My family always took vacations when I was growing up – sometimes we travelled internationally (at that time, exclusively to America) and sometimes we travelled semi-locally. Either way, I can recall many happy memories of learning to ride a horse, fishing in the Great Lakes, and sitting around a campfire.
When I was seven, my parents took my sister and me on our first trip out of the country to Fort Myers, Florida, and then onto Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. My mother chuckles to this day when she recalls how excited I was to cross the border from Canada to the USA for the first time. It was 10PM, way past my bedtime, and I was exhausted. My younger sister had already been asleep for hours, but my anticipation kept me awake. “Honey, why don’t you go to sleep? Aren’t you tired?”, my mother asked from the front seat of the car. “Not yet, mommy. I want to wait until I get to the new country.”
It’s a vague and very distant memory of mine. But perhaps that was the first sign of my impending wanderlust? My complete and utter fixation with experiencing a new place. The new country.
When I was eleven, my parents took us on a cruise to Jamaica, The Cayman Islands and Cozumel, Mexico. In Jamaica, we “climbed the world’s famous Dunns River Falls” in Ocho Rios, and it was an experience I will never forget. As I climbed the shallow waterfall, my day was filled with adventure, laughter, and a sense of freedom that I’d never experienced before. It was my first real taste of wanderlust.
In the years that followed, between my family’s vacations and high school trips, my restlessness had taken me to even more places; the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Belize, Panama, Mexico, Haiti, St. Maarten, Ohio, New York City, California, and Florida. Some of my favourite memories of my teenage years come from those trips – memories of feeling free, and alive, and at peace with myself.
I learned that I loved to learn about other cultures and different ways of life. I loved hearing what other people thought about the world – even if I didn’t agree with their thoughts. I loved meeting new people and exploring new places and seeking adventure. Every time I was discovering a new place I was filled with excitement and adrenaline and a sense that anything was possible, and I felt more alive in those moments than ever before.
I went zip-lining through a rainforest in Costa Rica, went white water rafting down a river in New York, went snorkelling in St. Thomas, and jet-skied in Haiti.
I started associating travel with new experiences – building memories, making new friends, trying new foods, and most importantly, getting to know myself better.
Travel allowed me to dream big, and every time I came home from a trip I’d have grande visions of new goals and dreams for myself.
But it also made me realize how small my world was at home. I grew up in a good family, in a good neighbourhood, with friends who came from good families and good neighbourhoods. We all thought the same. We all looked the same. Our parents all expected the same things from us. No one was living life any differently than anyone else. I was incredibly sheltered from “the real world” and everything in it.
When I was nineteen, I started funding my own travels – a weekend getaway to New York City, a road trip to Ottawa, and a spring break spent in Florida.
Every time I came back from a trip I’d returned with the knowledge of having learned something new about myself, or about the world, or both. My eyes were opened to a world full of different ways of life, and of endless possibilities.
In my early twenties my wanderlust grew to insatiable proportions. If I wasn’t travelling, than I was thinking about travel. It was all-consuming. I spent hours online researching flights and dreaming of exotic destinations. In those years I went to South Carolina with my best friend, flew to San Francisco with another best friend, spent yet another weekend in New York City, went on a cruise through the Caribbean with friends (all self-funded), and accompanied my family on another three cruises through the Caribbean as well – visiting a total of fourteen different countries on those trips.
Then, when I was twenty-two, all my dreams came true. After planning and saving for months (and dreaming of backpacking around Europe since I was fourteen), my best friend and I boarded a flight for Dublin, Ireland, and embarked on a nine week adventure across thirteen countries in Europe. Trying to explain all of the things I learned and encountered on that trip would fill a whole novel with writing, so I will just say this…
I was standing on top of a mountain in the Scottish Highlands one day about a week into the trip, when I suddenly realized that all my dreams had come true, and I started to cry. It was such an incredibly powerful moment. I felt alive. I felt free. The sheer beauty and perfection of those rolling, green, lush Scottish hills completely humbled me. The world was so big and so beautiful and so amazing, and I felt so lucky to be a part of it. I found peace there on top of that mountain. I found freedom and energy and a connection to this world. And I realized, at the age of 22, that I could do anything.
I could do anything.
I came home from that trip with a renewed sense of my life and purpose, and I decided several weeks later to move to Australia to become an au pair. Why? Because I could. Because the world was my oyster and I wanted to experience every single piece of it.
I spent my last few scraps of savings on a flight to Melbourne, packed my bags, and left. Not to return home until a year later.
What I ending up finding in Melbourne changed my whole life.
In my years of travel, the things I’ve seen and the people I’ve met along the way have changed me.
But the most profound thing that I’ve learned, is that people are all the same. And they are good.
People want to help. They want to belong. They want to make a difference. We may look different, and we may live in different countries and speak different languages and believe in different Gods (or no Gods at all), but we are the same. We all want the same things – to love and be loved in return, to be accepted by others, and to find our purpose in this world.
Travel has educated me.
I may not be able to name the first five presidents of the United States, I can’t tell you what the Spanish Inquisition was, and I’ve never really been very good at math. But I’ve feasted my eyes on The Mona Lisa, seen a critically acclaimed broadway musical in New York City, swam alongside a sea turtle in The Great Barrier Reef, walked through Anne Frank’s secret annex in Amsterdam, held the hand of a young Haitian child, and sat in the stands of an ancient Roman Colosseum.
These experiences have changed my life. I am the person I am today because of them.
I am a better person because I have travelled. I am a more confident, more tolerant, and kinder person. I feel joy and peace and gratitude in simple, every day situations because I have seen people with much, much less than I have.
There’s still so much beauty left in this world.
Go find your wanderlust.
Note: I was inspired to post my story about finding my wanderlust after reading an incredible post on This Battered Suitcase (one of my favourite travel blogs) about how Brenna discovered her wanderlust.