You don’t just wake up one morning and decide you’re going to travel the world on your own; something or somewhere has to ignite the spark.
It was the summer of 2006. I had been living in Nashville and attending Belmont University for just over a year, and was finally starting to gain confidence as an independent adult away from the nest. A friend of mine, Marion, decided to study abroad in London for the fall semester. If it was OK, I said, I’d like to come visit. She enthusiastically agreed, and I’m not sure if either one of us believed I would actually follow through.
But thanks to incredibly affordable airfare and a little movie called loveactually, I booked a roundtrip ticket from Nashville to London for a quick 5-day jaunt in October that coincided with my university’s fall break. It would be the trip that would start it all.
For some reason, my flight to London–even at the bargain bin price of $450– had about 5 people on it. (I’ve yet to go on another transcontinental flight that is anything less than stuffed to the brim!). One of the other four people on the plane was a guy in graduate school sitting in the row behind me. I think he correctly pegged me as the frightened, inexperienced child that I was, and took me under his wing. Frazzled by the magnitude of everything and bleary-eyed by lack of sleep, I had no idea how to get to the Central Station from Gatwick. A veteran of travel, he led me to the ticket machine, helped me buy the ticket, and we took the tube together.
The train rolled through the outer rim of London, past countryside and neighborhoods. As I stole my first glances of the United Kingdom, he told me about his travels, and showed me the well-decorated pages of his thick American passport. He pointed at a particularly ornate stamp. “This is my favorite,” he told me, “this is Egypt’s stamp.”
I was in awe. He asked me where else I’d traveled, and I found myself embarrassed to admit, “just the US.” Desperate to contribute something worldly to the conversation, I told him of my desire to go to Greece.
“Here’s something interesting,” he said, “there are pieces of the Parthenon, the Parthenon Marbles, that at the British Museum that they took from Greece a few centuries ago. So, if you go to both the Acropolis and the British Museum, you will have seen the Parthenon in it’s entirety.”
I’m not sure if it’s because I live in Nashville that has its own full-sized Parthenon replica, but that fascinated me. In that moment, I promised myself I’d one day venture to Greece. (Note: It would take 3 years, but I would eventually make it there.)
The train pulled in the Central Station, and I parted ways with someone who was spending his 20’s traipsing around foreign lands and seeking adventure. He had taught me a new perspective, and most of all, that anything is possible. I was about to become addicted to international travel.
As a 20-year-old American with no international travel experience, London was the perfect first destination. I knew the language (in theory, ha!), but everything else was different, fascinating, exciting, and intriguing. Being in a country with a history centuries older than that of the USA was so incredibly awesome. I was shocked that the Westminster Abbey was built in the 10th century and here I was, still able to attend a church service inside it. I could’ve spent days trolling the British Museum and drooling over their expansive collections. Even a trip to the grocery store provided a few hours of free entertainment (truth be told, this is still something that greatly amuses me. It’s a fast way to get in tune with the locals and your surroundings, after all!).
I made the classic rookie traveler mistakes: I fried my straightener, got nailed on the already awful exchange rate by cashing in traveler’s checks; got lost going to and from Buckingham Palace at night, and I had a crappy camera that devoured more batteries than I ate Aero bars. However, I did one thing right: I visited all the places on my “London bucket list”, even if it meant splitting off from the group and finding my way alone. But I can’t fully take credit for having the guts to venture out solo–Marion had assured that London is a great city to navigate on your own. She was right.
The entire time I was in London, I couldn’t believe how easy it had been to get there. Wandering around a foreign city alone wasn’t completely terrifying after all– in fact, it was liberating. It was as simple as every domestic trip I’d taken.
I was addicted.
My father was a vagabond in his 20’s, and this trip awakened that same DNA strand in me that is laced with wanderlust. When I graduated college a year and a half later, I chose to be freelance over a 9-5 because of the flexibility it offered, which meant I could take a month off to travel if I wanted to.
7 Years Later
Travel, especially solo travel, has given me confidence, determination, and a broader perspective. It’s forced me to not stress the things outside of my control and taught me to truly appreciate home, my job, and those I love. It’s introduced me to fabulous people and kindred spirits I never would have met otherwise, and I can’t imagine my life without them. Most recently, it introduced me to my family, a beautiful and unbelievable story that I can’t wait to share with you.
In short, traveling has made me a better producer. It’s made me a better person.
And a short 5 days in London started it all.
Is there a place you’ve visited that has changed your life?
Is there a place you’re dying to visit that could change your life?
Many thanks to Marion for hosting me back in the day and for studying abroad in the first place.