10 Things I’m Thankful For As I Travel

I’m quite used to missing Thanksgiving due to schooling or work. I always find my own way to celebrate Thanksgiving while I’m gone. Usually my celebration involves a large box of Annie’s macaroni and cheese because I can. This year I thought I would honor the holiday a bit more thoughtfully by creating a list of things that I’ve been thankful for during my trip. This list ranges from the material objects to the intangible but it’s all something that I’ve found myself being grateful for while I’ve been backpacking. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

A Nice Hostel: Choosing a hostel always feels like a crap shoot. No matter how  much research you do, you still feel like you might end up with bad lodging. Matt and I take the risk of not staying at perfect hostels in order for our trip to be more affordable. We’re thankful every time we end up with a good, safe place to rest our heads.

Support of Loved Ones: Matt and I have incredibly supportive family and friends. It would be hard to do this trip without knowing we have people back home to help us out if we got stuck and, at the simplest level, accept that we’ve decided to take this journey. This is a dream fulfilled for me. I am so thankful that those important people in my life understand why I wanted to do this and are happy for me. It gives me something to come home to because I know those people understand me as a person and accept who I am rather than scold me for taking a risk and following my dreams.

Cheap Food: Finding good cheap food can sometimes be difficult. Occasionally eating pasta is the only way to keep costs down. From time to time we’ll find ourselves in a country where good, cheap, quality food is the norm. That’s always a happy location that we’re grateful to have stumbled upon. It means not having to compromise the healthfulness of our meal for keeping money in our pockets.

Freedom of Travel: Backpacking around Europe has revealed to Matt and I how lucky we are to be able to travel. Matt and I were able to get on a plane and just go because of the good relationship between the US and EU. No visas required. No hassles. It has been a freeing experience that not everyone we met were able to say they also enjoyed so we’re thankful for the freedom we’ve experience.

Quiet, Nice, Friendly Roommates: Part of staying in a hostel is sharing close quarters with strangers. My best experiences have always been with friendly, respectful roommates. They keep their space clean and are quiet so everyone can sleep. You don’t always get good roommates as a backpacker so it’s a relief every time you learn that you’ve lucked out and the hostel gods have answered your prayers. It makes the journey that much better.

First Hand Experience with Other Cultures: It’s a great opportunity to be in another culture and experience it first hand. You can read books but it’s not quite the same. I recognize that not everyone is in a situation that would allow them to have this experience. I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn about other cultures in this way.

Inexpensive Flights at Reasonable Times: Very early morning flights are doable but they are rough. Matt and I have had our share of experiences in which we must catch a 7am flight in order to be able to even afford it at all. A 7am flight often means a 3am wake up. Those days can be tough and test your sanity. When we can find a cheap flight at a reasonable hour, we are so thankful.

An Awesome Travel Buddy: When I’m down, he reminds me of the good parts of our day. When I’m sick, he makes sure that I get everything I need to feel better. By coming on this trip with me, Matt has helped me fulfill one of my dreams. While I could have done this without him, I wouldn’t have ever wanted to. Matt’s made my experience infinitely more fun and multi-faceted. He makes me think of things in ways I never have or suggests experiences I never would have considered. I’m thankful that my boyfriend and awesome travel buddy helped me create positive memories that will last a lifetime.

Good Weather: The sun doesn’t always shine but it also doesn’t always rain. We hope for sunny days. When we’ve had a few days where the rains is so bad that it soaks through our clothes while we visit the city, we are infinitely more grateful for the sun.

The Kindness of Humanity: Traveling has restored my faith in humanity. Don’t get me wrong, I see some sad, horrible things when I travel. There’s still plenty that humans need to work on. But for the most part, people are good. To be honest, Matt and I haven’t had one bad experience with people while we’ve traveled. Everyone has been helpful, courteous, and, the vast majority of the time, friendly. The world can be a scary place; it is easy to become cynical and disappointed when you hear about all the things that are happening, especially when you feel like you can’t do anything about it. But I try to remind myself of all the good people I meet. I’m thankful that I’ve been given the enlightenment that humans are generally good. It’s something I might have to work to remember from time to time but it is something worth not forgetting. It makes the world seem a bit brighter.

