A year ago Mary Polly and I were about to set sail on our Mediterranean Cruise. We’ve been reliving the memories and marveling at all that has happened in a year.
When Mary Polly and I boarded our airplane for home at the end of our trip, we had no idea that less than a year later, we’d be living in Scotland.
And though this move has been difficult in many ways, there is no doubt that it is the fulfillment of a dream. (Or an obsession, as Taido says.) On the days the dream threatens to undue me (yesterday was one of those days), I have to remind myself that this is what I wanted.
I even have proof in writing.
A week before Mary Polly and I left on our trip, I ran into a young gal who had just returned home from a season out of the country. We had been swapping study abroad stories at church and I went home that afternoon and penned this letter to her. I thought it would be fun to share it with you.
Letter About Traveling Abroad
I so enjoyed visiting with you at church today. Our conversation about spending time abroad and coming home again has been heavy on my mind all day. I think perhaps it is the timing–one week before Mary Polly and I leave for our cruise in Europe–that has me thinking so much about what travel does inside of us.
Travel, Adventure, Exploring.
They call to me.
Just like they do for you.
When I was your age, I wanted to see the world beyond here so badly, so I jumped at the first chance I got to hop a plane in the name of studying.
To Prague I went with a suitcase full of dreams and a heart full of wonder. I was amazed by truly everything.
My eyes hurt from trying to see so much at once, and even now, I remember being in awe every time I turned a corner.
My heart hurt from trying to squeeze in every person I met, wanting to be dear friends for life with everyone and still hold tightly to all the precious souls back home.
I grew to adore roommates and hallmates. I met people on the streets of Prague, in university classrooms and in cafes.
I walked the halls of museums, scribbling down names of artists I’d never before heard of but wanted to remember forever.
I learned to drink coffee from tiny cups in street cafes. I warmed my fingers on hot spiced wine. I devoured Eastern European novels. I wanted to crawl inside of a tragic Tolstoy character and board a train for Siberia. I wanted the night sky to stay forever over the Charles Bridge. I wore crushed red velvet boho dresses and black lipstick. I ate cheeses that you could smell from another room and rum soaked fruit.
I can’t begin to measure how much LIFE I managed to cram into my months abroad, but I can tell you that I went for it with all my heart, jumping in with both of my Doc Marten boots.
At the end of my time, I longed to go home and to never leave all at once. I cried at going and coming and being.
Back home, I wanted everyone to experience this treasure of discovering somewhere new. I was certain that other people could not possibly be fulfilled without traveling in Europe. Everyone should learn languages and spend half their days overseas, I preached with great conviction.
For weeks, I was that annoying person who says, Well, let me tell you how they do that in Europe…
Soon enough, you learn who cares and who does not. I tried to limit my constant retelling to my family, who would both listen to my stories and openly mock me.
Years later, my parents went to Europe (on the way home from Israel), and they found it no where near as special as I had, which was bitterly disappointing for me.
I can still hear my dad saying, Man, that Vienna is one fancy schmancy place.
(I had shed tears at the beauty of Vienna, falling in love with Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt.)
Their experience with Europe caused me to doubt my own, to wonder if I had only dreamed it was enthralling because of my youth. I wanted to go back again and see, but it would be six more years before I did.
Taido and I went to Italy for our 10th anniversary. Like stepping back in time, I remembered the sound of a romantic language, the smells of the train station and the anticipation of exploring a new city full of museums I’d never been to before.
It was a magical week in Italy and we loved every minute.
How relieved I was to discover again how much I loved being overseas and traveling. It was then that Taido and I dreamed up the idea of taking our kids on trips for their thirteenth birthdays, even if we had to do it at the expense of other things (college savings? new cars?) and these days we talk lots about taking our kids abroad for a season.
Friend, it will always be with us, this desire to GO and SEE, so even if you settle near home, make space in your life (and your budget) for travel (and be certain to marry someone who shares your love for it!)
And for now, when you have a choice between doing whatever everyone else is doing and going somewhere new, I would almost always say: Choose travel!
Love you dearly,
This letter really hit home to me. I had the opportunity to live in Switzerland for a year and, like you, took every single opportunity to enjoy it while I was there.
For me, it was the rail system that I fell in love with. Not being constrained to one location and having the ability to easily travel around the countries was my passion.
I am an avid outdoorsman and first learned to snowboard in Zermatt, Switzerland. It became my world, on the weekends you would find me and my friends on the next peak viewing the valleys below, before leaning in and taking the plunge on the next wild ride of our lives.
Adventure is the word that comes to mind when remembering those days. When I returned I told everyone my stories, and much to my dismay, nobody could relate at all. I yearned to find anyone who could appreciate my love of travel and adventure. I finally did, and can’t say enough about how excited I am to experience the world with her.
Thanks, Alison, for the amazing reminder that there is a wonderful world out there, that we shouldn’t take for granted.
