! I’m so excited to finally be starting this blog – it’s been on my mind for too long. Because 2015 basically just started, I figured it was the right time to get writing. I’ve already gone on one trip abroad since the New Year, which I’ll write about soon. I try not to stay in one place too long, so I’m currently packing and getting ready for another huge adventure. In two days, I’ll be heading to California, and then after the weekend I’m going across the world to Cambodia! This will be my first time to Southeast Asia and I couldn’t be more excited. So get ready because many trips are to come and I can’t wait to share all of my experiences with you 🙂