I haven’t traveled to 100 countries or know all there is know about jet setting. There are still a few continents I’ve never been to and although I study, I’ve yet to become fluent in another language. But I write about travel because I am a ‘travel enthusiast.’ I road-trip frequently and go abroad a few times a year. I’m always learning and researching and sharing what I do know. I’m a dreamer of faraway places, a Rick Steves superfan, and a binger of all those travel docuseries. I believe travel is the best way to open your heart, understand humanity and simply go with life’s flow. That is what my first trip abroad taught me.
I didn’t travel as a child, but my mom used to get brochures in the mail advertising trips to Hawaii or the Bahamas, or a river cruise through Europe. I’d take them up to my room and read and fantasize about which hotel I’d stay in, which river cruise I’d embark on and what my favorite country might be. France became my favorite. I wanted to meet French people, sit in cafés, wear a beret and just feel worldly and sophisticated. When my public high school sponsored a trip to see Paris and live with a French family over the summer, I signed up like it was second nature, as though I was ordering a sandwich for lunch. No fanfare, no giddiness. My destiny was to see Paris and it had finally materialized, that’s all.
For a kid who barely been outside of her home state, arriving in Paris was like landing on another planet. I was with a few other American teenagers who were also set to move in with their host families. We declined sleep that first night to walk the streets, taking in the sights, the Eiffel Tower in the distance, the tabac shops on the corners, the advertisements for movies that’d come out in the US at least a year ago. Paris had shops and schools and Coke and McDonald’s but didn’t feel like home at all. It made me a little scared and uncomfortable but I loved it. To be dropped into a new life was the most exciting thing I’d ever felt.
Once I’d arrived at the home of my host family, in a small town of 20,000 at the foot of a mountain in Provence, the culture shock kicked me in the stomach. I was in a 2-story house like the one I lived in, with a family of 4, just like my family at home. It should have felt easy, but it felt different and uncomfortable and that feeling wasn’t sexy this time. I was homesick. The family didn’t speak English and my French sucked so we struggled to communicate. The host family’s teenage daughter went out with her friends and left me home with the mother. If I sat on their patio alone and stared up at the mountains instead of making conversation with ‘Maman,’ she’d call our American host company and complain that I was rude.
I was being rude. I was wallowing in my own discomfort. I cried to the family, the Maman, the teenage girl, and my dad over the phone about how I felt so out of place and everyone spoke too fast for me to understand the language. And then I got over it.
I only spoke French even though I was awful at it. I drew pictures if people couldn’t understand me (this was pre-Google translate). I hung out with local teenagers. They bought me my first shot of tequila and took me to see French films. I had to become comfortable feeling uncomfortable, and then I was finally able to experience that fabulous French life – the cafes, the worldly people. I cried again the day I left for the U.S. I’ve been traveling the world since, seeking that moment when I can break through and live a new life for a few weeks. I still get lost, use the wrong words, and misunderstand the locals. But I feel invigorated, educated and satisfied knowing that I’m becoming citizen of the world.
I will share moments like these, how I research my destinations, how I incorporate my travel education into my everyday life, and my other travel-related passions with you, my fellow Travel Enthusiasts and Optimists.