From the libraries in England to the dance floors in Spain; the fjords of Norway to the mountains of Nepal; the temples in Cambodia to the palaces in Portugal; and the bitter cold days in Swedish Lapland to the sweltering heat and humidity in Singapore- I will never find the words to express my gratitude for being blessed with this opportunity to travel the world. I am forever thankful for the good days- the days when I felt like the luckiest girl in the world, surrounded by positive energy, endless possibilities and constant smiles. I am thankful for the bad days too- the overnight buses from hell, the days when absolutely nothing went my way, the tears and the breakdowns and the “I can’t do this”’s; because those days pushed me out of my comfort zone and planted the seeds for my growth. And I am thankful for all of the days in between.
I am thankful for everyone who I have met along the way. I am thankful for those who have questioned my beliefs and values, challenged the way I think, and changed the way I see the world. I am thankful for those who I’ve felt like I’ve known my entire life after only just meeting. I am thankful for those who have become some of my very closest friends and who have traveled with me for bits along the way. And I am thankful that solo travel is really not that solo. I am thankful for the Filipino girls who just happened to be heading to the same place as me so we shared a taxi and an afternoon in Taipei, for the guy in my hostel in Hanoi who I’d never met before but insisted on staying up with me when he found me with food poisoning at 2AM, for the girl in Faro who invited me out when I was feeling very shy on one of my first nights of solo travel, and for my friends in Bristol who made a city 3,560 miles away feel like home. I am thankful for my friends from all around the world, both old and new, who have kept in touch with me and stayed patient, especially when I sometimes take days or even weeks to reply. Thank you to anyone who has touched my life whether for an hour, a day, a week or this entire journey over the past 22 months.
I am thankful for my parents and their constant support and unconditional love. They answered every text message and phone call whether it was 3PM on a Sunday afternoon or 3AM on a Tuesday morning (more often it’s the latter). I am thankful that they calmed me down when I called them at 4:30AM after breaking down sobbing in the middle of the street because the culture shock of seeing roasted dog in northern Vietnam was too much for me to comprehend. I am thankful that they supported my dream to travel all along the way, while also assuring me that if I wanted to come home early that was perfectly alright too. I am thankful that they constantly remind me that my safety is always a priority and if money is ever an issue they will help me out to ensure my safety. And I am thankful that they listen to my ramblings about where I’ve been and where I’ll go next, for hours on end without interruption. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for all that you do for me. I love you both endlessly.
I am thankful for the culture shocks. I am thankful for when I experienced my first squat toilet in Morocco and genuinely didn’t know what to do with that thing. I am thankful for learning about arranged marriages and the normality of pregnancy at 15-17 years old for the women of Sa Pa. I am thankful for the bucket showers in Laos and living simply without electricity. I am thankful for the friendliest locals who treated me like lifelong friends in Macedonia. I am thankful for the altruism of a young girl in Cambodia who gifted me a poncho when I was walking in the pouring rain. I am thankful for the guides and porters in Nepal who ate dhal baat for every meal every day and wouldn’t want it any other way. I am even thankful for witnessing local people constantly and openly littering on the streets in much of Southeast Asia, as each of these experiences taught me perspective. They taught me that a lot of the time, it’s the people who have the least that give the most. They taught me that trust of one another should be an innate trait that we each carry. And they taught me to appreciate what I have and my lifestyle, but also that I cannot judge another culture for their ways of living or another person for the way that he or she was brought up. There is no right or wrong way to live.
I know it is a cliche to say “travel has changed me.” But from the bottom of my heart, I truly believe it has and it has for the better. The uncertain, self-conscious, shy and guarded girl who stepped on a plane outbound to Europe in September 2016 is not me anymore.
I no longer fear letting people in nor believe that trust is something to be earned. I believe that humans are inherently good. I believe that the walls we put up are meant to be broken down, but we can’t expect others to break them down without first giving them the key to the gate which surrounds those walls. I believe that while solo time and self reflection are essential, we cannot survive on our own. I believe that human connection is the best part of life.
I no longer believe that the popular stuff is always the good stuff. I believe that the good stuff is the stuff that leaves us pinching ourselves to make sure it’s real, laughing so hard that our bellies hurt, and thinking what the hell we did to deserve this bliss. I believe that doing what makes us happy is not selfish, it is a form of self care. And I believe that we should go to whatever depth is necessary in order to achieve that.
I no longer believe that every journey needs a destination. Life isn’t a perfect science and plans don’t always work out. Sometimes we’re just not meant to know what comes next. I believe that our worst days give rise to our best days. I believe that we can travel hundreds of thousands of miles away from home in search of something, but we won’t find what we are looking for until we stop looking into the distant future and start living in the present. For me, I didn’t realize what I was looking for before I left. But the more I traveled, the more I realized that I was searching for self-love, for the feeling of being alive, and for the ability to live less rigidly. I found each of these along the way.
I am thankful for this journey; for every minute of it and every inch of it. Bittersweet feelings engulf my entire being as I prepare to fly home this evening. I will miss this lifestyle: this freedom to go and do, to be whoever I want, to meet new people everyday and to constantly explore. And while this may have been an adventure of a lifetime, I have and will always believe that the best has yet to come. Tonight might be the end of this chapter, but endings always precede new beginnings. Shortly I’ll begin my next chapter at Kansas City University as a first year medical student and I absolutely cannot wait.