Give in to Wanderlust
Wanderlust is defined as a strong desire to travel or longing to wander. People often say they’ve been bitten by the travel bug; once they start they just can’t get enough and want to keep going. I am here to say I am one of those people.
Almost exactly 2 years ago I left the Chicago area to spend a semester studying abroad in Granada, Spain. I knew it would be amazing; I hoped I would love it and come back with great stories and even better memories, but it was greater than my wildest dreams. Not just my time in Granada, which was incredible (I’ll talk more about this in another post), but the experiences I had outside of Granada were equally important.
Traveling to other parts of Spain and other European countries was an amazing opportunity that I’m so thankful I had. I learned so much about cultures other than my own, but more importantly I learned a lot about myself. Within Spain I could use my Spanish to help me get around: I could read a map or metro schedule, I could go right up to people and ask questions if I was lost, I could even ask people to take my picture and they could understand me! Granted, the confidence to do all these things did not come right away (although I’ve never been a shy person) because I was still a bit embarrassed by my Spanish-speaking abilities. But know that the more you talk to people, even if it’s just to ask a quick question, your confidence will grow and you will feel more comfortable approaching people and initiating a conversation with them. My travels within Spain were great for this, and of course for practicing speaking and listening skills in my non-native language.
But the times I learned the most about myself were the times I traveled by myself. Before I did that, I probably would NOT have recommended it to anyone. I mean, traveling around Europe by yourself? As a 20-year-old American girl? Some of my friends told me my stories sounded like the beginning to the movie “Taken 2”. Maybe they did, but I didn’t care anymore. I had incredible experiences, especially when things didn’t go as planned!
During our first week-long vacation I traveled with 2 other friends to Italy for a few days, but they wanted to return early and spend several days in Madrid. I wanted to keep going, keep traveling further away from Spain. I thought I’d go see my best friend who was studying abroad in Belgium, but it turned out it wasn’t a good time for her. So the day before my friends left for Madrid, I booked an entire trip to Budapest, Hungary by myself. I was nervous, but excited! And it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I met other girls my age from all over the world at my hostel and I now have places to stay if I ever want to visit Brazil or Singapore. Before they adopted me though, I ate lunch in a nearby restaurant and asked my waiter what sights I should see. I took his recommendation and crossed the Danube River via the old Chain Bridge and ascended Castle Mount. Night was falling as I did so and by the time I reached the top of the very, very large hill it was dark and the city was lit up for the night. Being up there alone, with the most incredible view, I had an epiphany: I realized I could do things like this by myself. I didn’t need anyone else with me to be able to travel to amazing places and do new things. I accomplished crossing the city, climbing this hill, and finding my way back to my hostel with a map and my own wits.
That was a defining moment for me, a freeing moment. Realizing I could successfully travel on my own gave me the confidence to do it again. I think it is something everyone needs to do. I would recommend trying it first in a country where you speak the language, then branch out when you feel comfortable. But trust me, once you start, you won’t want to stop. I’m already trying to plot my return to Europe after graduation! And then hopefully to South America, Asia, etc. I plan on giving in to my wanderlust; I hope you do too.