Now, to plan that next adventure…
Zack, Thanks so much for sharing this story of living abroad! I love it and I can’t wait to hear about that next adventure too! So fun!
I feel that ache! And I haven’t yet had the opportunity! My travels have been many in our great country and to Canada (as if Montreal and Quebec City and Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island could quench my thirst for the other side of the ocean)! It helped- some. But were I to go to Europe I know I would find the wonder there. Even the littlest of delights. And I’d tuck them away forever like you’ve done. And then I’ve gone to less inspiring places (to me), border towns in Mexico, the Bahamas.
But ah! The thing that gives me great solace is knowing that one day in heaven it will be more beautiful than all that I didn’t get to see here on earth. Because of course I’ll never get to it all…or maybe even get to cross the ocean. So I look forward to the splendor of something more beautiful than any breath-grabbing, heart-tugging natural splendor, or smooth formed marble I could hope to see. That being said…I LOVE where you’ve been and are getting to go. And how you share it with us wonder yearners!
You come from a gorgeous part of the country yourself girl! 🙂 And thanks so much for this reminder that yes, travel is AMAZING but it isn’t everything. And all of our longings are echos of the truest longing of all! Beautifully said, friend. Still, if you ever find yourself crossing the Atlantic, I would happily wander the Highlands with you! XOXO
Loved reading this!! It’s fun to look back and see all that’s happened since writing a letter like this!!
Thanks so much, Tina! I have LOVED revisiting Prague through your blog and stories too!
I love to travel and did a lot in my younger days. My mother was English so I went to visit my aunt and cousins in London for a few summers. They were great and took me places and let me be part of their lives. I loved it! It was so green and different from California that it was an adjustment coming home. Then I took a college tour of Italy and studied art. It was fantastic and fired up my passion for art. So now I’m an art and English teacher. Your letter captured the joy of seeing new things. It is great you are sharing that with your kids. Travel opens up our minds and heart to the beauty and wonder of life.
How fun! What wonderful memories! I love how the things we get to see and places we go influence and shape us! Even decide careers! So fun!
I’m sorry you’re having some hard days, and I pray they will be few and far between. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the adventure and excitement of traveling to see and explore new places! I love it!!! When I was 13, my parents started taking my 2 sisters and me on wonderful summer trips to see this country and Canada. We did this every summer till I graduated from college! Wonderful experiences, wonderful memories! You have inspired me to travel again and expand my adventures across the Atlantic. It is great fun to think about the possibilities!!!
I have been super spoiled to have my family so close by for all these years! We’re still in the adjustment period for sure!
I love hearing childhood travel memories! They stay with us forever. I’m excited to see where you go next, June!
I love this. My parents took my brother and sister and me to Europe for the first time in 1985. My brother had just graduated from high school, my sister was 16, and I was four.
My mom just found her journal from that trip a few weeks ago and had a laugh over a story from our time in Italy. We were having a hard time finding a restaurant that was open late, and everyone was getting hungry. My sister hugged me and told me she was proud of how patient I was being, and I responded, “I don’t need hugs. I just need noodles!” 🙂
I’ve been back a few times, most recently for two weeks in Scotland in 2006, but it’s addictive and never enough!
My husband and I desperately want to travel with our boys — right now, our oldest is four, and I look at him and think how brave my parents were to travel with me at that age! But it gave me such a love of history and the great literature and art that go along with it, and I’m so grateful they recognized the importance of teaching us to appreciate those things.
By the way, I think I speak for everyone when I say that we’re going to need some photographic proof of the crushed velvet and black lipstick…
How much fun! I hope my kids will laugh about all the memories from being over here when they grow up! It sounds like you all have lots of treasures from your travels! I know what you mean about it being addictive and never enough! One of the reasons I blog about traveling is that I relive it as I write about it. Makes it last a little longer! 🙂
I know how hard it is to travel with little ones! Seems like shorter trips are best!
Sadly, I have almost no pictures from my season abroad. I had my backpack stolen early on (camera + journal + passport). So I only have memories! Though I wish I had more pictures, I am pretty sure I would be mortified if there was some version of Instagram from back then. Yikes!
This is so fun to read. You know that I was one who listened to all your stories of Prague and was inspired to go because of you! I will never forget the tales you told or the passion with which you told them. I will also never forget the beauty and awe of Prague when I got there. It also changed my life and encouraged my desire for travel. It changed my view of my home and of my world. It changed my career path. I also enjoyed every single minute of every single day (even the ones where I was crying and missing home). I thank you for the seed that got me to Prague for two years. I have since taken my students back (and to other places as well). I hope to take my oldest son to South Africa this spring and both kids to Ecuador this summer. I’m scared to death to travel with the kids, but every time I talk of another country, Avery says, “I want to go.” And so I want him too!
Looks like you are having a blast. Can’t wait to keep reading.
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