I have never been outside of the United States. When I was little, I dreamed of traveling the world and as I grew older I kind of just accepted that it was never going to happen. My parents are hard working and their idea of “vacation” was sleeping in and going to the movie theatre on Sundays.
Last semester was probably the roughest semester I’ve ever experienced. My grades suffered because I was spread too thin. I had too many interests and loved staying busy so being an editor for two publications, part-time barista, lab assistant, competitive rock climber, volunteer mentor, and a premed double major was slowly starting to kill me. I began to hate my classes and to panic about whether I was doing well enough to get into medical school or if I even wanted to stay that route. Life was getting to be too much. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t go to sleep without thinking about what I needed to do or how I’d screwed up this exam or that lab report.
I realized I needed to take time for myself. I felt like a robot, so intent on creating an impressive resume and getting through school. I had tunnel vision and I was unhappy because I was too obsessed with the long term. Here I was, 20 years old, and I still hadn’t traveled outside the country. So young and I was probably at risk for a stress- induced heart attack. So I decided to take matters into my own hands. Once I was accepted into the program of my choice to study French literature in Aix-en-Provence, I started working on making the most of my time in Europe.
I began with 2 weeks of backpacking, starting in France, moving through Switzerland, Cinque Terre, and finishing in Venice before spending two months in southern France.
On this trip, I’ve felt more scared than I ever have in my life. I’ve felt exposed, ignorant, unsafe, and lost. Living out of a backpack and carrying my whole life on my back, even for just two weeks, could be difficult. But so far this backpacking trip has also been the best two weeks of my life. Already I feel like a different person than the naïve girl that stepped onto the plane headed for Paris.
I’m happy I decided to go out into the world, despite people telling me to wait until after I graduated. Because I was tired of living life as if the only thing that mattered was the final salary. Because I was tired of worrying about where I’d be when I graduated. Because I will only be twenty once. And because sometimes, you just have to say “fuck it” and buy yourself a plane ticket.