85/365 How Backpacking Through Europe Changed My Life

On the desk of my childhood bedroom you can find a plastic Utz pretzel container. In red sharpie it has been labeled as, “Italy Money,” with several exclamation points after it. Some time after that it became the, “Travel money jar.” I believe I was in middle school when I deposited my first handful of change into the jug. I had been taking an intro to Italian course and became obsessed with visiting the land of carbohydrates. Relatives and friends alike admired my dream as I dove into couch cushions searching for loose change and the ever allusive quarter.

But as I got older, and as my dreams for travel became more ambitious, people around me found it less endearing and more worrisome. At twelve years old it’s cute to crawl around on hands and knees to finance your adventure, but as a college student with impending student loan debt? Well, then it’s just sad. The original trip to Italy that I dreamed up in my head as a sixth grader grew into a larger plan to backpack through Europe for the summer.

It was a plan that I just started to vocalize out loud and would reiterate it again to most people that I met. One day I woke up almost panicked because I knew this plan needed to be backed up with … well,  actual plans and reservations. It got to a point where the trip didn’t scare me because I was more scared of not going. I had told too many people about my dream that the only option was to go, or to admit to being a fraud.

My plans were met with a lot of questions and concerns from people around me. The majority of time I did feel some measure of support but then there were the exceptions, like my uncle, who thought it was about the worst idea in the world. It didn’t necessarily bother him that I was going, but it bothered him that I planned on being alone for part of the two month trek. And being a young, white American with doe eyes made me an easy target.  I didn’t disagree with him, but I knew that I had never felt more compelled to do anything in my life, and if I let fear of the unknown stop me then I would forever regret my decision.

It’s been a year since I made that decision, since I got on that plane and had one of the best experiences of my life.

A lot has happened between now and then, so much so that it feels as if that trip happened to another person and I just know their stories really well. I forget what it feels like to be that bold, brave woman who said to her family, who said to everybody, “I’m doing this and there is nothing you can do or say that will make me change my mind.” In the months that I have been home I’ve seemed to have lost that attitude. I don’t even know who that person is anymore; the young woman who could jump off cliffs, and make friends with just about anybody that was sitting around her in a hostel lobby.

I was visiting Austin, Texas and I was discussing with my friend how lost I felt because there was nothing in my life that was pulling me forward. No job, no school, and without some type of structure I felt as if I was reverting back to the shy and cautious demeanor I had as a young girl. My friend listened to me patiently and gently reminded me that the incredible person who traveled by herself in the defiance of others was the same woman who was sitting next to her on this rock in Zilker Park. And because I was the same woman I could accomplish anything that I set my mind to.

In life, there are moments of transformation that you can sometimes point to and say, “that is where things changed,” or you can say how a singular experience truly shaped you. But sometimes we let go of those feelings. We let go of that excitement and lose sight of who we are and what are passion is. I’m trying to remember who that person was a year ago, and trying to figure out how I can bring her forward into my present life to face the challenges I am going through. Life isn’t all backpacking trips with moments of rushing adrenaline, but each day can still have it’s own excitement. It’s the excitement that comes from the knowledge that you are doing everything you can to stay true to the person that thrived on those other adventures.

It began with an Utz pretzel jug, and it continues by searching for the opportunities that remind me of who I am, and what I have to offer.


 

Day Eighty-Five

Feature Image: Wikipedia 

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