I started learning Spanish at the ripe (ugly) age of 13. Somewhere between the necessary evil that is conjugation tables, and the prepubescent, shrill, repression-inducing renditions of the Days of the Week song, I fell in love. The idea that I could communicate with someone in their native language so that they wouldn’t have to speak English was so beyond incredible to me. Granted, at the time, just about all I could say was “Me llamo Alex” and “Tengo un perro” so any conversation I had with a native Spanish speaker would have ended before it began. I swear I’ve improved since then. At least a little. When the opportunity came along for me to begin German at the (still ugly) age of 16, I was apprehensive. What if I just had a knack for Spanish, but not all languages? Luckily for me, that doesn’t seem to be the case. One German-American exchange program, five summers in Europe, a semester in Spain, an internship in Germany, and a double major in Spanish and German with a minor in Linguistics from WVU later, and I’m fluent in both my second and third languages. What, like it’s hard? Just kidding. While languages may be my niche, there will always be a word I don’t know or a tense I misuse, and I think that’s one of my favorite things about them. I am always looking for a challenge, and the more I learn of a language, the more I realize I can never truly master it, but I’ll be damned if I don’t spend my life trying. And if that means I have to travel the world for the rest of my life to be immersed in all these beautiful languages and cultures, who am I to object?
Don’t get me wrong, as a 5’9 blonde Californian, when I tell someone I speak Spanish, the inevitable eye-roll and “sure you do” shrug soon follows. More often than not, this is immediately trailed by a wide-eyed apology when I switch languages as quickly as you switch gears on a bike. But I don’t blame people for assuming I talk like a soccer mom in Baja trying to haggle down the price of her daughter’s authentic Mexican hair wrap; in the world we live in there are too many people expecting to be accommodated and not enough people doing the accommodating. At least in Germany everyone just assumes I’m one of them, whereas in south Spain I stick out like it’s my job – I know it sounds cool and exciting to be a novelty but after 6 months of hearing “Oye, mira la rubia” upon walking to the bar, you get over it pretty quick.
Anyway, as I mentioned, I was able to participate in a German-American exchange program after my junior year in high school. As ridiculous as it sounds, this was probably the biggest turning point in my life thus far. I know everyone thinks it’s the big moments, like when you figured out what you wanted to do with your life (I was 13 when I decided I wanted to be a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department – still working my way there), graduating at the top of your class, successfully hiding your worst high school hangover from your parents by pretending you had the flu for a week – the usual “making mom proud” kind of accomplishments. But for me, it was meeting my German exchange partner, Sassy. Her name is actually Saskia, but Sassy fits way better, trust me. Mind you, Sassy wasn’t supposed to stay with us, she was supposed to stay with another family, but it fell through so she fell into our laps as a second exchange student and an absolute gift from whatever gods you believe in, wrapped in a precious German-speaking package. If my parents hadn’t said yes to a second exchange student, I would never have met my favorite German. If I hadn’t met my favorite German, I never would have furthered my German education, never would have fallen in love with everything that is the German language and culture (the men, the beer, what more could you want?), and never would have visited her every summer since I was 16. I may never have decided to study languages if I hadn't had the opportunities to travel that I did, which would mean I never would have studied abroad in college. I wouldn't be writing this travel blog right now - which means you would have absolutely nothing at all to do considering I’m sure this is a last resort for amusement in your book, right after watching the televangelism channel on late night TV. And I certainly wouldn't be trying to figure out whether I’ll be working with the Peace Corps or getting my Masters in Germany after finishing out 2017 at my current job and taking a four-month backpacking trip through Southeast Asia with some of my best friends. I know it sounds like the extended version of “If You Give a Mouse a Muffin”, but this all happened because my parents said yes to that second exchange student; something that at the time seemed so trivial but now has truly altered the course of my entire life – mostly because I tripped and fell into the most expensive lifestyle I could possibly have found (except for maybe hard-core narcotics) and am now in a perpetual state of poverty because all of my money goes to my travel fund. Like I said, it's about the little things.
My best friend Becka said it best: there is no right or wrong path, only a different direction. I'm not talking about brushing your teeth in a different direction in the morning - somehow I don't think that will result in any sort of drastic life event, although your dentist might appreciate your commitment to your dental health. I'm just saying, people. You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, and you can steer yourself any direction you choose. And if you don't quite know where you're going, any road will get you there. Ja feel?
So this blog will be about the little things in my life that contribute to the bigger picture - mind you most of the posts will involve a higher than average number of expletives because I’m an overachiever in every aspect. As a 22-year-old with a deep-seated hatred for staying put and an unhealthy lack of regard for financial stability, I have a feeling I'll have quite a bit to write about in the next few years. I am many things: honest, adventurous, ambitious, sarcastic, and maybe a little too willing to just say "Fuck it, let's go." But above all, I refuse to live my life unhappily. So, you will hear about the trip planning and execution, the astonishingly massive mistakes I will unavoidably make, and the amazing places and people I am lucky enough to experience. You'll hear about how black licorice-tasting absinthe shots are super casual until they aren’t anymore, which bag is best suited for backpacking Southeast Asia, why you should always call a taxi in Sevilla an hour in advance so you don't miss your flight to Dublin, and the coolest places to visit in Morocco. Sometimes it will be about things like where to take shots that are literally on fire in Spain, or on a totally unrelated note, sometimes it will be about the importance of cellular data to map your way home after you take shots that are literally on fire in Spain... Whatever, I made it back in mostly one piece.
The point is, your comfort zone is not that comfortable - step out of it. Take the damn trip, kiss the guy (or gal), do the thing you're not sure you should do, because you never know where your new path will take you.
About the Author
Mouth like a sailor, great lacker of empathy, paper cut survivor, avid arguer, harsh critic of people who put clothes on their pets, easily distracte
USA, Mexico, Iceland, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Malta, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Poland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Scotland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, Greece
The Baltic countries,
if Covid allows for it (Latvia, Estonia, maybe a stop in Finland)
(in August in the US)