I grew up in a very small town — the kind of place where everyone knows you and you know everyone else. It's the kind of place that gets crammed in summertime and oh-so-quiet during the rest of the year.
I know it can seem unfathomable to many people who grew up in big cities, but seriously, it does have its perks. You feel safe because you know you can always reach out to someone for pretty much anything, and it’s cool because you start building up a comfortable routine based on seasonal flow.
You know pretty early on what kind of life you’ll have, and there’s little room to uncertainty.
I think what got me out of there was my pure desire to know. I started asking myself all these questions about life, and whether there was actually a balance between the boredom and the madness.
I didn’t want to simply hear or read what others had to say about it; I wanted to experience it with my own senses and my own words.
And so, one day, I just did. Here are a few ways how to do it yourself:
Save money and be a tourist
This is probably the safest way to travel. You know when you leave and you know when you get back. You still feel like you’re somehow "in control," although you’ve taken a step out into the unknown.
A few weeks ago, one of my friends and I went on a trip across America. It cost me my summer savings of working tedious hours at a restaurant, which I wanted to quit more than once.
But, the rewards I got were priceless; not once during the trip did I regret working that job. Not when I was climbing up the world’s most crooked street in San Francisco, not when I was trying my luck in Vegas’ Bellagio, not when I was flying over the Grand Canyon, not even when I was freezing my ass off, checking out the Naked Cowboy in Times Square and not when I was recovering from a hangover in New Orleans.
Be an au pair
The idea of living with a family of complete strangers can seem a bit off-putting at first, but it’s a very cheap and comfortable way of traveling while really picking up on both the language and the culture.
I got to meet a few other girls who were au pairs as well, and I have to admit that I got pretty lucky. I didn’t have to do much more than au pair’s duty, which is pretty much just taking care of the kids.
My host family was pretty cool and for my very first trip abroad, I ended up in a city just as small as my hometown. Although I was initially aiming for something slightly bigger, I feel lucky for how my situation ended up. Not a single soul could speak French around me, so my English got much better, much faster.
After my little getaway as an au pair, I was ready for the real deal: Big Ben’s city lights.
I survived my days (and nights) in the city mess, made friends, found a job and a place to live. I wasn’t really living the dream every minute of every day, but at least I had a vision in my head and somehow, I managed to turn it into something real.
That gave me the confidence to not be afraid of having bigger visions and the strength to make them happen. I doubt that’s something I would have gained by simply sitting comfortably at home, right in the middle of my comfort zone.
When I look back, it almost feels like I got an education AND the time of my life, all wrapped up into one with a ribbon on it. Yes, almost. Studying is expensive, so doing it abroad doesn’t make it any cheaper.
It made me realize a bunch of things, like that if money doesn’t solve everything, it could at least solve my money problems, and that I probably spent a lot of money on the wrong major.
But, it also made me see the other side, what money can’t buy: the pride of being with my classmates on graduation day, the nights out and the spring breaks, the breakups and the makeups. So, in the end, money helps you get there, but what you make of it is up to you.
A couple of years ago, I started giving French night classes to adults in North-Africa. This was not "voluntourism," though, since I was getting paid to do it. However, it comforted me that I really wanted to teach kids abroad, especially in South-Africa.
So, I started doing some research and talking to my friends about volunteer work, and we all came up with the same question: Why do we have to pay to work? Of course, it seems logical to pay for your trip, personal expenses and housing, but paying even more money to work? That sounded a bit odd.
Don’t get me wrong; I truly believe that there’s no greater feeling than giving back, and I understand that these organizations need some extra funds to operate.
But then, I read this article, and it just showed me a side of volunteering that I never really considered. I know not all organizations are scams and there are some great ones doing amazing work, so I know eventually I’ll find one.
Just go. Just do it.
There will be doubts and there will certainly be fear. You’ll probably even get a few "what the hell am I even doing here?" moments, but somewhere beyond the uneasiness and the pain, there will be unforgettable memories and invaluable experiences.
You’ll laugh at what seemed like a bad situation, and you’ll find out things about yourself that you never knew before. Now, I’m not saying that these ways to head abroad are the best, but they’re the ones I tried, and for better or for worse, they’ve all helped me grow up in some way.
It can be a very scary thing at times, but I don’t believe you can ever get weary of traveling. It will never be a waste of your time if you learn something along the way.
So come on, you little fighter, you know you can do it.