My whole life leading up to this past summer (when I received the opportunity to intern in Madrid, Spain) I felt that something was missing.
I had received glimpses of that “something” when travelling to Florida as a child… a tiny bit. And then I found it a little more in Mexico…when I toured the Mayan temples and bartered with street sellers. And then a little more… when I got the chance to visit and get lost in New York City, twice.
But still, I hadn’t figured it out.
It was that feeling – that I needed and wanted more out of life… out of the planet… out of people… out of myself.
I was living in a white-washed, small town, bubble (where the Walmart was our central hub) – and I wanted to break free.
I had always felt this depression – of never having really been anywhere or seen anything that shocked or awe’d me.
Yes, I had gone on small family trips to Niagara Falls, and followed my brother to every hockey tournament across Ontario… but I had never been anywhere that truly stirred my emotions and made me feel like I was destined for an extraordinary life.
It sounds quite dramatic now that I write it out, but this feeling – that I am attempting to describe – when felt, is – dramatic. It’s passion and bliss and hope and self-love, all wrapped into one.
My first day in Madrid, I slept.
I know, pathetic.
I had spent my whole life waiting to see other parts of the world, and on my first day, I slept. For a full day it didn’t sink in that I was 6,000 km and a 9 hour plane ride away from the place I called home.
Then, half way through my trip in Madrid, I suddenly took a moment to remember that I even had a home… I had so quickly become so comfortable in Madrid that I truly forgotten all about Ontario and my life that existed there.
The craziest part was that Madrid was nothing like my real home, and yet it made me feel so at ease – the people were so friendly, the pace of life was so peaceful…and in that moment, I realized I had begun to find what I had been looking for.
Gradually, effortlessly and subconsciously to me, in just a weeks time, Madrid had become my home and not just a vacation destination.
I had poetically embraced the culture, walked the streets every day to my internship like I had walked them a million times, I ate at the local restaurants and befriended the owners, I spoke casual Spanish to passer-byers, I adapted my personal style…
It was like no time had passed, and yet it had felt that I had always been there.
I saw incredible things, went to incredible places, and met incredible people – that I never would have seen, been to, or met, if I had never made the decision to go. And that thought stuck with me – so easily, should I had wavered on accepting my offer, this all would have remained a mystery.
One night, during my first week, the company I was working with rented out a small, swanky, hipster bar downtown and invited all of the interns for tapas and drinks. My mom, who joined me on this trip, sat and drank at a bar just over from us, to then join me afterwards – as we would head back to the hotel together.
I had originally told my mother that I wouldn’t be long, having just met the other interns and being unsure how the night would play out. It was a typical Canadian girl response to a night out with strangers – “Um yeah I’ll go for a bit to show face but then I just want to go home and watch a movie or something”. (Yes- I was in Europe and still wanting to be a homebody).
To my surprise, I lost track of time – the wine was flowing, and so were the multi-layered and genuinely fascinating conversations we were all having. I was at the edge of my seat surrounded by interns from all over the world…. Scotland, Columbia, Greece, Austria, England… and I was the Canadian representative. (How did I think I was going to want to go home early?!).
We were also joined by our mentors… grizzled veterans in the world of journalism. Mentors that had covered wars… spent extended periods of time in third world countries… We talked their ears off…wanting to know absolutely everything we could.
Eventually, concerned, my mother wandered over. She had called and texted to check in – but I had forgotten that I had even brought my phone with me (Yes – a shocking reflection).
I had been so carried away with the vibe of the room, and the people I was talking with, that everything I had ever known seemed insignificant to that very moment, with those very people. I was truly and utterly present for the first time in what seemed like years.
The group welcomed my mother into the bar with open arms, begging her to join in on the fun. Afraid to “cramp my style” she tried to refuse but eventually gave in.
From the first bar, we made our way to a second, desperate to continue the night and not let these moments pass us by.
We spent hours sharing stories and comparing cultures and customs. We all broke off into smaller, more intimate groups to truly get to know one another and have some very deep and real conversations. We talked about pop culture, we talked about politics, and we talked about love.
As the night got later, my Mom broke off from the conversations she had fostered with some of my fellow interns, to let me know that she had decided to call it a night. She suggested that although we had planned to cab home together (mostly for safety in a new city), she was comfortable going alone should I want to stay – something new and brave for her as well.
The me, who was me, before I had felt the magic of Madrid, would have been quick to jump in the cab with my Mom – honestly – I would have probably left the first bar after an hour – but, the me, who was me, in that moment, stayed hours longer.
We continued our intimate chats as the bar began to close down at 3am. Eventually, my new friends helped me hail a cab, and all on my own, in the middle of no place I knew, I cabbed back to the hotel.
Quite a few drinks deep, and with so much hope in my heart, I rolled down the windows and gazed at the lights as we drove through the beautiful city.
I was alone, with a cab driver who didn’t speak my language, but it was electrifying – and I wasn’t at all anxious, nervous, nor scared, at all.
From that moment on, I was hooked on travel.
These feelings only intensified as I walked the many museums, toured the palaces, the gardens, saw the statues, and ate the food. And then it continued on, taking new shape as I took off for Paris, France, continuing our adventure.
There, I saw the Eiffel tower in real life for the first time. It gave me a feeling like every story book I had read as a child was real and that magical places really existed – if that makes any sense?
My heart grew even more inspired when I went back to see the tower again, but this time, at dark. My mother and I had just finished a dinner boat cruise and had arrived back at the dock, in-front of the tower, around 10pm. It was lit up as the French flag – as the tragedies in Nice, France had taken place just a few days earlier.
It was somber, yet beautiful, and hopeful…
My mom and I walked up to the tower, now able to walk closer as the daily tours were over.
We walked right under and to the other side of the tower, gasping at how big it truly was to be under its structure and looking up.
On the other side we bought a bottle of champagne from a street seller and took a seat on the grassy lawn that lays in front. Hundreds of people surrounded us – some friends sharing late night sandwiches, and some lovers, sharing wine and sweet kisses.
Every one looked towards the tower with such bliss, and I was brought to tears.
When I say I have never seen anything so beautiful, I truly mean it.
Yes, it is a metal structure. But words can’t describe the emotional space, and the amount of peace and joy I felt in those moments – like every moment of my life I led me to be exactly where I was right then.
Travel changes your soul.
It forces you to both forget your life back home, and yet face it at the same time.
It teaches you about yourself.
It allows you to be the you that you always wanted to be.
It pushes you to put yourself out there, to challenge yourself, to step outside your comfort zone.
That trip changed me in so many ways that I can’t properly articulate to those who have never felt this type of thing…
For those who have never felt the hunger of that “something that is missing” or the feeling of being “stuck in a small town”… you will likely not understand what I have tried to communicate here…
However, those who do, will know, that just like me – every single moment I have been away from that feeling has become gradually more and more…almost truly painful…. so much so that I would, and am, doing all I can to prepare and plan for my next adventure already…
And one day, as I work up even more courage, I hope to travel with less privilege and comfort – to really, truly, embrace the culture in poor areas of India, or Zimbabwe – to even more drastically be shocked and awe’d. To be inspired to make some sort of a difference – in those communities, and my own.
Travel has become my drug of choice, and I have never craved anything more.