Do any of you have awesome friends? The ones who are the family we choose, who we don’t have to speak with everyday to pick up exactly where we left off. When I lived in Denmark, there were ten volunteers at the school, including myself, and we quickly became family. Two of them are from Serbia, Tatjana and Nash. A few days after I bought my plane ticket, Nash put on our Facebook group that he was getting married in Serbia on July 24. My ticket was for July 11 and I excitedly Nash that I’d be there for his wedding. I got to Novi Sad a day or so before the wedding to explore the area. The wedding was beautiful and although I hadn’t seen Nash or Tatjana in four years, it was as if I had seen them only days before. A day or so after the wedding, I took a bus up north to Kikinda where Tatjana is from and spent a day with her before continuing my trip.
I have about a week and a half before I fly home and naturally, I’ve been thinking about what’s going to happen next. How to navigate the normality of a job and a place to live, not having to repack my clothes every few days, having a closet. I don’t want life as I currently know it to end. What does it look like to come home and continue?
Galway Girl by Ed Sheeran has been playing on repeat. It’s essentially this song about how he has this perfect night with a girl from Galway who plays the fiddle in an Irish band. The song reminds me of two things. First it reminds me of that night in Dublin, surrounded by music and happiness; and second it reminds me of how much I used to want to play the fiddle. I never started to learn to play because I didn’t like the idea of practice, yet I always liked listening to violin music.
When I left two months ago, I fully expected to be challenged beyond what I thought possible. The knowledge that I would have to deal with my insecurities was planted firmly in my head. There’s no question for me if that’s happened, it has. The challenge for me now is to not let my life get stagnant again by returning to a life similar to how I lived before I left. The trick, maybe, is to find new things to learn. Not new lessons per say, but actual skills like playing the violin or Krav Maga (both things I want to learn).
Simply staying in one spot for a while doesn’t mean life has to stop moving.
The past few days have been spent in quiet reflection, of wondering what life will be like when I return home. There is a cafe right next to my hostel and I’ve spent the majority of my mornings over a latte and The Diary of Anne Frank. I’ve always had an odd fascination with the Holocaust. Not because I enjoy the suffering of others but because I wish to understand how such a horrible event could happen. Yesterday, after I finished the book, I went to the house where Anne and seven other people hid for the better part of two years. I was moved to tears. I came away wondering what I can do in my own life to make sure something that horrid will never happen again.
There are a few things that Anne wrote that I find quite powerful. The first is “Human greatness does not lie in wealth or power, but in character and goodness. People are just people, and all people have faults and shortcomings, but all of us are born with a basic goodness.” I often think that to be great means to have wealth and power, that to be an influencer I have to be heard by hundreds or millions of people. In reality, I’m already someone with a voice and influence. We all start out on the same page, we are all good people. What I do with that is up to me. Which brings up the second quote. “The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” Humans have been given this great gift, choice. We can choose how to live and we don’t have to base our choice on what other’s think. We often do base certain choices on others but not always. Ultimately, how we live is our choice and we have to take hold of the seriousness of that and how our choices can affect the world. Final quote is, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” This reminds me that I don’t have to sit around waiting for things to happen in order to make a difference. Treating others with love and kindness is a great way to start.
I find that what I can do to improve this world is actually quite simple. Assume everyone is good and worthy, choose to do good in the world and do it. It doesn’t matter where I am in life, what matters is making the choice to care about others and to show kindness and compassion. With that, maybe the world will become a better place.
Wandering through Rome, I was overwhelmed. Everywhere I looked there was another historical site. “Dang. This place is history on steroids.” Little did I know that at that same moment, Florence whispered, “You know nothing.”
Rome is amazing. The Colosseum, the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, The Roman Forum, the food. Gelato. And just as overwhelming the second time around.
Stepping off the train in Florence, I’m amazed. It’s quiet. There aren’t 10 million people walking the same way I am. The old and new don’t clash. There’s uniformity, consistency. The city flows with quiet confidence, the perfect balance, as if the city hasn’t changed much since it began.
