Mary Poppins ruined my life. At some point, a child has to accept that a bottomless carpetbag does not exist, and there is, in fact, a physical limitation of how many things you can fit inside of a backpack. This is an important concept to submit to when you've just stepped off of an airplane and committed to traveling for two weeks across Europe with nothing but...a backpack . After leaving the country a few times before, something about traveling and experiencing other cultures made me fearless. Or stupid, because who sets off in a foreign country armed with nothing but a toothbrush, Hanes t-shirts, and a smile?
Everyone always tells me I'm lucky, but I'm not. I'm lucky and grateful for every experience I've had, but I'm not lucky in the sense that people imply I am. The truth is I just stopped believing that things were impossible. One year later, I arrived in Ireland for another visit. This time, when I arrived in Dublin Airport and walked into the waiting area, there wasn't a familiar face to greet me. I wasn't traveling with friends, I wasn't studying abroad, I wasn't in Ireland on business. I was just "there." Now what? I went to the ATM. I bought a bar of Cadbury chocolate. I bought a bus ticket into the city. I walked into the City Centre...and that's when it hit me.
As an American, I have been adequately trained to fear anything and everything. Flu epidemics. Foreign invasions. Zombie apocalypses. The possibilities for disaster are truly endless. But when I stopped thinking of all the bad things that could happen to me, I also realized that great things were equally as possible. And here's the crazy thing, guys. I survived!
After traveling awhile, you just get comfortable with being uncomfortable. When you take a train in the wrong direction, there is (gasp!) always a train that will take you back the opposite way. When you don't know how to enter the station, there's always the option of creepily staring at everyone passing by until you figure out what to do. And when there is no one nearby that speaks English, don't worry, shouting and using wild hand gestures always works. Every person on the street suddenly becomes your friend, whether they like it or not. You stop being afraid to whip out that Spanish you learned in 5th grade. And when, at the end of a long day, and several modes of transportation later, you get to view the city of Barcelona from Estadi Olímpic Lluís, you've long forgotten what it took to get you there.
Traveling made me fearless. It made the world small and big all at the same time. It made me believe that I could do anything. It forced me to become familiar with myself. It made me realize how many opportunities there were to impact the world. I know if I hadn't gone out into the world on my own, I never would have had the same amount of confidence to pursue my goals. Most of all, it made me understand that our only limitations are those that we place on ourselves.
To all my 20 somethings afraid to step outside of the box: don't let others tell you what's out there, find out for yourself. Take a train, drive a distance, buy a plane ticket. Whatever you do, take more than a backpack. Contrary to popular belief, a giant vanity mirror and fully-grown house plant will not fit inside.