Today I’d like to write about travel. For anyone who knows me even slightly, you probably know I’m a bit (a lot) of a travel addict. Firstly, I travel for my work. I have loved seeing new parts of our beautiful and diverse country through work and I’ve been very fortunate to reap some incredible benefits from living the nomadic lifestyle.
I’ve been in my career now for 5 years, and I spent the first 4.5 of those years being a nomad, a vagabond. Homeless, if you will. My contracts have ranged in length from 3 weeks to 9 months. Some gigs provide housing, some don’t. If they don’t, I end up in an AirBnB. And whenever I’ve had time off between gigs, I’ve either spent that time traveling for pleasure, or relaxing at my mother’s home.
So because I have spent most of my career thus far as a nomad, this meant I had no rent to pay, and very few bills. This was wonderful in many ways because I don’t make a lot of money doing what I do. But because of my very few expenses, I was able to save a lot of money, and also use some of that money to travel the world.
My love affair with travel began long before my adult life, however. My parents were instrumental in instilling a love of travel in both my brother and I. Both of my parents spent much of their 20s traveling the world, and my mother is not even native to this country, so my very recent genealogy has visible roots far from our shores. I remember taking family trips abroad, and just being enthralled by the physical act of going to the airport and getting on a plane, checking into a hotel, hearing foreign languages and eating foreign foods.
We went on a number of family trips while I was growing up, and in the summer of 2006, at the age of 17, I traveled without my family for the first time. I spent 3 months traveling around Europe with a couple of friends, including a German exchange student who had lived with us the year before in Atlanta. It was the kind of summer that every American teenagers’ “EuroTrip” fantasies are made of. Full of beaches, nightclubs, meeting all kinds of new people, and maybe squeezing in a museum or two along the way. I wish I had kept a better journal while I was there to remember more of the details, but at least I still have the photos.
For the first part of the summer, my German friend did most of the planning and logistical work since she had more experience with getting around Europe, and I was a little bit oblivious and just along for the ride, having an insane amount of fun. However, she got sick at one point during the summer and couldn’t travel with me to our next destination. Here’s where I experienced a bit of a hiccup, and had to figure things out on my own for the first time in a foreign country. Luckily, I just had to get from Berlin to Paris, to meet up with another friend of mine from home. And before I knew it, I was a confident world traveler. We decided on a whim to go from Paris to Belgium, to meet up with a cute Belgian boy I had met in Spain. We stayed up late at night, went out dancing, ate the cheapest food possible, walked around a totally new city or sat on the beach during the days. I was hooked.
I was glad to be home at the end of the 3 months, but I had gotten the travel bug, and badly. I couldn’t wait to get out of the country again, and it wasn’t too long before I did. In 2009 I did two international trips through my school – one to Prague for a week, and one to China for 2 weeks.
Then in 2011 my brother and I both graduated (me from college, and him from high school), so we decided to do a trip together. We spent about 10 days together in Istanbul and Greece, and then split up so he could have his own “EuroTrip” summer, while I did my first truly solo trip to Budapest, Vienna, and London. By this time, traveling alone felt like a walk in the park, and I discovered the wonders of CouchSurfing, one’s best friend while traveling on a budget. I also realized the benefits to traveling alone – mainly that you get to do whatever you want, and nothing else. I had no trouble meeting people while out and about by myself, whether it was on a walking tour or sitting at a bar.
My next big excursion was in 2013, when I tried WWOOFing for the first time. This is also a great way to travel on a budget – through the WWOOF website, you can find farms all over the world where you go and work for free, and then they house and feed you for free. Essentially all you’re paying for is to get there. Every farm operates differently and has different rules, etc., but you can easily scroll through them all and find one that you think is a good fit. I learned about WWOOF from a nice young couple that I CouchSurfed with in Vienna in 2011. They had spent a year WWOOfing around the US and Canada, and I was immediately interested.
I spent a month on a farm in Italy, about an hour north of Rome. They ran a small farm of mostly vegetables, but also ran a hostel and a weekend restaurant on the property. I only worked for a few hours a day, mainly gardening or picking vegetables, or helping to turn over a hostel room after a guest had left. During the weekend, the restaurant took over and I helped wait tables and clean dishes. On a few special occasions I was invited into the kitchen to help the chef (and the mother of the woman running the property), prepare a dish.
Maria Pia didn’t speak any English, and very rarely smiled, so I was a little bit terrified of her. But there was usually another WWOOFer in the kitchen with us, either an English boy who had been there for months, or another Italian guy who spoke very good English and was very chatty. The English guy also had a Vespa, so on one of our days off we rode down to Rome on the Vespa, and spent the day walking around and eating gelato.
My German exchange student friend also happened to book a trip to Rome at the same time without even realizing I would be there, so again we got together and traveled in Europe together!
I don’t want to say there was one best thing about that WWOOF farm, but I mean…there was a 200 liter keg of red wine. Just sayin’.
(If you’re interested – another similar way to travel is through HelpX (short for Help Exchange). It’s like WWOOFing, but not just for farms. There might be a youth hostel looking for help, or like one amazing post I almost followed up on – helping out with Iditarod dogs in Alaska!!!)
My next adventure was in 2015, I spent 5 weeks traveling around England, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Hamburg and St. Petersburg. Half of this trip was spent traveling alone, and half was with family and friends – again, my German friend decided to join my mom and I in St. Petersburg! It was yet another amazing trip that only fueled my passion for seeing the world – and soon hopefully more than just Europe.
I do have an adventure lined up for 2016, it was a very spur of the moment decision but my friend and I decided to take advantage of a great flight deal and we’re going to Iceland! In 2017 some of the Croatian side of my family will be spending the whole summer there, so I’m planning a return trip to the homeland. And finally, after TWELVE YEARS at No. 1 on my Bucket List, I am hoping to also get to Cuba in 2017.
Even though I have traveled fairly extensively, I still have quite a long travel bucket list. I don’t make a lot of money, and I’m sure there will come a time when I’m not able to leave the country every year or two. But until that time comes, what better way to spend my few dollars than exploring this vast, diverse, and amazing planet? There are so many new places to visit, so many ways in which I can open my eyes to something new and learn and grow, so many new foods to eat, and so many new people to meet.
And even though I am reaching a time of my life where I do want a home of my own that I can come back to, I will never want to stop traveling. I enjoy the stability of a home and in some ways moving on from the nomadic lifestyle. But that travel bug is here to stay. Stay Calm and Travel On!!