Imagine: you’re standing in the airport security line, with your passport in hand and your backpack resting on your shoulders, barely even noticing the weight of it. To your right, your parents stand teary-eyed and waving goodbye. To your left, you see the security agents, the screening machines and the words “Duty Free Shop”. You’re overcome with excitement and joy and even a little bit of nerves. This moment in the airport was the beginning of my 5 months abroad in Europe and Ireland and is something I will remember for the rest of my life, as it was truly the moment where everything changed.
I remember stepping off the plane in Dublin feeling tired and hungry from the flight from Toronto. However, the minute I passed through customs, those feelings were completely replaced by this incredible sensation that came with the realisation that I was now, for the first time, in another country completely by myself. Normally the idea of being alone in an unfamiliar place would have sent me into a frenzy of anxiety and worry, but this time felt completely different. Maybe it was the smiles on the faces of fellow travellers and airport staff or hearing the Irish accent spoken over the loudspeaker that made me feel the way I did at the time. Perhaps the true reason I felt as comfortable and as overjoyed as I did in that moment, is that I had come to the realisation that I was meant to see the world and this was the first step in my endeavour to travel the globe.
Throughout the four months I spent studying at the University of Maynooth in Ireland, I began to notice distinct changes in the way I thought, the way I acted and the way I felt. I found myself saying “yes” and “I’ll try it” more and more, until they became two of my most important responses to a question. These simple clusters of words, so easy to utter, became the gateway to some of the greatest experiences I have ever had. I began to step miles out of my comfort zone and started pushing the boundaries of my own limitations.
The first time I noticed that I had truly begun to change was when I was invited by some friends to join them on a trip to Budapest during our semester break. Without one ounce of hesitation, I booked my flight and started to read travel blog after travel blog about things to see and do while in the city. When we arrived, all we had were our backpacks, a place to stay and a list of things we were interested in seeing. And that was all we needed. We wandered through this incredible city for long hours in the day and didn’t stop once night fell. We found ourselves in places we had never heard of, and wandered into corridors with magnificent murals on the walls of buildings so incredible that the only way to truly understand their beauty was to stand in front of them and admire them from every angle.
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Following my exchange in Ireland, I spent a month touring Europe with Contiki. Almost every day, we woke up in a new place, so different from the last. I rode a bicycle along the Amsterdam Canals, visited incredible memorials nestled in the vibrant city of Berlin and sat down beside the “John Lennon Wall” in Prague, soaking in its colourful façade and becoming mesmerised by the words of encouragement left by visitors from around the world. My travel bucket list grew smaller with each passing day and every new destination. I ate a pretzel and enjoyed a German beer in a Beer Garden in Munich, went paragliding and white water rafting in Austria and enjoyed endless amounts of pasta, pizza and gelato in Venice, Rome and Florence. As my time in Europe came to a close, I felt incredibly grateful for the past few months I had spent abroad. I boarded my flight home with much more than just my passport and backpack this time. I now had friends from all over the world, incredible stories to tell and best of all a new outlook on life.
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Returning from a period of travel truly is bittersweet. I was happy to be home with my family and was looking forward to starting my final year of University in the fall, but I couldn’t stop myself from revisiting those places in my mind and going through my pictures time and time again. I’ve realised that this is completely normal for those who travel because once you begin to travel; it’s almost impossible to stop. Reality no longer has a strong appeal to you once you compare it to the complete and utter freedom travel has to offer. Once you get a taste of the world, you find yourself constantly hungering for more, always searching for the next opportunity to try a new food or experience or new culture first-hand. And this hunger is something that cannot be satisfied by reading a book or watching television. Travel offers something completely unique that cannot be read about or seen, but demands to be experienced. I have grown through travel and have completely changed my perspective of the world around me. I am a traveler for life, and oh what a life to live.
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