“The human soul travels from law to love, from discipline to freedom, from the moral to the spiritual.” – R. Tagor
This quote resonates with me deeply, because a pivotal force in the traveling of my soul from law to love, from discipline to freedom and from the moral to the spiritual has been my travels. They have molded and shaped me as a person; some of my life’s most transformative seasons have been birthed from experiences afar.
When I travel, I’m not only immersing myself into other cultures- I’m immersing into myself. Travel allows me to delve deep and confront many aspects of who I am: my insecurities … my strengths … my fears … and my deepest desires.
We all have turning points in our lives– either things that happen to us, or things that we choose to create that forever alter our paths– for the better or for the worse. These are our defining moments, sometimes recognizable while they’re occurring and other times only seen in hindsight.
When I was 20 years old and a Junior in college, I decided to save up money and meet my friend who had been studying abroad in Italy in Europe for the summer. I had never been outside of the U.S. I don’t know what inspired this other than my inherent desire to explore and create, as I wasn’t from a family of international travelers- the idea of going out and seeing the world stirred my spirit and just made sense to me, and I knew it was an adventure that I needed to embark upon.
I picked up extra shifts at the Blue Baker in College Station, Texas, making cookies and pastries and slapping together Santa Fe turkey sandwiches so I could purchase my Eurail pass and get as many stamps on my brand new passport as possible.
My flight was scheduled from Houston to Milan via Air France, with a quick stop through Paris. As sometimes happens with traveling, my plane was delayed and arrived into Paris’ Charles-de-Gaulle airport an hour late, causing me to miss my connecting flight to Milan. I was scheduled on to the next flight that left a few hours later–the only problem is that my friend was waiting for me at baggage claim in Milan already, this was my first time to be somewhere non-English speaking and it was 2001– I didn’t have a cell phone.
At first, I did the only thing that made sense at the time– I panicked. Once I calmed down, I remembered Katie had given me a cell phone number that I could reach her at- some throwaway phone with a temporary number that she had picked up in Italy. I made my way over to the payphone and everything was in French. While I had studied French in high school and it wasn’t like trying to read Mandarin, it was foreign, and I was scared. I figured out how to use my credit card to call this international number, half-worried that it wouldn’t work and the other-half worried that my dad would kill me for charging some insane amount on this credit card he had given me for ’emergencies only.’ I didn’t know how many Euros-or dollars- or whatever kind of currency they would be charging me, and I didn’t care.
The phone rang and rang, and Katie didn’t answer. I tried again. And again. My stomach twisted in knots. Finally, on the 4th try, she picked up. I told her the situation, and she informed me casually and non-nonchalantly that we had a reservation in Salzburg, Austria, to get to that evening. The train from Milan and our bed and breakfast had already been booked for that evening, along with the Sound of Music Tour through the hills of Austria for the following day.
“So I’m going to go ahead and go on,” she said, the experienced Euro traveler that she now was after having spent the past 6 weeks in Italy. “I’ll send this guy to the airport to come and pick you up– you can spend the night with his family and take a train tomorrow to Austria.”
“But Katie, I don’t know where I’m going??!,” I replied even more panicked than before.
“They’ll take care of you– I promise, Europe’s easy to get around in, you’ll be fine. I have to run, I’m almost out of cell minutes.”
And just like that, I was on my own. Tears filled my eyes and I wanted to grab a Toblerone and head into the bathroom stall to eat and cry. How could she just leave me like this? But she did, and I had to figure it out.
I landed in Milan, and sure enough there was a young Italian guy about my age waiting for me in baggage claim. Relief flooded me. He was the son of American missionaries who had come to Milan in their early 20’s and never left– so he was part American but mostly Italian, his English fluent but Italian his first language. I was starving at this point but all I could find in the airport was cheese, bread and salami-like cold cuts. Where were the turkey sandwiches?
When we made it to the apartment, I could hardly believe its tiny size could hold their family of five. The teenage sons slept in bunk beds in what must have been a 10×10 room, it was summertime and they didn’t have A/C. Ceiling fans clicked and clanked overhead and a dampness hung in the air and lingered on our foreheads, as I sat with the family at the table that evening feeling excited and anxious in my new environment.
The next morning they took me to the train station after our breakfast of cheese and bread, and with a ticket, some hand-written directions and no cell phone, I set out on my journey to find my friend with only an address for a bed and breakfast in Salzburg and my backpack. I had to take 4 different trains to get there. This was my first time on a train and I felt equally ambitious and terrified. What if I went the wrong way or took the wrong train? What if I got to Salzburg and couldn’t speak to someone in English to get a cab? What if the cab driver had never heard of this B&B and dropped me off somewhere else?
On the train ride, an older German man and I started speaking- he was a professor and luckily for me, fluent in English. He was also headed to Salzburg and helped me to make my way the entire duration of the trip. When we arrived, he spoke in German to the cab driver to make sure that he knew where to drop me, and paid for the ride in advance to take care of me. That day, I felt like he was my angel of provision.
I got to Salzburg just as evening was setting in. When I arrived up to the room, I looked out the window onto a river flowing beneath and to Salzburg’s castle, lit up like the crown jewel of all of Europe, just for me. I plopped on the featherbed and started crying tears of relief. I had made it.
I grew up more that summer abroad than I had in all of my previous 20 years combined. That trip was the catalyst of my personal evolution that moved me from discipline, law and morality into freedom, love and spirituality- and, in to discovering who I really am. Travel has, and continues, to change me– which, is why I am so passionate about encouraging you to get out there: in addition to some incredible memories, you’ll be left with a stamp of transformation if you allow yourself to be open to each experience that awaits you.