Sunday, October 12, 2014

Life Lessons from Europe

Last year, I went through a quarter-life crisis.  I was turning 25 and felt like I had accomplished nothing.  Sure, I moved from Connecticut to North Carolina and managed to land a job teaching, but other than that, what did I have to show of myself?  I had all these grand plans.  Backpack through Europe.  Road trip across the U.S. of A just to name a few and none of them accomplished.

So in 2013, I worked on a budget and booked flights to Europe for a backpacking trip from June 2014-July 2014.  It was the best decision I ever made.  Backpacking taught me a lot about life.

1. You can't control everything. As a teacher, I feel like I need to be in control all the time.  I'm sure some of this comes from being the eldest sibling as well.  Backpacking through Europe was not without its challenges. France went on strike. causing my plans in France to be thrown out the window and getting separated from the girls.  I can't control what happens in France. I can't control the airlines.  All I could control was what I choose to make of this. So I chose to stay in Ireland and enjoy Ireland a few extra days before heading to Brussels (alone). I couldn't control the airlines. I also couldn't control the girls I was with. I couldn't make them stay with me and fly to Brussels with me.  What I could control was how I spent my extra time in Ireland. What I could control was how I spent my time in Brussels and who I meet.

2. Be open to talking to strangers.
When I was in Ireland, people were so friendly.  I went with the girls to a pub after a rather long evening of getting from London to Dublin.  We were going to just have a drink and call it a night.  However, we met some very vibrant Irish people and they talked us into going to a club with them. The club was awesome, the night ended with people throwing cookies and biscuits at one another (which I can only chalk up to us being drunk) and the people were ridiculously awesome.  If we had kept to ourselves instead of allowing people to talk to us, we never would have had the awesome night we had.  If we had closed ourselves off, we would have had a boring night of having a pint or two and then crashing for the night.  When I arrived in Brussels, I was alone.  To be honest, I was quite nervous as well. When I got to the Van Gogh hostel, I wasn't sure what to make of it. I thought it was in a bad neighborhood but it was cheap as hell so whatever.  I also wasn't that impressed with Brussels. At that hostel, I met some awesome people from Australia and California. Meeting them made my night different. I had planned to make it a low-key night and figure out what to do the following day.  Instead, I went to a bar with them and met more people who were from Norway and Sweden and possibly even Finland.  We had a grand time, getting into arguments with locals, trying to find food, trying all these different alcohol.   If I had never talked to these guys, I would not have had a blast. While I still am not fond of Brussels,  the people I met made all the difference and I had a blast.

3.  Be bold, take risks. In Switzerland, I did canyoning.  For those of you unfamiliar with canyoning, you abseil down the side of a mountain and then proceed to navigate through rocks and jump or slide down nature made waterfalls.  I've always been one for the "wild" rides at amusement parks. So I thought this was right up my alley.  It was more than I expected it to be.  Regardless, I had the time of my life. This taught me that taking risks is what life is all about. We take a risk every day getting in the car. We take a risk when we eat new food. We take a risk when moving some place new.  We take a risk when we choose not to study.   Life is all about risks. If you don't take the risk, you live a quiet dull life with no wild stories.  I took a risk when I got in a car with people I met less than 24 hours earlier and drove to another country.  I could have taken the train and gone on my way. Taking risks makes life more interesting. There's a difference between taking risks and being stupid.  Be sure you know the difference.
4. Unplug and live in the moment. In today's society, we are so plugged in. From our television to our computers to our cell phones or tablets.  While I was in Europe, I couldn't take my phone with me. I didn't have international data plan, nor did I want my cell phone with me.  I wanted to have no "saving grace" during awkward moments where  I didn't know anyone or didn't know what to say.  Not having electronic devices forced me to appreciate the moment, to live in the moment and savor it.  It forced me to talk to people, even if it was to get directions to somewhere.  Having a human connection is far better than anything you could ever imagine.  If  I had my cell phone, I wouldn't have met the locals or the travelers that I met.  I wouldn't have been immersed in the culture.  I wouldn't have stepped outside my comfort zone and asked for directions.  Now, I have eliminated facebook messenger from my phone. Yes, I still go online for work stuff and to communicate with people. Yes, I still have my TV soaps I must watch. Yes, I still text people endlessly.  But, I am now able to step away from my phone, from my computer and Roku and enjoy life a little more.  We all need human interaction and as long as humans are around, we will always need human interaction.  Hiding behind electronics is not healthy for us.  I challenge you to step away from electronics for a few days. Go for a walk. Meet friends for coffee or drinks. Volunteer. Visit a new town and explore.  Your life will be richer for it.

5. Have a positive attitude. Things won't always go your way.  When in Ireland, we had a night where we had no accommodations.  We managed to get a room in a bed and breakfast in Oughterard, a place we concluded was in the middle of nowhere.  We were aggravated.  It was way out of the way from where we were going.  We had to deal with it because all other places were booked.  So we went to Oughterard.  We had to walk from the bus stop to the B&B.  On our walk, we were exhausted. Our backpacks were killing us.  We just wanted to stop and we had no idea how long we would be walking for. On our walk, we saw a couple of donkeys.  The donkeys somehow brightened up our walk.  We took pictures with the donkeys.  Those donkeys somehow taught us that even though things didn't pan out the way we want, that it's okay, have a positive attitude and maybe the new course will be even better than the one we planned.  Now, when talking about Ireland, I be sure to bring up Oughterard because it truly was the middle of nowhere and not where we wanted to be, but we made the most of it and ended up having a lot of fun.  Bottom line - make the most of everything, even if it's not what you planned, because you may just end up having the time of your life.


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