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Now, I’m a relatively experienced traveler, but my favorite time to reflect back on was my first time abroad. Back then, I didn’t know that the foreignness of language and flavors of food at an unknown destination could make me feel alive.

To avoid the pity party, I’ll cut to the chase. I didn’t grow up in a wealthy or middle-class family; and I missed out on a lot of opportunities, including travel or even owning a passport. (Pssst, this is why I design my trips around affordability.) Proud points in my life have always come after my natural inclination towards determination, never on their own.

I belong to the rare crowd of movers and shakers. In fact, when I told my mother about my idea to backpack around Europe for a month before summer break ended, her first thought was, with a deep sigh, “What Sydni decides, Sydni does,” followed by a lot of prayer. I was working the rest of that summer — one semester before I finished university — and had saved a small sum of cash. There were so many other things, wiser things, that money could have gone to. Pre-travel Sydni would have always made the “logical, smart, adult” choice, without a second thought. But for the first time, I decided to follow the beat of my heart, wherever it led.

Where to go in Europe specifically — being an entire continent full of diverse culture, sites, and settings — overwhelmed me. One thing I did know: I wanted to see the Colosseum and the Parthenon, live and in-person, because I’d seen them in history books. I planned to visit just those places prior to discovering that it is a waste to see only one city in Europe per trip. That’s when, in typical Sydni fashion, my brain whispered, “Go big or go home, right?”

Countless factors came into play in my next step. How many days should I spend in each city? How long can I be away from home? If I’m in Rome, should I see my ancestral town in Sicily? How far is that? Should I travel by train, car, or plane? How much will all this cost?

As mentioned in another post, I’m a researcher. Once I tortured myself through the meticulous and thorough route of research, my plan was mapped. I would visit Keflavik, Zurich, Venice, Naples, Rome, Sicily, Athens, Mykonos, Nice, Bordeaux, Paris, and London in one month.

Coming blog posts will cover these cities in more detail, but let’s summarize a few of the highlights. I was abandoned at a troll cave in Iceland. A Swiss expat gave me a personal tour of Zurich. I saw my grandfather’s birthplace and met my extended, unknown family in Sicily. I got lost at 3:00am in Gazi. I met an online friend who I’d known for 10 years, in London. After several wine tastings, I hitchhiked in Bordeaux. Yes, there’s nothing quite like Europe!

St. Emilion, Bordeaux, Paris

After returning to these destinations, I can confidently attest to you that there is nothing as magical as your first time visiting a city that has withstood the test of time. Europe is the land of kings and queens, home to priceless art, and a domain of true diversity. Europe’s venerable past, especially compared to the U.S., still blows my mind when I discover a new and historically significant site in my travels.

But being abroad should always bring that feeling, right? I’m sorry to say, it does not. Do not be disheartened! Discovering new cities is a thrill all its own. In my opinion, the reason that the first time is set apart is complex. But I can say one major reason for this is the motivation behind it. Where was I mentally when I chose travel as the answer? Chances are it’s the same for most of us. It’s the desire to leave the comfort zone and interrupt time while it silently moves along. I chose, and still choose, to actively seek discomfort in my travels. The starting line to wholeheartedly run from your comfort zone is one decision away. Ready? Go.

Sydni J

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