There is too much world, and not enough time.
As I typed the above sentence, I originally typed “world” as “work,” and it seems just as valid.
I’ve been a writer at Harvard University for the past five years, writing more than 250 stories about the university’s students, researchers, faculty, and events. I’ve led workshops in academic writing and seminars on public speaking. I’m in the final stages of completing my master’s degree in English. And while achieving these accomplishments has been an amazing experience, part of me feels like I’m wasting my time.
At Harvard, wasting your time isn’t just insulting, it’s practically impossible. You get to experience things here you won’t anywhere else. I’ve met Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors, twice. I’ve heard Yo-Yo Ma perform before an audience of around 100 people. The same is true for Eddie Izzard, Garrison Keillor, and Wynton Marsalis. I’ve heard Toni Morrison read a chapter from her latest book, JK Rowling talk about the Importance of Failure, and all of it was for free.
Living among the best and brightest scholars in the world, getting to work with the students that will undoubtedly go on to lead future generations, being in a place where the call is always to be smarter, more thoughtful, to have greater insight and depth: it’s very strange to wake up one day and realize that the call to cast caution to the wind and travel is just too strong to deny anymore. And more importantly, you don’t want to.
Hearing the call to adventure is one thing. Answering it, especially when you’ve just celebrated your 46th birthday, is another.
My family traveled a bit when I was younger, so I’ve experienced other cultures first-hand and in-depth. I know what it’s like to get lost in a foreign city, and I even like it. I speak German, which is one more language than many Americans speak. So I do have some experience with traveling under my belt.
Doesn’t mean spending a whole summer abroad, essentially on your own, isn’t somewhat terrifying.
What if I run out of money? What if I get lost? What if I can’t find my way around? What if I feel threatened or am threatened? What if I don’t speak the language? What if I lose my laptop, my passport, my backpack? What if I spend all this time and energy thinking about traveling, and it turns out I just don’t like it?
Let’s find out.
The parameters are simple: one world, one backpack. I will travel light. Five days’ worth of clothes, swimsuit, one laptop, one cell phone, one iPod. Three pairs of shoes: sneakers, walking sandals, flip-flops. I’ve never backpacked before, and certainly not solo, so these are my best guesses.
This trip will last one summer and span at least two, if not three, continents. I’ll fly to visit my mom in Germany, and she, my stepfather, and my sister and I will vacation for one week in Mallorca. After that, I’m on my own. I’ll use sites like AirBNB, couchsurfing, and housesitting to cover my lodging, and will spend more money on EatWith (like AirBNB, but for dining) than on restaurants. Money is tight in general, so I’ll try to keep all expenses to $50/day or less. After two months, I’ll fly back to Boston and then depart for a three weeks in Costa Rica.
The current Europe agenda includes, at the very least, Barcelona, Granada, and Madrid. If I can stretch my finances and time, I’ll fly to Marrakesh and Florence. I’m also flying into Iceland with an 8-hour layover, and flying out of Dublin, so I hope to spend some quality exploring time in both places.
As with all things, there’s no way to know until you go. It might be great, or it might be awful.
Let’s find out.