Someone at the table next to me at dinner tries to order sangria. The waiter responds with a cheeky “We don’t have that. This is Florence.” I grin. This city has no need to change for anyone, unnecessarily. It knows it’s worth, what it brings to the table. It’s a city that doesn’t try and be anything other than itself. It’s taken a changing world and progressed gracefully, refinishing a foundation already made strong.
Can I say the same about myself? Am I completely confident in where I’ve been and where I’m going? Do I take my insecurities and shortcomings and learn from them, grow. Or do I ignore them, shoved in a corner, hoping they’ll leave forever. It’s not a matter of whether or not change happens, it does. The question is how I take past, present and future and use it to be more confident and fluid as a person.
“How long have you been traveling for?”
“A little over a week..”
“Do you like it so far?”
“It’s…well…harder than I expected….”
“Have you traveled before?”
“Yeah..I took a year off in college and lived in Denmark for 10 months.”
“Ok so you know what its like.”
“This time it’s different. I’ve been having anxiety, mostly about money because that’s where the majority of my anxiety comes from….and I want to go home.”
“Sounds rough. It get’s better. I know it’s a cliche, but there are ups and downs. Everyone has them when traveling so you aren’t alone in that. Just be the cliche and go out there and meet people.”
“I’ve been trying…”
“Well, do something. If you remember anything from the New Zealand guy in Budapest, he said to..”
“Yeah. Do shit.”
I’ve often heard stories of people making changes in their lives to follow their dreams and essentially every time, it all works out so well for them. They don’t seem to have any difficulties or if they do, its minor and “all worth it in the end.” Coming into this trip, I was hoping that because I was leaving a job that I didn’t love and a life that wasn’t ideal to do something I’ve always dreamed about, it would be easy. That somehow the universe, fates, God would smile kindly on me and say “Hey! This is so exciting. Here’s safe and easy passage to the other side.” Not so.
About a week in, I discovered that one of the hostels I had reserved was listed as “No longer available” on Hostelworld (great site for finding hostels, btw). I sent an email to the email address provided, hoping against all hope that I’d get a response by the end of the day. By the time I returned to my hostel that evening, I hadn’t. So I decided to cancel the reservation and work something else out. I was able to make my itinerary just as good, if not better. Then I started thinking, “Ok Jenna, is this going to cost any more than I had thought.” I did the math, it was roughly the same cost. But then I started to panic.
A panic attack is essentially an unexpected, overwhelming sense of fear that’s crippling. I can’t move, I have trouble breathing, I sweat. I think the world is ending. Sometimes, I’m able to sense that one’s about to start and I’m able to breathe through it so that I don’t reach the stage of almost uncontrollable sobbing. Even then, my chest is tight and the world darkens. I honestly couldn’t tell you what causes my panic attacks. I think they often have to do with money, nothing specific about money, just money.
The first panic attack I ever had was the summer in between my junior and senior years in college. I got off the phone with mom, we had been talking about how it was almost time for me to pay for my car insurance and I started panicking. Sitting on the floor in the kitchen, unable to move, sobbing, sweating. That next year in college, I started saving money like nothing else mattered. Kept myself on a strict budget of only having $100 in my checking account per pay period (every 2 weeks). Thankfully, I had a group of friends who liked to go to the cheap movie theater or spend nights in. I had a few moments of panic, nothing as drastic, which gave me hope. After graduating and moving to New Hampshire, I thought I would be ok. I was able to [barely] make ends meet and I hoped that I would find something soon that would let me save money. I didn’t find anything better and the few friends I did have were having trouble of their own. I started to withdraw. I guess I was depressed but never severe enough to cause me to miss work or not get up in the morning. Life slowed down, almost to a standstill, nights were restless, days were slow, and the panic attacks grew more numerous.
One day I was told I was getting promoted, I had interviewed a month or so before and had been told “Wait.” It was a relatively unexpected promotion but with an added pay raise which meant money into savings. Life began to shift. The few toxic people I had been spending time with were cut out and slowly I started saving. The panic attacks lessened, making occasional appearances. And I realized that, if I allowed myself, I would be able to travel. So I started looking for plane tickets. From Boston to anywhere, anytime. Anything that got me thinking of something, anything else. It helped. I made a few good friends and spent time with them. Became more open with the people at work that I enjoyed talking with so I’d have people to talk to. Bought a one way plane ticket. Started planning. Realized that a good way to help me deal with my anxiety and panic attacks was to just do something little. Make small steps in a direction of something I wanted to do. Spend a few hours at the local coffee shop, drinking coffee, eating scones and looking on Pinterest. Taking care of my friends dogs. Get lunch with a friend. My load became lighter.
