Sunday, December 05, 2010

Strength to Lead a Journey

One of my favorite past times in the world is traveling. I love eating foods from different regions, hearing interesting accents and getting my passport stamped at border control. My dream in life is to die while speaking a foreign language, preferably while ordering food or asking for the bathroom.

But I’ve been grounded the last few years due to low funds and a growing concern that I might step onto the wrong plane. Sometimes I feel like a part of me is missing, but where do I find the time, money and courage to pack my bags and head out on an adventure? Where does one find the strength?

The first trip I ever took out of the United States was to Italy. Stepping off of the plane onto foreign soil where they spoke a different language felt like a dream. It was neither good nor bad, just a feeling that I wasn’t really there.

My friend, Jay, met me at the airport in Rome, and for the next week and a half, he was my tour guide through Italy. We traveled by train throughout the country, and slept in hostels, sharing rooms with people from all over the world. We rode gondolas in Venice, ate pizza in Naples and learned Italian words and phrases as we walked on top of a stone wall only a few feet away from the leaning tower of Pisa. This was in 1994 before the book, “Eat, Pray, Love,” so our trip was NOT inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert or Julia Roberts.

The day we parted ways, Jay headed to Sicily, and I took the train back to Rome. I had a night in the city before I went back to the United States the next day, and planned to stay at a hostel that Jay and I slept at on the beginning of our trip.

But when I stepped out of the train station onto the street, I was lost. I had followed Jay around and relied on him to get us to our destinations. I hadn’t bothered to look at a map or even pay attention to street signs. The once warm and magical Rome where I’d feasted on pasta, cappuccinos and gelato, suddenly made me feel cold, hungry and vulnerable.

For three hours, I walked around looking for the hostel. For three hours, I cursed myself for being stupid enough to go to a country where I didn’t know the language. When I finally stumbled upon the hostel and my bed for the night, I collapsed exhausted from the ordeal. The week and a half of great memories was destroyed within only a few hours of fear and weakness.

However, after I returned back to the U.S. and told stories of my trip, my enthusiasm for adventure returned. Before Italy, I had a crush on traveling, but afterwards, the attraction turned into head over heels in love. Anytime I was able, I packed my bags and set off on excursions with high hopes of creating memories.

But the photographs, postcards and passport stamps weren’t the most valuable possessions I collected on my travels. It was the education I received.

Did you know that some people in The Netherlands believe that their Santa Claus lives in Spain and delivers gifts on a boat? Can you believe that in Connecticut they call a, “poboy,” a “grinder,” or that it’s almost impossible to find a homemade chocolate chip cookie in Switzerland? Learning this first hand, my friends, is way more interesting than sitting in an elementary school social studies class. (Unless, of course, my sister-in-law Rhonda is teaching it.)

My travels have led to job offers, better communication skills and lifelong friendships throughout the world. As a writer, I consider all of my excursions an investment well worth spent and more valuable than anything I’ve ever owned. I hope to have many more trips ahead of me and encourage each and every one to travel as often as they can.

But I also understand the roadblocks in traveling. There are commitments, and time and financial restrictions. These are all issues that I experienced myself. I was only able to overcome them by making travel a priority, and doing my research.

I subscribed to travel magazines, read guidebooks and regularly checked websites for airfare and hotel deals. I re-organized my budget so less was spent on clothing and movies, and more on trips. Most importantly, as learned from my trip to Italy, I always carried a map and was prepared with information to take charge of my journey.

There are thousands of books and websites on traveling for adventurers with only a dime and a dream. There are volunteer opportunities, educational courses and surprisingly affordable excursions.

For many, now might not be the right time to travel. myself included. However, in order to continue my education on what makes the earth tick, I have future plans of adventure. Preparing and taking charge of the trip will alleviate most fears and concerns. Leading our own journey while we learn about the world will help us understand it better and give us strength.

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