Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of bios of other travel writers—and travelers, in general. There is a common theme, I’ve found, that weaves our stories together: each of us seemed to experience some kind of defining moment in our journey– one that filled our hearts with a resounding, unmistakable feeling that said, YES! This makes sense to me.
Not every traveler goes on to pursue travel as a career, but for those individuals like myself who know that it is inside of them — knitted into their inner tapestry and something that they are truly called to in this lifetime — there seems to have been a point in our lives where we had a deep kind of personal understanding. I would venture to say that for most of us, it wasn’t even a decision. Travel chose us.
My defining moment occurred on my first trip out of the country, when I was 20 years old and decided to join my best friend who had been studying abroad in Italy for the semester. We spent the following summer months backpacking throughout nine countries in Europe. Prior to that, I had never owned a passport and hadn’t even been to Mexico, which for Texans fifteen years ago, was practically like going to Oklahoma or New Orleans.
Before that life-altering trip, traveling meant family vacations to Colorado in the summertime, road trips to see family in Minnesota and Wisconsin, more road trips to various National Parks and my childhood dream vacation to Disney world. I feel very grateful for all of the early travel experiences I got to have, as I believe they planted seeds of exploration deep in my heart.
When I was eighteen years old, following my final exams as a freshman in college at Texas A&M University, I flew to San Francisco with my mom and sister for a girls trip. It was my first visit to California.
Thirteen years later, I have returned.
And thirteen years later, I find that I am a totally different person. I am no longer a pleated khaki shorts-wearing, camp-counseling college student. I am an early thirty-something woman—a woman who has experienced a lot of life, love, failure, accomplishment, heartbreak, growth and joy. A woman who has seen much of the world and discovered in the process who she is. A woman who went from never having tasted wine on that first trip to San Francisco, to now being mildly obsessed with fine wines and fresh, organic foods.
As I walk the streets of San Francisco, I see aspects of the city that I remember: the large Ghirardelli factory by the harbor that my mom, sister and I rode bikes to and visited. The notable scenes like the Trolley cars and Golden Gate bridge. Flower baskets hanging on the street. But this time, the experience is totally different- because I am different. I see San Francisco with new, fresh eyes.
I appreciate the city’s culture and its areas like The Castro and The Mission District — areas that would have overwhelmed me thirteen years ago, with their free-thinking and free-spirited people.
Throughout the trip, I am filled with a deep sense of joy and peace from who I have become in the years since I first visited this city. I reflect on all of the inner changes that have occurred in my heart and life, and I am thankful that I’ve grown up. I feel immense amounts of gratitude for having traveled to places that have enlightened my soul and opened my eyes to the beauty of our diverse world.
I encourage you to visit a place that you haven’t been to in years. You may find what I did- that the place hasn’t changed all that much: the buildings and skyline are, for the most part, the same. Some restaurants are new, but many remain. The river or the bay is flowing as it always has, but the current in your own life and heart has changed with time. And hopefully as I did, you’ll find that it’s flowed into something more beautiful, and that you’ve created a life that you’re proud of.