Wanderlust Week: 5 Trips That Changed My Life

My favorite thing about traveling is that it always changes me. Whether I’m taking a road trip to a neighboring state or exploring Europe for a month, I never come back home the same person I was when I left. Traveling changes your perspective, it changes the way you see yourself, and it changes the way you see the world. In honor of Wanderlust 2013, I thought I’d look back at a few of the travel experiences that have had the biggest impact on my life. Please feel free to share you own travel experiences in the comments!

Washington, DC, 2007. After seeing a YouTube video publicizing a massive anti-war march in Washington, DC, my brother, boyfriend and I decided to travel to from Portland to DC to join the protest. This was the first time I’d ever been to the east coast and the first time I’d ever participated in such a large scale protest. News reports estimated the turnout  to be 100,000, and I will never forget the energy of that day, chanting as we walked toward the capitol, watching people calmly crossing police lines and be arrested one by one. It was humbling and inspiring to meet people from all over the country–and the world–speaking out against a war that had dragged on for far too long. I was broke for months afterwards, but it was so worth it.

Chicago, 2009. A few years ago, I had a pretty intense quarter life crisis and decided that I wanted to be Tina Fey. The best way to go about this seemed to be signing up for an intensive improv class at Chicago’s famous Second City theater, where Tina had gotten her training. I was terrified of improv and it was my first time traveling alone, but I did it anyway. And you know what? It turns out that I suck at improv and I don’t really like traveling alone, but how else would I have figured these things out if I hadn’t gotten on that plane and made some really bad jokes? I learned a lot about myself during that week in Chicago; most importantly: I am not Tina Fey, and that’s OK.

Florida, 2010. My dad grew up on the edge of the Everglades in southern Florida, and his childhood provided him with tons of crazy stories that I memorized long ago. I’d always wanted to visit this mythical place that seemed to have played such a huge role in shaping my strange, adventurous father. In 2010, I finally convinced my dad to take two of my brothers and me back to his homeland. The trip turned out to be just as weird and exciting and unpredictable as my dad: we hunted Burmese pythons, got attacked by horseflies, befriended hillbilly fishermen, found a 12-foot alligator in a drainage ditch, and watched our 60-year-old father dive into a swamp to catch a water moccasin. After spending some time in this wild corner of the country, I realized my dad couldn’t have turned out any other way. This trip changed my life because it helped me understand my dad.

Europe, 2011. I spent five weeks exploring Europe a couple years ago (and documented some of my travels for The Frisky!) and while the experience itself was amazing, the biggest lesson I took away from this trip is how to take a big, crazy travel dream and actually make it happen.

I’d always wanted to go to Europe and preferably stay for at least a month, but it had never seemed to be an actual possibility due to money and time constraints. At the time I was working at a local community college and juggling freelance writing jobs, so I was very busy but not exactly rolling in the dough. I spent a lot of time scrolling through my friends’ travel photos on Facebook, stewing in jealousy that I could never take a trip like that. What changed my perspective? It was actually a blog post from my friend, travel blogger Sarah Von Bargen, called “How To Save Up For Big Ticket Items,” in which she gave the following advice:

“Realize that every non-essential thing you buy is a step away from your dream… Before you buy yet another set of decorative towels, realize that all that terry cloth equates to one night in a Cambodian hostel. Or a can of paint for the house you want to buy. Or two weeks worth of car insurance on that Saab you don’t have yet. If you want to make these things happen, you have to make them a priority, right?”

Something about the way she phrased this very simple idea changed my entire perspective. I realized that all this time I spent complaining about not being able to travel, I was still buying lattes, shoes, dresses, makeup, even cable TV. I realized I could continue to live my life the same way I’d been living, or I could shift my priorities, stop complaining, and start doing. So I saved my money; I looked at my work calendar for the year and found a slow month to ask my boss for a leave of absence; I bought a plane ticket to Paris; I had the time of my life. The opportunity to see the world rarely just falls in your lap. This trip taught me that if you want something, you have to make it happen.

Nashville, 2012. I visited Nashville for a long weekend last year, and today I’m writing this list from a coffee shop near my new home in Nashville. Obviously the trip made a pretty big impact on me. I’ve traveled quite a bit domestically, but I’d never found a place that I could see myself actually relocating to. Within hours of getting off the plane in Nashville, I felt like this was where I wanted to be. Luckily my boyfriend felt the same way, and about eight months later we packed up all our stuff in the back of my VW Jetta and took the leap. So far, it’s been pretty amazing. Thank goodness for long weekends and crazy ideas.

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