I traveled abroad for the first time when I was 13, but this wasn’t what set off my travel addiction. We didn’t take family vacations when I was a kid (when my parents were still married, this was something to be thankful for), but we did host foreign exchange students. Maybe this contributed to my desire to see the world, maybe not. Though, I do recommend hosting if you can. It was actually to visit Dani in Brazil that I went overseas the first time (Dani, if you’re reading this, it’s your turn to come here).
After my initial trip at 13, I didn’t leave the country again until I was 21. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though. I had wanted to spend a year abroad in high school, but my father (who, unfortunately, had joint custody) wouldn’t sign the paperwork. So, I waited until college and spent a semester in Ireland.
It was actually a result of my horrendous relationship with my father that sent me packing to Europe. I needed to get away and a friend of mine was studying in South Africa through a study abroad organization called AIFS and having a great time. I looked into it, saw they had a program in Ireland (I’d always wanted to go), applied that fall and left in the spring of my junior year. In hindsight, I probably should have gone somewhere less expensive as this did cause me to take out a substantial amount in student loans and, once I was there, run up my credit card. Ends up, 2009 was the height of the Irish economy, everything was expensive, and the exchange rate was not good for Americans. Not good at all.
Once in Europe, its incredibly easy and inexpensive to travel around that region. Discount airlines (RyanAir) have specials where you can fly from Ireland to Italy for €10. I, along with most other study abroad students, took frequent advantage and went on weekend trips to wherever I could. I went to Croatia, spent spring break with a friend driving through Austria and Switzerland. I wish I had actually spent more time in Ireland. Not that I didn’t travel there as well, I just wish I had become more involved with the University and participated in more local activities.
This semester abroad is what turned me into a travel addict. It also makes me think that things to happen for a reason. If my mother had been able to afford my college tuition in my home state I wouldn’t have taken my father (who I had just begun speaking to again for the first time in 7 years) up on his offer to pay my tuition if I moved closer to him and then I wouldn’t have had that (predictably) turn into a mess that I needed to get away from. If none of this happened, I may not have done a semester abroad that set me to travelling. I could have (yikes!) actually gone to law school and now have $100,000+ in student loan debt.
The summer after that semester abroad, I went with one of my best friends to study Spanish in Bolivia for 2 months. Then, 6 months after that, I was in Spain for a month studying to get a CELTA so I would have a better shot at getting a job teaching ESL in South Korea. I got the job in South Korea, spent a year there teaching and travelling followed by a year of volunteer teaching in Guyana.
It doesn’t matter what spurs a person to travel, but I believe travel is good for everyone. I have found that for most people, once they start, they become addicted. I certainly am. You don’t need to be rich to travel (though, I imagine it doesn’t hurt). I took out student loans to fund my first move overseas and invested in a CELTA so that I could continue to live abroad while making enough money to pay off some of those loans.
The problem for me now is that I am living in America, working a “grown up” job with limited vacation time that seriously restricts my ability to travel. This is something I’m really struggling with. I’m constantly looking at maps, looking at flights, considering what Masters programs would let me move overseas or lead to jobs that would be overseas and trying to plan my next trip. Becoming a traveler is easy, it’s staying in one place that becomes the challenge.