So my friend, Katy, is having an amazing year. We grew up playing sports together in Catonsville, Maryland and then attended the same high school where we played basketball and lacrosse, ducked Mr. Evans as he tried to stick a pencil through our earrings (if it fit, the hoops were too big and you got detention), and cheered on Sr. Margaret Andrew as she drained threes in a basketball game against our rival high school’s faculty….in a full dominican habit. It was a pretty good time. We shared a lot of experiences growing up and I think it’s pretty cool that we’re sharing a similar experience now, although Katy’s getting a tan and learning to surf and I’m nearly translucent and learning to speak German. At the moment, Katy is also on sabbatical. She is taking six months off from her amazing job to travel the globe and is writing about it on her blog “Eat the Spider” — without a doubt the coolest title around, with an even better story behind it. You can read Katy’s blog here.
I asked Katy if she’d be interested in writing a guest post for Leap and she agreed and it’s pretty awesome. Here it is:
WHY I TRAVEL
I first got the urge to travel when I was a junior in high school. I attended the same all girls catholic school as Colleen did- Mt. de Sales- in Catonsville, Maryland. During my junior year they offered a trip to Spain that would cover a week in Madrid followed by a week in Barcelona. Despite knowing pretty much nothing about Spain or Spanish culture this seemed like a great idea to me. I wasn’t even particularly interested in Spanish class. I had spent most of my two previous years in Dr. Arellano’s Spanish class trying to convince him to give us a study hall with my friend Steph. Still I had looked up the cities and they seemed so beautiful and different that I really wanted to go. I went home and laid out the trip to my parents and asked them if I could go. “I’m not sure… it looks pretty expensive… we’ll have to wait and see..,” came the reply. Over the next couple of weeks I lightly broached the subject over and over and always got the same reply. Christmas time rolled around and the subject had not recently been discussed as we began opening presents. My mom came over to me beaming on Christmas morning and handed me a book sized package. Confused (because surely she would not have this look of great anticipation over giving me a book) I opened the package prepared to feign excitement at said book. I opened the wrapping to find my first Fromer’s guidebook on Spain. I plastered a smile on. I didn’t want to read about Spain. I wanted to go to Spain. “Thanks…?” I said-being the ungrateful 16 year old that I was. My mom being, well, my mom, noticed my lack of excitement. “Don’t you still want to go to Spain?” she said. “What…?” I was still confused. My mom cottoned on. “You’re going to Spain you idiot!! Did you think we just got you the book?! That would be cruel!” I was so excited I jumped up, hugged my mom and dad and started running laps around the house interspersed with brief periods of flamenco dancing.
The trip: When I got to Spain it wasn’t quite the adventure I had imagined. We were, after all, chaperoned by three nuns in full habit and the dean of students. We never assimilated to the Spanish culture. We woke up when the locals in Barcelona had surely just gone to sleep, ate dinner at 6 every night, went to the beach but weren’t allowed to swim and our tour guide wasn’t even Spanish!! I was particularly outraged at this last disappointment. I felt so short changed. I wanted to walk the streets and talk to the locals. I wanted to wander and get lost. While I was enjoying myself with my friends I wanted more. After over a week of looking at every church the country had to offer I got the chance. We were given four whole hours of free time to wander a small court yard and the surrounding streets before meeting at our hotel for dinner. We were given strict instructions not to leave the area. FAT CHANCE!! As soon as we saw the last habit turn the far corner my friend Christina turned to me. She declared “I want to go get a tattoo!” “Nooooww?!?” I said. “Now” she confirmed. We were off. We began asking around in English and broken Spanish for the nearest tattoo shop. Immediately we were drawn away from the courtyard we were supposed to be confined to. We were pointed down little alleys and cobble stone streets and saw people going about their day. Eventually we got a card for a shop with and address and continued to make our way. After about 3 hours of wandering and asking and discovering we found the shop. Alas… you had to book an appointment 24 hours in advance to get a tattoo and Christina would not be able to get one that day. We began to make our way back and slowly realized that we had no idea where we were. And only 15 minutes to get to the hotel to meet for dinner. We hopped in a cab and told the cab driver that if he could get us there in time he would get a big tip (who the hell were these little Catholic school girls bribing their cab driver to jet them through Barcelona to get to dinner on time??). He took us for our word and began speeding through the streets of Barcelona. It was the scariest cab ride I have ever experienced in my life. We zoomed through the streets, whirring past all sorts of beautiful buildings and colorful characters. I had no idea what the traffic rules were and was sure he was breaking, well, all of them. I was terrified of showing up late to the courtyard and getting yelled at by the nuns. I don’t think I had ever even been in a cab before that.
In that one afternoon I had gotten what I came for. I wandered down streets with a good friend talking to locals and discovering how they lived. I had to navigate my own way for once and there was a sense of accomplishment in that. There was something amazing to me in seeing how some broken Spanish and some broken English could come together to create a complete exchange that would actually send me in the right direction. I was able to truly see how the locals lived. I was hooked.
The conclusion: My next trip abroad would be much better. It was with some of my best friends and to this day I can still pinpoint it as the most fun I have ever had in my entire life. It was the actual adventure I had been seeking out that first time. The success of it is what has spurred me on to travel again and again. When I graduated college I made a promise to myself that I would take on international trip every year for the rest of my life. That was about 10 years ago and I have held myself to that promise so far. It has gotten me to where I am today. Which is, currently, Byron Bay, NSW, Australia.