three years later…

Monday, July 23, 2012 0 , ,
 (Waiting to board the plane to London. Aside from my wedding day, the happiest day of my life.)
Last month, three years ago I had a life-altering experience. I went to Europe.

Lots of people do that, I know, but it was a really big deal for me. Huge, actually. Ever since high school, I had a little envelope tucked away in my dresser drawer labeled “Europe savings”. Every once in a while, I would manage to put away one hundred dollars or so, and then Christmas would come, or something equally expensive, and I would have to use the money, and start saving all over again. No matter how long that envelope stayed empty, however, I knew it would happen one day. I knew I could fill it somehow.

In college, I majored in European history, with a minor in European studies. So, I was kind of absorbed in all things European. By the time my senior year rolled around, I had already ruled out studying abroad as too expensive. And the little envelope in my drawer was empty.

I began to wonder if I could be more pro-active in making Europe a reality. The summer after I graduated would be the last time I had no real responsibilities. I would have to get a real job soon, and real jobs do not make allowances for people who list travel as a hobby. Funding might also be a problem, since I would have those things called bills. So I made a decision.

I weighed my social life against the possibility of working my little butt off and stuffing that envelope full of more than a hundred dollars or so. My friend Jennifer was studying abroad in Salzburg at the time, and I had a million conversations with her about the possibility of visiting her. She was going to be done with school soon, and she would have time off to travel. It could not be a more perfect situation. Finally, I decided to bite the bullet and get a job. I had had a job for my freshman and sophomore years, but I quit after that to focus on school. As nice as it was to not have to worry about working for three semesters, I couldn’t shake the daydreams of European adventures.

A couple months before my final semester, I applied for a job as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant in town, and was hired on the spot. I couldn’t work a lot of weeknights, due to school, but I worked every single Friday and Saturday. I became something of an anti-social person, but I don’t look back on that year as terrible. I spent every spare moment doing homework or asking Jennifer a million questions about what I should pack, what train pass I should buy, and what countries we should go to. Planning is always half the fun.

I worked hard for a couple months, then I took a good look at how much I had earned, and averaged out how much I would make over the next few months. I was working every free evening I had, but I still wasn’t making my target goal of $3,000 for a three-week trip. After much thought, I came up with a really logical explanation as to why it would never work out, because logic made me feel better about giving up my dream (you can’t argue with logic, right?) and I told my mom.Later, my dad came up to me and said, “So your mom tells me you are a quitter.” I was taken aback: I am no quitter (Logic quit, not me). I couldn’t start life in the real world with debt, that was my biggest problem. I have a healthy fear of debt instilled in me by my own father. So I gave him my list of reasons why it wouldn’t work. He agreed with me, and said that maybe it wasn’t the smartest move financially. See?

But then he came back a little while later and told me that he and my mom were going to help me buy my plane ticket for my graduation present. I cannot express in words my excitement at that moment, so I will leave it to your imagination.When I had enough money to buy a traveling back pack half my height, I bought one. When I had enough to buy a train pass, I bought that. When I had the next chunk of cash, I got my passport. We bought my ticket, and my life changed. No, seriously. I had wanted to go to Europe for as long as I could remember, and it was finally actualizing. This blurry vision in my head was becoming more clear, and I was finally allowing myself to think this was really about to happen.

Anyway, it happened. That glorious three-week trip with a good friend who knows Europe like her own backyard, and all the memories that come with it. Every June, since 2009, Europe sneaks into my thoughts more often than other times. Yes, I still dream about Europe, but my visions are crystal clear now, and they come with sounds, smells, and tastes…and hours-worth of stories. If I had not gone after all, I would have survived. But I don’t think I would be the same person. There is something about facing a myriad of excuses, and just working really hard for something in the future, that strengthens you and makes you a little bit braver.

This realization comes to everyone who works hard for something they want, even when it is not easy or fun. It comes in small challenges, and big challenges, on a daily basis and over the span of years. This just happened to be the most visual of mine to date, and the end result just happened to be England, France, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, Germany, and Austria.

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