With my short time on Earth, I knew very little about traveling. My adolescence was spent entirely in the Midwest of North America. I only knew of cornfields and relatives who lived very close. But I longed to travel, as it loomed in front of me. I longed for something new, to break out of my comfort zone, and to see the world in places that I had never seen before. I came from a long line of homebodies, who never left their safe spots, and I grew determined to break the chain.
When my junior year of high school rolled around, I gained an opportunity that I never expected. I played saxophone in my high school band. Because of my achievements, I received an invitation to go travel and play music in Europe. On this tour, we traveled to seven different European countries, playing a concert and touring. My parents did not agree at first, worried about the fact that I had never stepped foot outside of our suburban home. But I persisted, and with some help from my grandmother, I saved up enough money to take the trip. With my sax in one hand and my suitcase, I stepped onto the plane and into what seemed like a new world.
Money Makes the World Go Around: Budgeting Overseas
I’m lucky to come from a family who supported my talents enough to contribute to my traveling fees, but while I traveled in Europe, I claimed responsibility for all of the other finances during the trip. As a young teenager, I never actually held this much freedom over my finances before, and I learned very quickly that I needed to plan accordingly if I wanted to travel and still stay on my budget. Luckily, the internet became a close friend as I found out information on how to save money. This began even before I stepped on the plane, meticulously underpacking to avoid extra luggage charges. I wore the same outfit, almost for days on end, and bought liquid soap to wash my clothes in the sink of whatever hotel I stayed at. It was surprisingly effective, as travel between countries occurred every open to two days and no one paid that much attention anyway.
Actually saving money: How I tried to be Smart
I also spared little cash for souvenirs. I knew before I left that many places sold souvenirs of low quality for high prices, so I made notes and took deep consideration whenever I saw something that caught my eye. That didn’t mean I bought nothing, it just meant that i had to think long and hard about whether or not I really needed what I saw. This was actually one of my mistakes, in my opinion. I understand that saving money is an essential thing, but at the same time, when I arrived home with most of my money still in my budget, I regretted it a bit. Although I had been thoughtful about my purchases, I wished that I had been more open with my money. Or maybe it was that I created too big a budget. Either way, if you’re someone looking to travel, the best option is to create a budget that works for you. Know your spending patterns, and be a bit flexible past that. Opportunities arise that can’t be predicted, and you will want to remember that change is inevitable, even in travel.
The plane touched down in London, and a sinking feeling did the same in my stomach. I and the group of roughly a hundred kids I didn’t know made it across the ocean. We got a warning about culture shock, but I felt it in a way that I didn’t expect.
When traveling, many times people will tell you about getting a sort of sickness when facing all the differences that the new culture brings. I never believed this at first, but I learned the hard way.
Fortunately, London was not too different to some of the bigger cities near my hometown, but the fact that I was an ocean apart from home made my awareness resonate deep within. This feeling would eventually fade as we traveled through the sixteen days. But when I first arrived, the prospect of a new world sprouted fear.
Here I stood on ground that wasn’t the Midwest of the United States. Here, it wasn’t even America. While a little bit of my excitement stayed, it felt as if I had gone from wading in the shallow end to tumbling into the deep.
I had already made the jump, and soon my body would hit the water. The point of no return passed long ago, and I could only hope that I’d make it to the surface.
But I still persisted, and slowly I grew accustomed to the feeling. To travel means that sometimes things will get uncomfortable- and I had to accept that.
Travel and Character Development it Gave Me
Travel and Independence
After recovering from culture shock, I began to enjoy myself. Despite this being a school-based trip, the students could go almost anywhere independently.
That meant that, for one of the first times in my life, I was alone and free of most responsibility. As a sixteen-year-old, I became exposed to the concept of true independence.
Apart from checking back into our hotel at the designated time, the other students and I could do whatever we wanted. I actually had the power to choose what I wanted to do and when I could.
This was so different than the typical high school experience of teachers and bell schedules regulating your actions. This travel experience boosted this trait of mine- where I once was unable to make decisions for myself and schedule my time wisely, I could now.
Communication Across Multiple Levels
I also learned how to stand up for myself, and became more confident in my skills. When I found out that on this travel trip, we’d be going to Germany, I felt ecstatic.
I took German in school, and I was pumped to finally test it out in real-life situations. Although my experience stood in the classroom, I happily transferred it to real-life situations.
I struggled at first; those who speak German naturally are much faster and able to pick out that German is not your language, but I was determined. With the introduction of this new challenge to communicating across different connections, I learned how to step up and learn that sometimes, I’d need to speak up.
