I’m sitting at the Madrid airport on a layover, waiting to board my plane home to New York. There’s a lot going through my mind.
The truth is, I’m devastated to be leaving Europe. (Damn you, Schengen Agreement!) After visiting so many cities on this diverse continent and falling in love with each of them in a different way, I dread going back to my life in the US. Throughout my trip, I’ve been researching ways I can stay for longer next time, or at least buy plane tickets to visit again once my 90 days outside the Schengen Zone are up.
Leaving Europe, I wonder what it’s like to come from a place where you have roots. Many native Europeans have families originating here for generations upon generations – sometimes passing on land or businesses for centuries. The cities and regions here are simply beautiful in so many diverse ways that the US just can’t compare to. I know I will miss the diversity of each country, the language barriers, the new foods, the arts & architecture, the history and of course, the people.
My old life in New York seems so far away now, even though it really wasn’t so long ago. I remember perfectly the day I bought my flight and the excitement I felt leading up to the day I left. I remember walking to the train station on 23rd Street, when it started to rain. I remember arriving in Paris and it feeling absolutely surreal that I was back here – on my own terms and with my own money.
In the past, I’ve always traveled for work or as a gift from my parents. This was the first international trip I’ve taken that was completely financed by no one else but me. It’s true that when you pay for things with money you earned, you appreciate them more than you would otherwise. I remember thinking about this on my flight from Nice to Brussels when I ordered myself a wine – something I’d never do in the past. This is yours, you earned it, and you paid for it, I thought to myself. It felt good! While I’m not very wealthy by any means, I am proud that I worked hard to be able to afford to do something I’ve always dreamed of doing: travel.
This trip was filled with many firsts: I bought my very first one-way plane ticket, I rented my first apartment on my own in France, I missed a train for the first time ever, and I felt short for the first time in my life (hello, Netherlands!).
After taking four flights, five trains, two buses, missing a train, and adding a flight, I’ve visited 7 countries in total – four of which I had never been to before (Monaco, Belgium, The Netherlands, Czech Republic), and one I haven’t been to in almost ten years (Spain)! All of the 18 cities I visited (except for a transit through Paris and a stopover in Berlin) were brand new to me.
That brings me to the biggest lesson I learned on this trip: quick traveling isn’t easy, despite the allure. What’s most fulfilling is living somewhere for a while, and getting to know it further than a tourist would. I’d like to build relationships, truly integrate myself into the culture, and ultimately find a town or city that I love living in and… stay.
Now, I just need to figure out where…