I'm about to board my final connecting flight, and mainly I'm just thankful. Over the past two and a half weeks, I've seen so much history, culture, and art. I've met amazing people from all over the world, and I've spent a pretty significant amount of time people watching. I've eaten amazing food and drank amazing wine. I've walked more in 2 weeks than I usually do over the span of 2 months. And, perhaps most often, I've been in a perpetual state of awe at the beauty that surrounds me. These experiences are going to be the ones that I continue to draw upon for the rest of my life, and I am incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity. That being said, I also got scared sometimes. I've been exhausted and hungry and lost and anxious. This kind of trip isn't relaxing; it's often challenging, and I've learned so much from it- but I'm not complaining, not even for a second (after all, I did choose to do this- it's not as if I'm actually struggling over here). But even in the less than glamorous moments, I'm grateful for every second that I get to spend jumping around from city to city, country to country, train to plane to train again. I can say without a doubt that it's made me a better, more compassionate person.
Going solo is always my preferred method of travel, partly because I'm not as alone as you might assume. I've found that I always end up meeting people when I'm by myself, and by this point I'm lucky enough to say that I have friends from all over the world. These trips remind me just how much I really like getting to know people- figuring out their foibles, discovering similarities and differences, and all those essential little bits that make them who they are.
But despite that, I do end up spending a lot of time with my own thoughts. For that reason, I don't agree with the sentiment that taking trips is an escape (although I'm not denying that I make "running away to Europe" jokes on a very frequent basis). There is another saying that I've found to be very true- wherever you go, you take yourself with you. When you're all alone in a foreign country, there's no hiding behind everyday routine or usual distractions. It's just you, and you're forced to figure out how to navigate a new environment and be okay with your own company. Doing that for weeks at a time means you get to know yourself incredibly well; the impermanence and unfamiliarity have a way of bringing out both the best and the worst in a person, and you become much more self aware. So for me, instead of an escape, taking trips is a good way to step back and examine my own head space.
There have been times where traveling has made me realize that I'm really not happy with myself; it brings to light aspects of my personality that I'm not content with or habits that I need to fix. But this time around, it made me realize just how content I am with the person I am and the person that I'm becoming. It's a really good feeling.
So, you can't outrun yourself, even if you're thousands of miles away from anyone who knows you. Another thing that kept coming to mind was the fact that you also can't outrun the bad in the world. Yes, America has problems, but so does Europe (despite their fortunate lack of Donald Trump). This should be stating the obvious, but I've noticed that people have a tendency to romanticize Europe. In certain areas, we could take a lot of cues from the way they run things, but spending time there has made me incredibly thankful for some of the policies we have back in the States. For example, Italy's political system is nothing to aspire to. Everywhere you go, there is a lot of good... but there is a lot of bad too, even in seemingly immaculate Europe. Regardless, I am certain that the goodness in this world far outweighs the bad.
Those are just a few of the things that have been rolling around in my head; this little adventure gave me plenty of food for thought to chew on until the next time I'm on a plane somewhere. So, to finish off this series, here are some photos from my last day in Rome. See you again soon, Italy- I miss you already.