Even if I struggled with both the quick responses and my natural anxiety, over the few days spent in Germany, I felt my skills and confidence, not just in the foreign language, but my overall communication abilities improve.
Experiences that Travel Granted Me
Physical experiences I Got from Traveling
As I’ve said earlier, I come from a family who doesn’t travel often. Often, the peak of my previous travel experiences involved traveling one state over, just to go
on an annual vacation. Because of this, the trip to Europe opened my eyes to a whole new world of experiences and opportunities. My favorite memory that I have from Europe was visiting The Lourve. My family is not too fond of art museums, and I lost myself while ambling through the halls, taking in all the art. I also experienced mountain ranges for the first time, making Switzerland another one of my favorite places. Travel gave me what my old life never could. I felt as if I had grown up as a person. Something about opportunities and seeing new things made me appreciate my time on this planet more. There was so much more to life than just outside my inner circle, and travel showed this to me.
I also got to participate and learn more about different European cultures and practices. One of my most fond memories comes from when we traveled to Switzerland. Me and the other students on the trip got to go to an authentic Fondue dinner party, made with local cheeses and bread. Never had I tasted something so fresh, so natural, and traveling bought me there. I also got to watch Olympic skiers practice in Austria on the luscious green practice slopes. Seeing such athletic feats in person was astonishing. One more thing that I enjoyed was the glassblowing demonstration I attended while in Venice, Italy, where I got to listen in on how the masters created their craft.
A more personal effect that these new experiences gave me
I never thought I’d travel, especially outside of the country, at a young age. Traveling did not seem possible to me, and without the support from my parents, I never thought that I’d be able to go anywhere until I moved out. By reaching out of my comfort zone with travel, I received so many benefits, most of which I didn’t expect. I learned about myself and who I was as a person. That never could have been achieved if I had stayed at home.
One thing I learned was to never give up on something if I wanted it. Many times before traveling, I couldn’t fathom myself doing things, such as strolling through a city alone, or accepting that I controlled what I could do in my free time. But during, and even after, the time I traveled, I found myself willingly choosing independence and relying on myself to make my own decisions and choices. After all, this trip happened when I was just sixteen, and I treated the travel as a ritual of growing up.
Disclaimer of my Travel Experience
While I absolutely believe that this trip granted me many opportunities and benefits, I’d like to point out that this trip wasn’t all positive, especially considering it was my first time traveling, and it was with a school group. Traveling at a young age isn’t possible or accessible for everyone, nor am I discounting my experiences because some parts were negative. But there are definitely some things you should keep in mind before deciding to embark or travel for the first time.
School Travel- A Constricting Force
While I stated that I gained a greater sense of independence on my trip , it wasn’t all complete freedom. I still had to follow the basic schedule that the program laid out for me.
That meant eating whatever they provided, seeing the big highlights they deemed essential, and sometimes even spending money on items and food that I did not need. Another issue revolves around the concept of a hundred high school students having to be in each other’s presence for an extended time.
I never considered myself a drama-attracting person. That being said, being surrounded by a hundred other kids is not the best way to appreciate and enjoy European travel. Often, verbal altercations break out, and while arguments will happen, traveling in this atmosphere does not bring justice to the trip itself.
While traveling with a school was the one way I could travel, planning a trip of your own will be easier.
Limitations of my Own
When I heard that other students on the trip had already visited Europe before, I was shocked. Travel did not exist in my family, unless it was to visit relatives just a couple of hours away.
With that being said, I was not well-versed in the art of travel. A lot of standard advice the adults gave us on the trip took me by surprise.
Concepts, such as water that upsets the digestive tract, and pickpocketers, not to mention the aforementioned culture shock. These concepts freaked me out more than the actual notion of travel. But I was able to quickly overcome this fear with a bit of resistance, and you can too.
Conclusion: The Gift of Travel
I’ve yet to travel outside of the United States since this trip. With the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as my school expenses piling up,travel is not as possible as it once was. But still, this experience sits with me to this day as something I’d like to do over and over again. I’ve learned so much about the world around me through this trip and my love only grows stronger. Besides giving me such love, this trip also taught me many valuable lessons, such as independence and money management. Travel is not accessible to all, especially in this economy. But I still spread my opinion that everyone should reach out to the world. There is so much out there, and you’ll never know it unless you accept the world’s greatness with open arms. To travel is to know, grow, and love, both yourself and the world around you.