I hoped when I left, my load would be gone because I was finally doing something I’ve always wanted to do. I’d spent a year planning and getting ready and here I was, ready. Ready to take a few small challenges, to learn to be more confident in myself. Ready to learn to be alone. And the load stayed with me. The darkness didn’t lift. I got to Copenhagen and it was still there, clouding over me, threatening to never leave.
My last night in Budapest, I had another panic attack. I had already decided to cut my trip short and had spent the day trying to cancel plane tickets and hostels for the last month of the trip. I even decided to shorten my time in the places I was already going, in an attempt to spend less money but still see places I wanted to see. And still the panic attack. And I still worry. I worry that I’m still taking to much time, that I’ve miscalculated something. But I must continue.
Last night, I fully intended to stay at my hostel and get lost somewhere in YouTube. But I didn’t. I drank elderberry Fanta, tried homemade Serbian alcohol, and walked to the top of a hill with people I’ve never met to watch the sunset over Novi Sad. Cliche things. Small things. Because that is how I have to handle my anxiety. My panic attacks. They aren’t going to leave me just because I flew across the ocean.
There are many satisfying things in the world. Slow dances, warm rains, flowers, new chap stick. I’ve always been satisfied by travel and it’s no secret. I’ve been across the Atlantic several times on different journies and come back more than satisfied. The only unsatisfing piece? Not knowing when I’ll go back again. For some, travel is exhausting. The lines, the waiting, the uncertainty, the letting go, trusting our lives into the hands of others. And it is tiring. I love it. I love that I can fall asleep almost anywhere. I love fitting my life for however long into a bag. I love the chance to move, to see, to do, to meet, to change my perceptions. And yes, as I sit here in the airport, tears threaten to cloud my eyes, making pools in tear ducts, waiting for a chance to break the surface. But that’s a part of any journey. Leaving behind someone that was for someone new and improved. Someone who see’s the world in a new way. If you’ve ever heard of the musical Hamilton, there is a song. Hamilton is talking with Burr right after Hamilton’s wedding. They’re talking about women and the war and they tell each other they’ll see each other on the other side of the war. I’m off to fight, not with a gun, but with courage and strength, patience and endurance. And while I know I’ll be taking you with me, I won’t get to see you or my home till we reach the other side. So, dears, I’ll see you on the other side.
I’ve had several people ask me how it is that I’m affording four months of travel. And really, I shouldn’t be surprised because, a year ago, I was asking the same question. But now, with a dream I’ve had for so long actually coming into being, I’m surprised. I wish it were as simple as “I’ve been saving money since college,” and when it comes to how I’m financially paying for this trip, it really is that simple. But how I’m affording this trip is much more complicated and difficult than “I saved.”
Life is complex. Doing something, like taking a four month trip, is never as simple as having the money for it. There’s always something to consider; having a job, an apartment lease, a significant other, furniture, stuff. When it comes to stuff, life has been easy on me. I live with my family, I don’t own furniture and dating has been a relatively foreign concept. Everything I own can fit in my Honda Accord. I work at Starbucks, which for some, is a career and many others, just a layover. I’ve always known that the space I currently exist in is easily vacated. Simply put, there should be nothing keeping me where I am. Except there has been. Myself.
When fighting against something to become better, to prove stronger, the fight doesn’t always seem black or white. Everyone, on some level, has experienced hell. Whether that be because of someone else’s view shoved on them or from themselves. The past year has required me to walk through a version of hell, challenging thought patterns and behaviors. It may sound simple but the way it happened, the restless nights and the panic attacks, brought more stress than you may realize. Because of the place I was in, mentally/emotionally etc, I wasn’t able to be any where else. I had to struggle with life and perceptions to be able to afford where I am. Being able to afford this trip isn’t as simple as having the money. It’s about being in a place where I’m confident in going.
And that is just the beginning.