It's a rare occurrence when you can point to a moment in your life and say. "That's it. That's when I changed. That's when everything changed." Yet my exact moment was: July 5, 2013 at 3 a.m.
My best friend and I decided to leave our cornfield-surrounded town of 1,500 people and drive to Canada. Fast-forward 12 hours as we found ourselves at a hostel in Toronto swearing the next day were we headed for a hotel! Having never been around so much diversity in such an intimate setting, we were so overwhelmed to the point that we skipped the shared meal space and hunkered down with homemade peanut butter sandwiches outside on a park bench. Clearly we were far from our creature comforts and the familiarity of our small town.
Three years have passed since that fateful night and I can now look back at my 19-year-old self with pride and smile at all the memories. Turns out we did not leave the hostel - instead we ended up staying for the entire week. What changed? Us! We decided to open up and connect with others, which resulted in friendships that are still going strong today.
In that one week, I gained more life experience and learned more about the world than school ever taught me. Without cell phone service I finally learned how to read a map and I learned that Europeans never ask for a doggy bag (I think the snickering gave it away). My most cherished moment was when a chef from Switzerland cooked us a meal - this never would have happened back home. Through all this I learned that the simple things are often the most treasured.
That one-week of travel changed my life, teaching me my biggest lesson: how to interact with people who have differing backgrounds and opinions. In the past three years I cannot count how many hostels I've stayed in during my travels through Spain, Italy, Ireland and much of the U.S. I've made countless friends and memories, gained confidence and said yes to new opportunities, which has allowed me to chase my dreams.
Every time I think about my past travels, my hearts fills with joy and propels me to always be planning what is next. Now, whenever someone tell me they are thinking about taking a trip I automatically yell, "DO IT!" Then I pause to add, "But only if you're ready to be forever changed by travel." - Alison Kinkade