Eight Things I Learned as a Teenage Traveler (Part Two)

Me (on the far left) with my siblings in Washington D.C.

Me (on the far left) with my siblings in Washington D.C.

Nearly two months ago, I wrote about a handful of things I learned as a teenage traveler. (You can read the first part of this two-part blog here.) I meant to post the second part soon after that, but life—well, moving into a house—quickly got in the way. Even so, the break between posts allowed me to ruminate about my experiences as a teenager, and made me realize that travel as a teenager really, honestly, shaped me into who I am today.

I have much to thank travel for. I have much to thank my parents and grandparents for (who allowed me to travel young in the first place). Because of these experiences, I deeply look forward to taking the Nerd family, including any future Nerdlings we have, traveling. I hope they have the same insightful travel experiences as I did growing up.

So, that said, I give you part two of "Eight Things I Learned as a Teenage Traveler."

5. Photos are way more memorable than souvenirs

When my grandparents took me to England in 2008 (my first trip abroad, as I talked about in part one), I brought along a budget of souvenir money that I'd saved up over a period of months before the trip. Sitting at the airport, money tucked securely in my money belt, I dreamed about all the things I wanted to buy in London: trinkets, gifts for friends and family, chocolate bars, t-shirts ... The list was virtually endless. In fact, when packing, I'd made sure that I'd have enough room in my luggage to return with some epic loot.

Once I got to London, though, all those thoughts blew away on the wind. I forgot about the souvenir money I'd so carefully saved up. I forgot about my desire to come home with a load of material items. The moment I walked out of the Tube and looked up to see Big Ben towering above me, winking in the sunlight, I was glued to my camera. These were cool moments I wanted to share with friends and family, I thought. Things I couldn't believe with my own eyes unless I had proof of them later.

In the end, I returned home with hundreds of photos ... and only a couple books on the Tower of London and some souvenirs. While the books still remain, buried on my shelf collecting dust, I have no idea where the souvenirs went. Maybe I threw them out? Maybe I broke them or lost them over the years? On the other hand, I still have all those photos, previous memories of 15-year-old me doing incredible things. Those photos, I realized, were much more memorable than a snow globe of Big Ben or a key chain of Westminster Abbey (both souvenirs I brought home ... and both that broke over the years).

Those photos have real, lasting memories of the trip. Each photo has a story, too, a way to inspire conversation with people who look at them.

After that trip, I stopped buying souvenirs (unless they're handmade or postcards, because I collect postcards). Now, I just take lots of photos.

The effects of this change in my teenage self are lasting. What's beautiful about the photos today is that they surprise me, reminding me of things I did on trips that I'd completely forgotten about. Take this photo of me (on the right) during a trip to Pennsylvania with my family (est. 2009). Looking at it now, tons of memories come pouring back about the things we did and the places we saw.

Me (on the far right) with my siblings in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Me (on the far right) with my siblings in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

6. Travel isn't terrifying, it's freeing

Before I traveled, I had mixed emotions about leaving home. Part of me wanted to see new places. I devoured books of all kinds, watched television shows about different places (Doctor Who, All Creatures Great and Small, etc), soaked in every episode of Rick Steves' travel through Europe video series, and envisioned seeing historical places with crumbling castles, ancient thrones, and foggy moors (hey, what can I say, I'm a fantasy nerd).

On the other hand, I was also terrified of traveling. What if I got lost and didn't know how to speak the language? What if I offended someone of another culture? What if I ate something super gross because I ordered off a menu I couldn't read? What if, what if, what if? The dizzying fear of being thought poorly of by other people around the world, and the dizzying lack of self-confidence I had in myself, at times made me want to abandon my quest for travel and stay home where it was safe.

It was only when I forced myself to travel—when I took that trip abroad and threw myself into a different place—that I realized I was wrong. Travel isn't as terrifying as I anticipated. I'd blown my fears out of proportion and almost let them keep me from traveling. Getting lost wasn't scary; I forced myself to speak to locals and build up my social skills and my confidence. Instead of speaking without thinking, I spoke carefully to others, respected their culture, and listened earnestly to their life stories (social cues about the differences between American culture and their culture helped me so much). When ordering off a questionable menu, I tried new things and ate them with appreciation ... even if they weren't my cup of tea. Oysters and other delicacies helped me find a measure of boldness deep down that I hadn't realized existed before.

I didn't have to be scared of travel, and I didn't have to struggle with my confidence. Traveling gave me a clean slate. It gave me a way to break out of my bubble and explore a new self and a new place, just like the characters in my books did and Rick Steves did in Europe. I discovered a new side of myself and the world, and once I embraced it, the terror and worry melted away for good.

7. Sometimes, going with the flow is OK

Just like my mother, I have a Type A personality. I need to be in control and have everything planned out at all times. A single variation or change in a plan causes me to stress out, and I run around, heels on fire, until things are resolved.

When traveling, however, I slowly understood that I couldn't control everything at all times. Things happened: flights were delayed, museums were closed for renovations (like the Library of Congress was when we visited—a huge disappointment BUT a reason to go back to Washington D.C. in the future), the family car broke down the day we were supposed to leave on a road trip, I got sick a few times, and so on.

In these times of stress, I had to let go and learn to go with the flow. Not everything had to be planned to a T! When the museums were closed, we found other things to do ... cool things we may not have discovered if our original plans went through. When a flight was delayed, I was upgraded to a better seat on the next available flight and got to sit right up front (it was a small plane). When the family car broke down, we had more time to get HYPE for the trip. And even though being sick sucked, it slowed me down and made me appreciate the sights we saw instead of flying past them with my head in the clouds.

Eventually, through trial and error, I learned to let go of my travel plans and go with the flow, which took a huge weight off my shoulders. And now, in my adult years, I can certainly say that I've appreciated travel much more with fewer plans and more freedom.

8. Once you get a taste of travel, you'll never be normal again

This one is super obvious! The moment I got back from England, I was hooked. Hooked on travel, hooked on culture, hooked on adventure, hooked on the future.

And thus, Two Nerds Travel was born some eight years later. I have no regrets. I mean, who really wants to be normal, anyway? :)

Were you a teenage traveler? What did travel teach you? What is it still teaching you today? Let us know; we'd love to hear about it!