The first time ruins you for life. There you are, going through life not knowing what you’re missing. When it finally happens, a whole world opens up to you. It seduces you and leaves you wanting more. It consumes your every thought.
Yea, you know what I’m talking about.
Wait, no. I’m talking about travel, ya pervs.
I had thought about studying abroad as an undergraduate. I looked into a year abroad in Australia before I started my freshman year, and my parents tentatively approved it. But, as I jumped headfirst into life at West Virginia University, I ended up having so much fun that any international plans fell by the wayside. I had never left the U.S. before and for me, everything I needed was in Morgantown, WV.
It wasn’t until the spring semester of my junior year that a friend in one of my Spanish classes told me she was doing the month-long study abroad in Santander, Spain over the summer and that I should do it, too. I read up on the program and got excited about the prospect. Next thing I know, I had applied for a passport, booked a flight, then after a hectic and stressful departure, stepped foot in Spain for the very first time.
It was an incredible experience. After the fact I tended to tell people that I had a love-hate relationship with Spain; I loved it and it hated me. I had some not so great experiences with people who disliked me simply because I was American, but I also met a bunch of incredible people from all over Europe (one of whom I met up with in Brussels this past April). The experience was a game changer. I got back to the States with one thing on my mind — how to get back there.
Then, life happened. I graduated in the height of the financial crisis and found getting a decent job damn near impossible. My dreams of living and teaching English overseas were crushed for various reasons and I decided that grad school would be the safest route. I’m sure our generation will boast the highest percentage of graduate degrees of all the generations. It’s not that I never wanted to get a Masters, but at that point in time, I made the move out of necessity. Luckily, it paid off.
It would be two more years before I made it back onto a plane heading to a new destination. My second international jaunt led me to Dublin, Ireland. I thought I loved Spain until I met Ireland. After that trip, I spent a solid week in a legitimate depression. Once again, I was hooked on the rush of a new country, new accent, new language, new way of life.
After graduation, my degree did what it was designed to do. I got a full-time position at the health department and started making decent money. I was happy. Each year, I was able to take a two week trip to some far-off land. I did my first solo trip across three countries in 2011. Experienced Central America and the pura vida lifestyle of Costa Rica in 2012. I spent all year looking forward to those trips, but it was never enough. I came back wanting more.
I finally made the commitment in 2014 with my move to Madrid. It was a complete whirlwind of a year, with the lowest lows and highest highs. But I felt alive. Every day was like a gift; I could never predict what would happen and I loved how I could find something novel in the most mundane tasks of daily life. For $95 RT I was able to hop on a plane to Ireland where I spent 20 of the most amazing days wandering from town to town, without a plan, without a care in the world. I passed 11 days of Easter vacation drifting through Italy, Switzerland, and Belgium. All of Europe was at my fingertips.
Now that I’m back home, I’m tormented by complicated feelings. I love Baltimore. I love my friends here, my house, being close to my family. But I feel like I’m falling back into a predictable routine. This life is comfortable. I know what to expect. I don’t like that. I want to be kept on my toes.
I can’t help but think that all these experiences have ruined me for what could be defined as a “regular life.” I’m getting involved in new activities here, but it still doesn’t change the flow of everyday life. Sure, I could settle into a job and get back to my once a year two week vacations. I don’t think that will ever suffice again, though.
That said, I have begun making moves for the next chapter. It seems insane to me, especially since I just back, but I know that if I don’t do it, I will always regret it. I’ve made it a point in life to never regret the past. Less than fantastic things have happened as a result of past decisions, but rather than wish they never happened, I look at them at opportunities for growth; to learn from what I did wrong. That said, I’m going to seize this new opportunity and see it through.
This life may be unconventional, but it works for me.