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5 Things that Freak Me Out About Backpacking

My excitement to go backpack Europe clearly trumps my worries associated with the trip. But there are still some things that make me nervous. What can I say, this is a completely new situation for me so I’m going to have some things that nag at my brain, those what-ifs. Here they are:

1. Language Barrier: I can speak English. I can technically speak French (I’m so rusty). I know German to some extent. That’s it. There’s definitely going to be a language barrier. Most of the time I don’t expect this to be a huge problem. There are always ways to get around it and making an effort by learning a few key words in the language can go a long way (at least as far as my experience in the past tells me). But it can get frustrating even on the simplest levels. For example: “Hey, what’s in my food? I have no idea because I can’t read the frickin’ label.” And I’m vegetarian so that’s going to make a real everyday difference. Matt and I already experienced this firsthand when we were in Paris. At least I could speak French but Matt had no idea what anything said in the market so he had difficulty looking for products. We were looking for ham at the time and I specifically remember him getting frustrated because I told him the name in French but he reminded me he didn’t know the language so I’d have to spell it out. There are even more dire situations in which language barrier can be horrible, like medical emergencies. Which leads me to my next bullet!

2. Major Medical Emergencies: Can you imagine having to get surgery in a foreign country where you can’t speak the language? I can’t either. It freaks me out. I know that I would be able to go through with it if I was in that situation but it would definitely be crazy nerve-racking. If it was Matt that needed to get the surgery, I would be all over that situation. I would probably be even more freaked out because I would feel so much pressure to let absolutely nothing bad happen to him on my watch. We are always looking out for each other anyway but that would raise the stakes even more. Oh yeah, not to mention all the money that we would owe for a major medical emergency. And the fact that they don’t know any of your medical history. Plus, I wouldn’t know how their culture around medicine and hospitals work. Lots of room for error and nervousness.

3. Minor Medical Emergencies: It’s the little things that really count. Like not being able to get medicine right away to clear up minor issues like an ear infection or pink eye or some other random illness you never thought of. Who knows, am I right? And those little things can quickly turn into big things that can be painful. It kind of goes back to the whole situation of being unfamiliar with medicine and hospitals in another country. I don’t like being sick when I’m at home. I find it annoying and frustrating. When abroad, I can imagine myself getting quite irritated if I get sick and can’t get what I need right away. It freaks me out that my trip could be ruined by a simple illness if I can’t get what I need.

4. It Lives Up To All My Expectations or It Lives Up To None of Them: So I could end up really happy on this trip and never want to go back to the life I’m living now. That presents some problems because I do have to go back to my “normal” life at some point after this trip. And if I can’t bear to do that, I have to do a lot of work to figure out how to make my life different. That would be worth it though. If the trip doesn’t live up to my expectations (which I highly doubt but, hey, it’s a possibility), I’ll have blown a whole lot of money and time that could have both been better spent. And I would be sad about it. In reality, I probably won’t regret the money or time spent. Something good seems to come out of everything I do despite how much money or time I wish I hadn’t spent on it (yes, I do occasionally get cynical and bitter about my college loans). What it really comes down to is that this trip will throw off my equilibrium which I believe I need right now in my life but I undoubtedly will need to deal with the fall out, whatever that may be. The unknown can be scary.

5. The Whole Relationship Thing: Matt and I have already talked about the possible outcomes of us spending three whole months together. We’re solid in our relationship (almost eight years people and we’re experts at change and flexibility due to our long distance experience) and believe that everything will turn out how it is meant to, ultimately positive for our relationship. Yet, other people always find something to say about it. When people find out that I’m going with my wonderful boyfriend on this trip of a lifetime for three months, they promptly mention something along the lines about how it might cause us to break up OR we’ll get sick of each other OR we’ll get engaged OR we’ll get married. It’s pretty, to be frank, irritating to have people focus on the relationship aspect of the trip and the future outcome. It definitely is a big part of the journey but it’s frustrating to hear people’s knee jerk responses sometimes. I know they mean well and can’t help but be curious but we’ll do the worrying about the ultimate outcome. Rest assured, I am absolutely certain that this trip will change our relationship. That’s cool because that’s what’s supposed to happen.