When you live on a strip of land surrounded by water, it can be easy to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. I mean… I’m from Long Island so maybe I’m being dramatic for the sake of romanticizing my first big trip, but there is something to be said about taking those first baby steps outside of the comfortable boundaries that you have established.
I had to burst my “Muhlenbubble” for a second and just leave the familiar culture of the East Coast of America that I have been living in for two decades. Little did I know when I booked my ticket, I would be leaping into a new feeling of independence, self security and adulthood that was rare to come by.
This summer I had the privilege of traveling to Scotland, the birthplace of my grandmother, the inspiration for the hideous yet valiantly vibrant tattoo that I’ve looked at on my father’s arm for 19 years and the origin of my family’s first dog, Angus.
Although the familial ties to this foreign entity that I spontaneously decided to fly to are tightly knotted, I traveled without my family this summer. I traveled without my significant other, and without any of my best friends either.
As anxiety-inducing as the weeks leading up to the trip were, it was the best decision I have ever made. If you have the ability to travel by yourself in the early stages of adulthood, I could not express stronger encouragement for you to do so.
It’s a nerve-wracking journey to take. I mean first of all, I barely had any money to my name. I spent the summer ringing up meatballs at an Italian market in the neighborhood over, and picking up babysitting gigs whenever I could. Even at that, I was nervous that I was saving up all this money just to have my plane crash, or something else that was never going to actually happen.
Every time I remembered the bag that I had dropped to go on this trip, I felt a tightness in my chest. I am a college student after all. Plus, it was already a taboo concept to me that I couldn’t just drive my little 2006 Hyundai to where I was going. I was entering a vessel that I had absolutely no control over, potentially filled with screaming babies and body odor wafting over from the person in front of me.
My anxieties about the trip were merely projections of the fact that I was officially here without any “adult supervision” or someone to hold my hand. I had to somehow navigate this foreign country without any set itinerary or guidelines. But the spontaneity is what made the trip. Jumping on a train, which took me to a bus stop, which drove me to a ferry, which took me to an island on a random weekday became our schtick that week. I never knew what the next day had in store and that sort of excitement and mystery made me feel alive.
Especially as a first-year, it can be so easy to fall into a routine at college. It gives you that same feeling of comfort and familiarity you once had. But eventually, you remember that even though you are at this awkward middle ground between kid and adult, you’re still young.
Despite the amazing time I had last semester, I finished off my freshman year wondering if I spent too much time worrying about my responsibilities out of pure apprehension. Being on this trip taught me how to revel in my youth. It taught me how to be responsible and careful with myself while also letting myself experience what the world had to offer outside of my dorm room desk because there was a lot more than I ever could have imagined.
I wasn’t completely alone, thank goodness. I traveled with some family friends that I hadn’t really seen since I was in middle school but was absolutely delighted to get reacquainted with on this trip. However, I wasn’t with my regulars. I didn’t want to leave at first, especially considering that my trip ended just days before I moved back here. Plus, generally when you’re experiencing something wonderful for the first time, your first thought is to share it with the ones you love. But the self discovery that comes with solitude is more necessary than someone who has as much FOMO as I do could possibly understand.
I could cite many instances where I felt a newfound sense of pride in myself during my ten days in Scotland– for finally doing something I’ve always wanted to, for stepping out of my comfort zone, for seeing the places where my family grew up and for using my youth to my advantage and widening the scope of my existence in this world.
But there is one specific instance that resonated with me the most: I was on the island of Kerrera, mountain biking for the first time. I had worked hard on the way up– sweating, heaving, regretting my decisions– the usual behavior from asthmatics on the top of a mountain.
I looked at the downward path ahead of me and gulped. It was steep and impossible to see the whole path ahead. I mounted my bike and kept my feet firmly on the ground for several minutes, contemplating. But before I could even take a breath, I felt my body instinctively start to take off. I think it was because I knew I had already overcome my fear of loneliness, discomfort, and lack of control. At this point in the trip, I was feeling invincible. I flew down the side of the mountain, practically parallel to it. I nearly shit my pants.
At first I was screaming, but as I progressed down the path, it turned into laughter and “Woo-hoo”’s. Yes, I was crying like a little kid. But simultaneously I was seeing lush green hills roll over the clearest water I’ve ever seen. I have truly never seen a more beautiful landscape in my entire life.
I was traveling at about eighty miles per hour. It was the most thrilling thing I’ve ever done. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen- the way the colors combined to create a dynamic scene blurring past my eyes. And it was the loneliest I’ve ever felt.
My first thought was, “Wow I wish my partner could see what I’m looking at right now.” To be honest though, I really don’t (no offense, love you).
That moment was mine. Uniquely mine. No one else saw what I saw, or felt what I felt and I could describe it all I want but none of the people reading this will ever know either. The memory can never be tainted by the impermanence of human relationships.
You never know what the world has in store for you. As sad as this is, and as much as I sincerely hope this never happens, my friends right now may not be my friends in twenty years from now. People grow in all different directions and for the first time in my life, I am not afraid of that concept, or of being alone. I am such a cool person– I literally just went mountain biking in a foreign country! That’s nuts!
So as I sit back here in my Pennsylvania dorm room, all I have to take away from this is that you should save up that tutoring money, and travel. I have learned more about myself, and what the world has to offer than I ever thought I would. The trip played a big part in defining who I want to be as I grow into my adult self.