Though I’ve been traveling for a year and a half and thought I would never stop, Europe was my first time backpacking in multiple cities for an extended period – I was no expert. I went plenty of nights without sleeping while stuck on fifteen hour bus rides, slept on at least thirty different surfaces in three months, got sick by unwisely drinking the tap water in Spain, and…when I returned, I was broke.
I could blame my negative account balance on the overseas withdrawal charges and ignore the extra gelato I got in France or the shopping I did in Amsterdam. But for the sake of maturity, let’s agree that I was a tad irresponsible on my first backpacking trip.
I started to question why I traveled. I got sick, I became the definition of broke, I never got adequate sleep, I never had privacy – a thousand reasons that made me want to take out a mortgage and stick a flag somewhere in San Francisco reading “I’M NORMAL NOW.” I was ready to give it all up, get a regular job and settle on a white picket fence dream.
Yet with November came another problem – my income wasn’t high enough yet to afford accommodation. So I turned to Couchsurfing. I’d done it a few times in Europe and had mostly great experiences, but an uncomfortable experience with my host in Marseille turned me off to the idea. However, I had no other choice.
I wasn’t looking forward to it – I didn’t want to socialize or sleep on interesting excuses for beds, or feel like I was traveling again. I was in my home base and trying to get my life back together, so the last thing I wanted was to feel like I was on the road again.
A smiling guy named Matt from St. Louis invited me in to my first Couchsurfing house of the month. The smell of marinating lamb filled my nostrils as he led me to the table to meet Mische from Germany, Akshay from India, Marco from Italy, Carol from Taiwan, and four or five other guests I became friends with over the next few days. Our host Elle came back a while later and introduced me to the house.
While sitting at the table eating some delicious lamb in the biggest group of Couchsurfers I’d ever stayed with, I felt calm. These were people who didn’t care how much money I made, who became giddy just thinking about the next city they’d be in, who could have just as much fun at a bar as they could talking about novels or hiking. I unpacked and untensed for the first time in a month – this was the first comfort I’d felt since returning to San Francisco, surrounded by strangers with a million different experiences under their belts and a common desire to see, do, and learn more. These were travelers, and I felt at home.
Suddenly, all the good memories from Europe resurfaced – seeing Norway’s countryside near Drammen, rainy days in Bergen, Dutch pancakes in Groningen, a quiet day at the Vieux Port in Marseille, the old streets of Cordoba. Even the bad memories became lessons for future trips, because I decided that first night of Couchsurfing in San Francisco that I could never give up traveling.
Why would I give up seeing all the beauty the world has to offer? The endless types of people I meet, the pride I feel when I progress in a new language, the new cuisine, the countless times getting lost and finding my way again…Because when you travel, you don’t just lose your way on a map and ask around to get back on track. You lose your entire way of life and relearn what it means to be human – that there’s much more to life than money and the bubble you might call home, and that kindness and smiles really are all you need.
Europe was not a failure as society was prepared to make me feel – it was simply boot camp for future travels and success in all areas of my life.
Normal? Mundane? Stable? I refuse. 2014 has had a plethora of ups and downs, but I am thankful for the entire year and the joy that traveling has brought me.
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