I’ve always wanted to travel the world. I highly considered taking a gap year after high school to travel and I still have (farfetched) dreams of being a world traveler as my career, actually. I follow practically every traveling Instagram that exists and I live for beautiful landscapes that remind me how small I am (see “On Stargazing”).
This summer so far I’ve visited ten cities in three weeks.
And I’m not even halfway finished. And then in the Fall I’ll hopefully visit at least ten countries through my abroad program.
Dream come true, right? Yes, but not in the way I expected.
I thought that going to the Eiffel Tower, relaxing on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, seeing and learning about famous works of art, going on long runs through scenic landscapes and by famous architecture, learning more Spanish, seeing most parts of Spain, planning trips to other European countries, would all be what I’d remember most from the summer. I thought those experiences would help me figure out who I am, help me knock some items off my bucket list, make for some great pictures and solid blog posts, and help me to gain a more worldly perspective on certain issues. And that is all true, but what I didn’t realize is that these experiences aren’t really about what you’re doing; they’re about who you’re with.
I know tons of travelers who embark alone, who enjoy the wanderlust and the soul searching, but what you’ll see more often than not is that most travel blogs/Instagrams these days involve joint travelers—like a husband and wife or two best friends—and even the solo-travelers often bring their significant other or a family member along on their longer trips. Though you could argue this is for safety reasons, I think these joint travelers are onto something that I only just realized: PEOPLE really make the trips. The experience is all the more richer when you know the people you love are right by your side experiencing it, too.
Because what I remember from the past three weeks is not how the Eiffel twinkled, but instead how wonderful it was to hear how my friend was really doing as we ate Nutella crepes with the Eiffel twinkling in the background.
I remember laughing over the struggles of relationships with a guy who’s attempting to figure out his complicated relationship mess as I relax in the warmth of Mallorcan beaches. And striking up a conversation with a female taxi driver as she told me about her family and her dreams (and only cringed at my Spanish twice!).
I remember quite enjoying our program’s group dinner, where I drank a little too much champagne on an empty stomach. I cracked up at dumb Spanish jokes my friends kept throwing my way and felt proud—in a strange way—that I was able to just… Live.
I remember eating delicious chicken served by a waiter who by far had the prettiest eyes of any man I’ve ever met. And doing Pilates and spin classes with a fitness instructor who would play American music to make up the for the fact that he just “can’t speak English but wants me to like the classes.” I think I go now just to hear his adorable laugh as he makes fun of me for doing the moves wrong (because, let’s be honest, I don’t quite know all the vocabulary for body parts yet).
I remember sheepishly grinning and getting red as a tomato as my host mom tried to introduce me to “attractive Spanish men” as her “guapísima temporary daughter.” And being fascinated by our tour guide’s stories of his private collection of Picasso’s and his simple way of life in Mallorca.
I remember dancing until 4am at a seven floor club with friends who didn’t care that I was sober and wasn’t wearing heels. I remember belting Wicked at the dinner table with my host mom and her daughter, off key and with a mixture of Southern and Spanish accents.
I remember talking to my best friend on FaceTime Audio as I sit on my floor “packing” for one of our day trips, feeling her smile through the phone and appreciating her ability to bring out the best in me. I remember joking with the uptight woman at Balaguar Chocolates that these couldn’t reallllly be the best chocolates in Spain and “maybe Food Network said you have the best croissant in the world but like do you really think Food Network has tried all the world’s croissants?” Seeing her relax her RBF (resting bitch face), laugh alongside me, and realize that life is about more than being the best made the croissant taste even better, too.
I remember eating Japanese in a small corner of a restaurant that overlooked one of the most popular streets in Madrid with a friend from Stanford who happened to be in the area, sharing our mutual hatred for the college hookup culture as we downed some noodle concoction.
I remember finding out one of my best friends is engaged (when I was up way too late working on an essay), dancing around the house with excitement and accidentally waking everyone up. I remember holding onto my friends as we took a boat ride through the caves of Porto Cristo, entranced by the stalagmites and stalactites and the classical music playing behind us.
I remember telling the employee at the local jewelry store how I used to collect Playmobil as I freaked out over the Playmobil jewelry she sells, and then laughing as I gave her my email so I could go to her local fair to see even more of her jewelry. I remember being exhausted in the airport, but then suddenly excited as I watched my friend use a vending machine for popcorn that machine-popped the corn in front of her and dropped the popped bag down the chute. (Toooooo cool.)
I remember gawking at the insane amount of PDA happening on the river of El Retiro as I paddle around, feeling the pitied looks from everyone that I am, yes, very very very single. I remember talking with my ex-boyfriend from high school until 5am about all the best moments from our relationship and being reminded of what it was like to be in love and how wonderful it is to go to sleep late without horrible repercussions.
I remember happening upon a random bread festival in Paris and seeing my friend’s eyes light up as we both realized we had found Carb Heaven and that life was practically complete. Speaking of food, I remember hearing my parents’ reaction as I told them that I’ve learned to like eggs. Pretty sure my dad dropped the phone. His little girl is all grown up!
I remember laughing with my mom over the ridiculous performers we passed on the streets in Bilbao. And perusing touristy shops, learning Spanish idiomatic expressions like “and they lived happily ever after” and “how cool!” as my dad and I read the phrases on the different key chains.
I remember the wonderful conversation I had with a new friend as we kayaked in the middle of the ocean in Mallorca, finding a lighthouse that reminded me of the wonderful family vacation I took to Peggy’s Cove (the most photographed lighthouse in the world) a few years back.
You see, all my favorite moments from the past three weeks have been my favorite moments because of the people involved in them. Yeah, I’ve loved visiting incredible museums, churches, and restaurants, but more than that I’ve loved realizing how many amazing people are right beside me. I’ve loved realizing that memories don’t require some fancy trip to Europe, or some expensive wine, or some long day of touristy traveling; memories just need a commitment to the importance and beauty of the people around us. What’s more, I realized just how special certain people are in my life that aren’t even with right now, as I would gaze at some view, dine at some restaurant, peruse some store, or conquer some museum, as the whole time I’d be thinking, “wow, this would be even cooler if ____ were here.” Or, “man, ____ would love this!” Or, “I can only imagine what ___ would say if she saw this.”
Whatever you’re doing this summer, don’t disregard the people around you. Because if you do, you’re missing out on so much of the experience. Look around you. Invest in the people you love. Make memories just by loving those people, just by investing in them, just by sitting beside them as you look at some incredible view, or eat some delicious food, or work at some incredible organization. Talk to the guy sitting by himself at the coffee shop. Strike up a conversation with your Uber driver. Tell the person on the metro beside you that you like their outfit. Offer to take a picture for the person standing in front of that scenic spot. Pay for the person in front of you at the museum you’re visiting. You will remember those moments more than the art you saw or the coffee you drank or the transportation you used. Reach out to the people you love who you’re away from right now. Let them know you’re thinking about them, that you understand the depth of the connection you share, that you appreciate the beauty behind the memories you already have together and that you’re excited for the many memories in the future. The pictures will stop getting “likes” and the cities will start blurring together in your mind, summer will end and life will speed back up, but you’ll always have those connections, those feelings, those people.