2018 came and went in a flurry. It was the most challenging, life-changing, and thrilling year to date. It brought me four different states to live in, 10 European countries visited, and tons of memories both good and bad. On reflection, I’ve been able to put together a list of my top 10 travel experiences and what I’ve learned from them all.
1. Solo Travel – It’s Good for the Soul
Spending two full months of 2018 traveling solo was the best memory I have taken from the entire year. Not only is solo travel healing, and exciting. But it pushes your boundaries and allows you to get to know yourself better. My wish is that everyone steps outside their comfort zone and takes a solo trip at least once in their lifetime.
2. Travel Nursing – Learning to be Comfortable in New Settings
From January-September I pursued my love of travel nursing. I chased the California sun in Santa Barbara, where I spent the majority of my time in wine country and had the best of friends come to visit. I packed up and moved to Scottsdale, Arizona where I fell in love with the Arizona desert. From Arizona, I drove myself to Austin, Texas. My first time visiting, and getting to know the slower-paced, “country” way of life. I worked on an assignment with one of my best friends from when my nursing career first started and made great friends with the girl that I lived with. And lastly, I drove back to the west coast to spend a summer in Seattle, Washington, living with my cousin and spending quality time with my many family members that live there. While travel nursing can often be challenging, moving from one state to the next. From one hospital to the next; getting to know the rules and policies of each unit… it is most often times rewarding. It allows you to experience places and things you may have not otherwise experienced.
3. Road Trips – They Don’t Have to Be a Chore
While road trips once intimidated me and stressed me out, moving from one state to the next every 13 weeks has forced me to become comfortable in the car. Driving from state to state allowed me to see so much of the country I wouldn’t have seen by plane. Driving through the mountains in Utah, to the lush green pine trees of Oregon. There is unexpected beauty everywhere. Slow down, take your time, and take it all in!
4. Friends Can Come to You in the Most Unexpected Times and Places
Both travel nursing and traveling abroad has brought numerous people into my life who have turned into some of my best friends. I can recall where and when I met each of these people. Eating dinner alone in Tallinn, on a walking tour of Prague, the list goes on. Each of these people I still keep in touch with and though unconventional, I am grateful for the ways they’ve entered my life.
5. The Scary Reality of Auschwitz
A visit to Auschwitz was a harrowing experience and made my list because of the lessons it taught me. A reminder that life is fragile, all humans are equal, and anything can be taken from you in the blink of an eye. A place that should serve as a reminder to everyone that history is not to be repeated, and to cherish those we hold close. To be respectful of everyone’s beliefs and opinions, and to judge no one. For we know not what they are going through.
6. For an Authentic Experience, go Out of Your Way to Meet the Locals
Meeting locals along the way enhances your travel experience. You’re able to get a different perspective on what makes a destination so desirable. Off the beaten path recommendations, and more! When visiting Florence, I was invited to a steak dinner by three locals. While I felt a bit uncomfortable, and didn’t necessarily want to go, I did anyways. What resulted was one of the most memorable experiences of my travels, and a night session of Taylor Swift karaoke to cap it off.
7. Travel Off the Beaten Path
Ceský Krumlov is a town so quintessentially European I couldn’t help but be enamored by this tiny town in the Southern Czech Republic. I visited over Christmas and it was exactly what I was looking for in my travels through Europe. Christmas trees at every corner, people walking around with mulled wine, and a square filled with vendors selling Christmas spirits. Ceský Krumlov will forever hold a special place in my heart and serve as a reminder that sometimes off the beaten path… is the best way to travel.
8. While Familiarity Breeds Contempt; Unfamiliarity Breeds Admiration
Witnessing the Northern Lights in Finland makes this list for more reasons than the sheer beauty of the Northern Lights. It was an experience. Here I was, in Northern Europe, so far away from anything familiar. I was holed up in a cozy glass cabin, where I was picked up at 9 pm by a complete stranger. Completely unafraid I stayed out in the forest with a man I didn’t know, eating reindeer and exchanging stories until the lights finally appeared for us. Unfamiliar with the country and landscape I was completely reliant on someone else, breeding admiration for the beauty of Finland and the simplicity of being in nature listening to the leaves rustle in the breeze and the stars dance above my head.
9. Even in Beautiful Places There are People Who Suffer
Spending the summer in Seattle was not only amazing but brought with it important lessons. Aside from the countless things the city offers, a visit to the German town of Leavenworth, spending your days in the wineries of Woodinville, renting boats, and dining in world-class restaurants. With people suffering from homelessness and even more from drug addiction, Seattle taught me that there are many people in need of help and one kind gesture can change the course of someone’s life.
10. Sometimes Unexpected Journeys are the Best Journeys
And the travel experience to wrap up the best experiences of 2018, was moving to Arizona. A place I FULLY did not want to go. I applied for many other positions in other states and was denied all of them. All I was left with was Arizona. What I discovered is that Arizona is one of the hidden gems of the United States. That it still has a down-to-earth, midwest feel, packed with things to see and do. A visit to the Grand Canyon or Horseshoe Bend. Experiencing the culinary scene in Tucson or hiking Devil’s Bridge in Sedona. My time in Arizona taught me that sometimes the most unexpected travels can turn out to be the best and most beautiful. And to go into every experience with an open mind and open heart.
As I prep for 2019, I can only hope that it too brings me just as many adventures and memories. And I hope for you that you get out and move outside of your comfort zone. The results may just surprise you in the best way.