Want to know what it’s like to buy a one-way ticket to a foreign country for an indefinite period of time?
When I told my family and friends I was packing up and going to Italy, I didn’t hear a single person say, "Why? That’s a bad idea."
That’s because people are drawn to travel. The idea of leaving our boring, old routines and dull, daily experiences is enticing.
For me, the idea of graduate school, getting a big-girl job or moving home with my parents made my stomach turn.
Travel is exciting, and traveling without a plan to come home? Well, that seemed even better.
So, I graduated early from college. I left two jobs I could’ve advanced in, and I said goodbye to a solid foundation of family and friends in Colorado.
With good savings and not much of a plan, I moved in with a foreign family in the Tuscan hills to teach their kids English.
Sounds like an Italian dream, right?
Well, sort of.
There isn't a single day that has passed when I regret leaving. But every day here has also made me feel so stressed and confused.
I have to continuously drown out the little voice in my head that says, “What the hell are you doing here?”
I know what I’m doing here.
I’m experiencing the independence of living halfway across the world, and I’m in love with the food, the culture and the history.
It’s all incredible to be a part of.
When catcalls are replaced with kisses on the cheek and “Ciao, bella,” I know I’ll never put up with American college boys ever again.
But, this is not a dream.
I don’t understand 90 percent of what people say to me. There’s dog poop on the sidewalk and smelly men sitting next to me on the bus.
This is real life, where things tend to go wrong as often as they can.
I moved in with a nightmare of a family who decided not to pay me when I told them I was leaving.
My friend got drugged at a bar and woke up in the hospital without any memory of what happened.
My purse containing every dollar I have, my debit card, the WiFi device that makes my phone work and numerous other small things was taken directly from my feet at a coffee shop.
Extended travel to is not an extended vacation complete with nice meals out, tour guides and a million photographs.
In a foreign city, you have to make
You have to make a lot of adjustments when you're in a foreign city, where you simultaneously get kicked in the ass and slapped in the face from all the mistakes you inevitably make.
But, the beauty does show up eventually.
During the small moments, you're given a chance to catch your breath and realize exactly what you've gone though.
I’m not naïve to how much this experience is changing me for the better, but nobody said change was easy.
It’s important to understand the reality of the fantasy that is so prevalent in our culture.
Without a study abroad program to plan my semester, my mom’s hug on rough days, consistent access to my phone and the Internet or any familiar faces, I present to you my reality of living halfway across the world:
1. The best way to understand a culture is to live like a local.
My father is from Italy, and I visited multiple times with my family when I was a child. So, I had a leg up on some of the surprising customs that come with the Italian lifestyle.
But really, you don’t completely understand a culture until you live in it day in and day out.
Simple things like learning how public transportation works, how to appropriately greet the locals and speak their language and how not to give a single f*ck about the rules of driving through the streets become hard to master.
For me, these daily changes hold the truest value of travel.
I see groups of tourists waddle on by with McDonald's. (Sorry, America, but it’s true).
I hear sorority girls in their leggings talk about how drunk they got last weekend.
I listen to my new German friends criticize cultures that don’t follow German standards, refusing to let a new way of life make its way into their minds.
To me, this isn’t a great way to travel. This is just passing through.
2. Things will go wrong, so learn to laugh at them.
Even when you've perfectly analyzed every situation to avoid all obstacles, something will eventually go wrong.
Flights get canceled, trains get delayed, things get stolen and the weather doesn’t cooperate with your plans.
That’s how life goes.
The sh*tty situations will eventually turn into precious, pivotal moments, though they seem like the end of the world at the time.
I tend to see things with such serious eyes, forgetting how incredible it is to wake up in Italy each morning.
Laugh at the blunders. The less seriously we take it all, the easier our lives become.
3. People at home will not understand what you’re going through.
I love Skyping my friends at home. There’s something so relaxing about their smiles, voices and stories.
But, the only friend I’ve been able to relate to is the one who is currently in Africa experiencing similar, independent, long-term travel.
He understands the stress that comes with a life like this.
So much of friendship is built upon relating to one another and feeling understood and accepted.
After college, we go our different ways. Paths change, and so do the dynamics of friendship.
It’s more difficult to empathize with someone when you have no idea what he or she is going through.
Accepting travel as a personal experience, rather than something your friends must validate is, in my opinion, a crucial rule to indulging in all it has to offer.
4. Comfort has an entirely new value.
I’m talking about that oversized hoodie, long drives in your old car, waking up to your best friends in your bed and walking through familiar streets.
Say goodbye to that for a very long time.
These everyday things we take for granted and often want to escape are what we value when we’re so far away from home.
We have the option to rebuild this type of comfort wherever we are, but it takes a lot of time to develop.
In the meantime, you learn to find comfort in the smallest of things, and you become comfortable with being really uncomfortable.
5. Insecurities don’t disappear; they rise up when you're out of your comfort zone.
Many of us have this idea that if we leave a place, our problems in that place will stay there, and we can safely escape.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Problems become amplified.
They grow and grow, and then they are thrown right back in your face, giving you no option but to honestly look at yourself.
Old patterns have a way of repeating themselves despite your location, and they demand attention if you want to keep your sanity.
Whether it's addiction, old resentments that were pushed aside or undesirable personality traits, they are all increased with unfamiliarity and stress.
Living in denial becomes less of an option the further you push the boundaries of what you can handle.
Extended travel is, without a doubt, difficult work.
It's not fantasy, but there are incredible moments everywhere when the beauty of travel becomes so clear.
This reminder of why I left and why I’m staying here, despite the difficulties, is my motivation to stay.
Not only do I want a kickass story to tell my kids, but I want the confidence and reinforced bravery that tells me this type of adventure is worth the struggle.
Simply put, there are some things that must be personally experienced to be understood, and this is one of them.
With age comes fewer chances to travel, learn and grow without any other commitments.
So, I say, go now.