When I came home for winter break after my first semester at college I felt totally lost. I didn’t feel like I knew where my home was anymore. I wasn’t happy at school, and now, home didn’t feel like home either. My room felt empty and cold – the skeleton of my old life, a life I had lived happily in for 18 years, which had now been stripped of its meat and left bare. And my life at school, well, it just wasn’t turning out the way I’d hoped it would.
I began my first semester by instantly clicking with a group of girls. We went out together, got ready together in each other’s dorm rooms, and we fell into an easy routine of laughing, and drinking, and eating together in the dining hall. We had been friends for months and it took just one drunken all-hallow's-eve to ruin that.
Our drama was male-related, like it so often is with girls. I had drunkenly kissed a boy who was “off-limits” – effectively turning the whole pack against me. Girls can be brutal. And yes, I shouldn’t have kissed that boy.
It was a good lesson for me to learn, a lesson about knowing your limits and the hard truth that if you drink too much, you’ll probably do something you’ll regret. My “friends” wouldn’t call me to go to the dining hall anymore so I had resorted to eating alone in my dorm room and watching hours of TV on the weekends. I had never been so lonely in my life. I didn’t know how I would be able to make new friends at school.
Everyone was past the initial first few weeks of reaching out to one another to make friends. Everyone already seemed matched up.
But, it was more than that, too. I had only gone from Colorado to California, but I felt like an outsider at my school. Of the student population, a shocking 90% were all from the same area in California. Being out-of-state was rare, and more than that, it came with some cultural differences that surprised me. They weren’t bad differences, of course not, but it was different for me. Harder for me to see where I fit in.
I had been so excited to go home. Counting down the days until that first semester was over. I yearned for the comfort of my childhood home. But Boulder, my hometown in Colorado, felt different too. My friends from high school were scattered. My room felt strange. My routine there was no longer routine. I thought coming back home would bring me clarity and resolve, but it only brought confusion.
One strange morning, at around 5am, my best friend Hazel and I found ourselves sitting up on Flagstaff Mountain looking over Boulder, contemplating life. She felt the same way as I did – a little confused and not quite content.
We looked out over the city that we had explored and loved for 18 years. A city that was no longer home. A city that always would be in some way, but never again in the way we knew it as kids. In our silence, I felt like we were thinking the same thing: is this right? For some reason, it didn’t feel that way.
There we sat, as the morning sun painted the city in light pinks and purples, two unhappy girls, sitting on a rock.
“We should just leave,” I said, turning to Hazel. “Take off, go travel.”
She looked at me, with her brow slightly furrowed and a small smile on her lips. She laughed in a ‘yeah right’ kind of way.
But in that moment, I was serious about it.
I come from a family of travelers. It all started with my parents. They both traveled independently after high school and then traveled together after college. When I was ten our whole family took a four month trip around the world. We hit Panama, Peru, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, India, and Thailand. My brother took a year off after high school and my sister did as well, both spent their time traveling.
I wanted to do it, too. I had always planned on it. But when the time actually came to start making decisions and plans for post-high school, I didn’t have any friends who wanted to go with me and I was too scared to do it alone. I made the choice to go to school first.
Hazel wasn’t certain. That’s something people just do. Drop out of school, travel, potentially never to return. That’s something that America as a country frowns upon. She may have been more optimistic than me at the time about her life at school. She thought we needed to stick it out and things would get better. So, we returned home, accepted the fact that school was what we needed to be doing and hoped that the next semester would bring change.
I was at the Denver Airport, sitting at my gate, headed back to California when I got a call from Hazel.
"We should do it," she said.
"What are you talking about?"
"We should do it! Take off. Go travel.” Her voice was filled with excitement and determination. “I was sitting in class today and I realized I don’t think I can do it anymore. I can’t sit in classrooms for four more years. Let’s do it."
That was all it took. We just had to make it through one-last semester of school first...
Read the second installment of this series: How to Travel the World: Telling Your Friends
Read the third installment of this series: How to Travel the World: Leaving Love