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.
During high school, I was in an English hand bell group and my sophomore year we went to Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia. It was my first time in Europe and I loved it. We weren’t in Prague for very long and I decided to include it on this trip to get a better sense of the city. The idea to go to Budapest came from the song Budapest by George Ezra. Something about his deep, sultry voice singing about being miles from Budapest got me hook, line, and sinker.
Here it is, the other side. The other side of traveling, of quitting a “safety net” job, of no income for over two months.
While I was in Budapest, I had a panic attack. It was the only one I had on the trip and I haven’t had one since. Leading up to the attack, I kept wondering when “it” would happen. If I would be in public, what would trigger the attack, if I would continue having them throughout the whole trip. Thankfully, I had only one panic attack for the whole entire trip and after, it was as if my mind and body had completed the detox. Being cleansed of a semi-toxic environment and in a space of pure enjoyment.
And now, I’m back. I’ve moved across the country for a second time and I’m trying to find a job. Although the panic hasn’t returned, it is whispering at the edges of my mind, trying to regain control. Part of me is expecting it to come back, swinging hard. The fact of the matter is that I’ve remembered what it’s like to not live in a state of expectant terror, waiting for the next panic attack. I’ve created a mindset that allows me to live without fear. I’ve been able to learn how to better balance what I know logically and how I feel, emotionally. I’ve learned that it’s ok to be both logical and emotional and it’s possible to be both in the same exact moment.
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.
There’s something quite soothing about Athens. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe I’m actually settling into myself post Starbucks. Maybe it’s the sun. Maybe the air here breathes new life into everyone who needs it. Whatever it is, I’ll take it, open hearted.
The variations of streets, from wide, straight and noisy to narrow, windy and quiet. I’m not sure if I could ever actually get lost, with each new corner comes whispers of beauty, new secrets for me to find. Finding new ways only the stray cats care to roam. Occasionally someone tires to speak to me but I move on, the wind gently guiding me to new, unknown destinations. There is a simplicity in the complexity. The buildings whispered that there has been so much that has come before. So many struggles and hardships, beauty and happiness. The promise of taking whatever has come before and soothing it into acceptance and strength. The knowledge that with great power comes great responsibility. The ability to take pain and turn it into promise.
“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.
It’s the beginning of another travel day for me and a week since I flew out of Boston. I’ve already been to two cities and I’m currently headed a third and the first country I’ve not been to. So far, the biggest thing I’ve had to remember how to do is speak simple English. English is becoming a common traveling language but for so many people, it’s a second language. Which means I get to use simpler words while speaking more slowly.
The other day I was looking at the hostels I’m staying in along the way and realized that one of them is listed as “Property no longer available” on Hostelworld (the site I’ve been using to find/book all of my hostels). I googled it and did find the property but not having it Hostelworld bothered me. So I had a decision to make. I sent out a quick email to address provided me and hoped that they’d get back to me within the day. They didn’t so I decided to make some changes. Yesterday morning I spent reworking my itinerary so that it would work well and fit with my calendar and Eurail pass. And I made it work! Somehow. There were some moments where panic was slowly reaching its way up my throat, threatening to constrict me. It really had to do with having to change so much and the worry that I’ll make a mistake. Which brought up the concern that maybe I’ve bitten off way to much by taking four months and maybe I should have taken several shorter trips. All in good time, some frantic writing to try and get the panic out of my fingers, and I became more calm and reassured about the trip.
Copenhagen: I had a good trip across the Atlantic and easily got through customs to find my bag and an avocado sandwich from Joe & the Juice (so good!). I took the metro from the airport to the center of Copenhagen then walked towards my hostel. The nice thing about having a phone that still works here is having maps which makes finding my way much easier. In the evening, I met with a friend from when I was at Vejlefjordskolen and we walked around Copenhagen. I ended up getting a blister or two but it was good to catch up. The next day, I headed to Malmö, Sweden to meet with another friend from my grade school days. She came to Sweden to go to school and is currently still living there, trying to learn Swedish. She was kind enough to invite me to her apartment where her boyfriend cooked dinner and showed me pictures from their recent trip up to Northern Sweden to hike. After dinner, we drove over to Lund, where the university they both attended is located and we walked around for a bit. The next day, I spent walking around Copenhagen. I stopped by the Little Mermaid, walked by the palace, to where some river boat tours leave that I had seen on my last trip to Copenhagen. I wandered into one of the center squares, got another sandwich from Joe & the Juice and people watched. I worked my way to the Copenhagen Central station to activate my Eurail pass and make reservations for the next mornings trains and timed myself getting to my hostel. I left early the next morning and made it just in time to the train. I met several people on the train and we had some good conversations about traveling and where we were headed next.
Prague: Ah, Prague. In high school on bell tour, we went to Prague so my first day, I walked towards the St. Charles Bridge because I remember wanting to spend time on the other side of it, close to the castle. I had forgotten how hilly Prague is! So many hills! I walked up towards the Prague Palace to get a fabulous view of the city and to get a breeze. After finding food, I walked towards the older part of town and got this treat that is basically a breaded cone with filling. I got chocolate and ice cream in mine and it was so good!! Once I got back to my hostel, I worked on writing about the previous few days and started talking with some of the people around me. Eventually one of the guys I met, Jonah, came upstairs with a couple other guys and they started playing a card game and after a bit, I joined in and had so much fun! The next morning, I reworked my itinerary and eventually walked down into the city to get lunch, salad with goat cheese (it was fantastic!) then cake and coffee from a small café I had found the day before. I spent the evening packing up my area and making sure I was ready for leaving today.
Now I’m on a train to Budapest…Wahoo!
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.