Wandering the World: The Invaluable Experience of Travel
I stood there in awe and disbelief gazing out across the Ucayali River, its waters reflecting the twilight sky painted with delicate brush strokes of violet and amber hues. I had arrived at the remote jungle community in Pucallpa, Peru only a few hours earlier by boat with nothing but a backpack and a few liters of drinking water. The week before, I left my job and sold nearly all of my possessions for the third time in 4 years. It was inevitable. Wanderlust swam through my veins much like the small piranhas I later discovered that same week while swimming in one of the tributaries leading to the Amazon River.
To Travel or Not To Travel
My passion for discovering the world was first sparked by a single letter that arrived in our mailbox during my sophomore year of high school. Upon reading it, I thought it was a scam. It had to be. Supposedly, a prestigious organization had invited me to spend 3 weeks with 30 other high school students exploring the coast and cultures of the Mediterranean. The letter went on to explain that we would travel by bus through Spain, France, Italy and Monaco. It also mentioned that someone had specifically nominated me for the program.
“Who would nominate me?” I asked aloud, having reread the letter to my mother and sister. By that point, I had already written the whole idea off as an intriguing but impossible pipe dream.
“You should go!” my mother exclaimed. At that moment, my sister and I both turned our heads and looked at her in disbelief. Two years earlier, our father had passed away shortly after being diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. I had balanced enough of our checkbooks to know that we were swimming in debt from the hospital bills and funeral services. Going on a trip halfway across the world was simply out of the question.
Despite my best efforts, my mother insisted. She brushed off my concerns without a second thought and assured me that we would find a way to come up with the $3,000 the letter requested in exchange for the “trip of a lifetime.”
Over the next eight months, we hosted bake sales, sold catalogs and started a scholarship fund through our church. Raising that money was nothing short of miraculous, but raise it we did. And that summer, still very much in a dreamlike state, I waved goodbye to my family and boarded the bus for the airport.
What I experienced during those three weeks in Europe is difficult to put into words. I wandered through cobblestone streets, indulged in mouthwatering gelato and basked in the warm blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, a welcome change from my childhood summers spent turning nearly as blue as the Atlantic Ocean where we courageously chose to swim.
It felt as if I had entered into a fairy tale, given that I had only ever known these places to exist in textbooks and movies. Suddenly, these cultures came alive in a way that felt meaningful. I became thirsty for more such travel experiences and for more conversations with foreigners who were willing exchange riveting stories on our experiences we each had in our little corners of the world.
As the saying goes, not all those who wander are lost. It has been 13 years since I first set off to discover new languages and cultures apart from my own and I have been traveling ever since. I have wandered the streets, spoken the local languages and eaten the strangely delicious delicacies of 23 countries across 4 continents. I now understand why my mother insisted that I answered the call to travel and leave my small hometown in Connecticut all those years ago.
Although she had never traveled further than Canada, she understood the invaluable experiences travel can offer. She encouraged me to take a leap of faith and thanks to her inspired belief in the improbable, I too discovered what I am capable of when I challenge the reality of my circumstances.