I try to live like Bilbo Baggins. No, I don’t live in a hole in the ground. I haven’t met any wizards, or encountered any dwarves raiding my kitchen. In fact, I think the politically correct term would “an individual of diminutive stature”. I like to read books, and focus on my tidy life. I do have chaotic roommates who enable my extroversion, which I’m secretly appreciative of (despite the partying until 4 A.M).
On January 14th, there was a birthday party that I had promised to attend. At the last second, I heavily debated against it. But I stand by my word, so I forced myself to go. I ended up enjoying myself, thanks to extroversion skills imparted by my roommates. There, I met a girl who frequently traveled. I grew wary when she first told me; often, people just go to exotic tourist destinations and live in fancy hotels that cater to Westerners. I had no desire to experience that while paying an exorbitant amount of money on travel expenses. However, this girl described her journey in Southeast Asia AND IT WAS PHENOMENAL. I felt inspired to embark on my own adventure. I had no idea on where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to do. I just knew that it was necessary.
Within three days of meeting said girl, I decided to buy my ticket, using Momondo. I scoured for days, and eventually settled on going to Europe. It’d be the simplest option, with a variety of cultural influences. English was quite common so it’d be a good entryway into traveling, to see if I would actually enjoy myself. After much consideration, I narrowed down choices between Copenhagen and Barcelona. Due to an upbringing within a Spanish neighborhood, I settled on Barcelona. I immediately told my parents about my desire. Though my parents are divorced, they converse cordially (which is annoying because they talk about me all the time). They wondered why I felt this desire, and I explained as simply as I could: I’m young, without any emotional and physical attachments, and I would be going during my Spring Break. My father, proud that I was willing to widen my perspective, offered to pay for the flight (which I am grateful for because, y’know, poor college student life).
So it was nerve-wracking, knowing that I’d be going to a foreign country where I knew no one and barely spoke the language. The aforementioned girl later spoke of these islands that Portugal had, known as the Azores. After a couple weeks of consideration, I decided to book a second flight, from Barcelona to the Azores, this time using my own money. Might as well go, if I’m already over there in Europe.
The day of my supposed flight, everything went to hell. Reported 60 miles per hour winds caused all flights at JFK Airport to be canceled altogether. I was given accommodation for the night by American Airlines, with a rescheduled flight set on the next day. Unfortunately, due to the cancellation and later rescheduling, I missed my connection flight (through a different travel agency) to the Azores from Barcelona airport. Rather than going from New York to London to Barcelona, I went from New York to London to Madrid to Barcelona. All this, with multiple delays for each flight. By the time I arrived in Barcelona, I had been either in an airport or plane for a consecutive 24 hours.
Let’s take a trip to imagination land. You’ve arrived in a different city, far from home at 11:30 P.M, where the world outside the airport is silent and dark. You have a giant travel backpack and you’re exhausted from the frequent flight changes. You barely speak the local language, realizing you’re quite out of practice. Rough, huh? BUT WAIT, it gets better. You have 100 USD in your pocket, but you’re in Europe. This means you need Euros. And your phone is at 1%, and you can’t find a single outlet anywhere near the exit of the Barcelona Airport.
Managing to find an ATM, I used my debit card to withdraw 100 Euros. Thankfully, I had notified USAA in advance that I’d be traveling to a foreign country. I quickly memorized the hostel address that I planned to stay at, trying to book additional space on the Hostelworld app since I had arrived early.
I eventually worked up the nerve to exit the airport. I think that’s probably the scariest feeling. Airports feel like safe havens, and exiting one causes you to fully experience the breadth of the country you choose to visit. You’re not sure if you’ll actually like it. Using hand gestures and the worst broken Spanish imaginable, partly due to my lack of practice and sheer exhaustion, I managed to tell the Spanish taxi driver where I needed to go. It cost me 38 Euros. (Turns out I could have taken an Aerobus which would have cost me about 6 Euros and a brief walk.)
After arriving at the hostel and a brief night’s rest, my adventure began. I made friends and experienced nightlife. I had absinthe, experienced Barcelona with an 18 year old Australian girl traveling through Europe alone, convinced Israeli soldiers to party with me, utilized sarcasm with some British folk, and pulled emotions out of Germans.
I walked everywhere, building wonderfully toned calves. I even took a 3 km run from my hostel to the beach where there was an outdoor jungle gym. I briefly exercised there, and then returned back with another 3 km run. I spoke Spanish with some locals and savored their coffee. The outside of the Sagrada Familia took my breath away and the view from the bunkers during sunset left me with water in my eyes (definitely because I was staring at the sun).
Upon my return to U.S.A, my layover was for Helsinki, Finland. I found myself in cold weather, once again. Due to a common cold and a recommendation from my AirBnB host, I decided to go to a Finnish sauna. Turns out, you go naked. And it’s men and women together. So imagine my reaction as I, a brown guy with jet black hair and a few tattoos, enter the room of naked Finnish people, all with blonde hair and blue/green eyes. They were speaking Finnish in the room, until I entered. At which point, silence. It could’ve been because I was ridiculously good-looking as my Mother tells me, but I’m doubting that.
In the process of returning with Finnish chocolates from Europe, I realized that I left a part of myself behind. I had gained perspective, and I now feel driven to pursue my goals. I’m beginning to realize that traveling, and immersing myself into another culture, will quickly become an expensive habit. It’s not just the location, but the people that astound you. Be it their wisdom, or the change in their expression when you humble yourself and attempt to communicate in their language. This will the first of many journeys, with the latter expected.