During my sophomore year of music majoring at Meredith College, I spotted a pink brochure pinned to a bulletin board in the music library. It advertised for a music study abroad trip to Italy and Switzerland.
Instantly, everything about the idea of studying music in Italy intrigued me. It seemed immensely romantic. Romantic…NOT in the sense of “rose petals and wine”… I mean, eww. But on the other hand, romantic… as in picturesque. I imagined strolling the markets of charming hillside towns of Tuscany… ALONE! My travel list had me envisioning myself completely nerding out to European history, singing at real operas, and taste testing every kind of Italian pizza possible. I pictured the entire trip and its experiences- solo- all alone, introverting for a couple months and returning to the United States well rounded and snotty because I’d really understand what al dente pasta was.
This study abroad trip unequivocally sculpted me into the traveler I am today. During this trip, I acquired the nick name “travel general” for more than 98 reasons, but maybe what sealed the deal was when I cheered on and executed the famous “5 countries in 5 days” itinerary! We would do it, and we would do whatever it took to complete the task.
I learned a lot on this trip. I learned that long distant relationships are outrageously hard. I learned that yes, I can wear the same outfit for 19 days in a row and IT’S OK! And, most importantly, I learned that traveling WITH friends was WAY more fun than traveling alone.
Let me preface with this: you’ve got to find the right traveling buddy or buddies. Seems obvious enough, but perhaps another blog entry will touch on that in detail. Many people lose friendships on couple get aways, girls trips, etc. For me, I know, I may not be the person you want to bring on a shopping trip. Also, not really into crafts and if I have to go to a vase making museum I may get nauseous. You’ve gotta take in consideration the trip and the friends.
I found my traveling kindred spirit on this study abroad trip and it was truly magical. Bobbitt and I, “the traveling generals”, purposed to see and experience everything possible. We had this militant sense of checking off everything on our traveling lists but also an incredible flexibility to find what new unplanned scandal we could encounter. Here we are scrolling the streets of Trieste and we asked the guard in our broken Italian if we could wear his captain hat for a photo op to officially own the “traveling generals” title. We had so much fun together. It made the experience 10 times more memorable and I still dream about it to this day.
More than 15 years later, this travel general has become a travel ninja. Maybe the nick name is one and the same, but the ninja name was given to me by my students and family. I’m up for any travel opportunity, I may…holdup… just playing…I always… have a travel/food story to connect to a lesson, and I can pack a whole lot of adventure in a short period of time. I’m talking, I can have a lot of fun in my own back yard! I usually have music lyrics that coincide with adventures because every ninja needs a theme song. Travel, music, and eating – my jam.
Last week, I had the opportunity to bring some of my best friends to my mother’s homeland, Panama. I hadn’t been on a friends trip in so long! This trip was so refreshing and renewing that it made me sit back and wonder why I don’t do this more often. Traveling with friends is such a gift. As we laughed, complained, gossiped, cried, and introverted, I decided that a top 5 was in order. Top 5 reasons you should travel with friends: Edition- A Traveling Ninja 1.01. Pictures: Lets get real. I don’t know about your husbands, but when it comes to pictures, I would rather ask a 1 year old infant with brownie smashed on her hands to take my photo. Friends.Get.This. We want a billion pictures with the best angels. My friend Su is an expert picture taker. I mean. We were frolicking in the ocean as she took candid shots. She observed them and told us they were ugly so we had to start again. Did we mind? Nope. The more the better. Also, does your husband or your kid think about how gorgeous you look sleeping on the hammock? Probably. But do they know that someday you looking back at a picture of it will make you squeal with joy? Um.. this friend does. I would catch a glimpse of my friends and their beauty and it would stop my breath… picture. We are all dressed up…selfie. Someone does something embarrassing and funny…picture and video. Proof, people. Proof. Friend trips guarantee the best pictures…hidden or shared.
2. It’s Easy: Our days in Panama were so carefree. We never dressed to impress. We just wore swim suits, chacos, or maybe pjs with curlers most days. I spent time surfing the waves of the Pacific and didn’t wash my hair for two days. It was magnificent! There isn’t a better feeling than being sprawled out with my poofy belly full of pineapples throwing caution to the wind. Not once did I utter, “Does my whitest child have SPF100 on his face mole?”. Nope. Every now and then we scanned instagram or switched our laziness over to a hammock. This was a real vacation. There was no entertaining required. From packing to splitting checks, traveling with friends is just practical. This is such a Travel Ninja thing…I NEVER check a bag. I don’t care how long the trip is, I stick by this rule with no exceptions. My friends got a little taste of this bossy rule and I think they kinda liked it. I take it a step further and try and pack in just one book bag so I am hands free too. Travel Ninja has got to be speedy. When you’re only packing for one… you pack light. Another thing that is easy about traveling with friends is splitting meals and checks. When you want to brave a few new foods but you’re not quite sure, your friends don’t mind if you order a sampler and share. No worrying about kid chicken fingers and french fries… just kidding, you know I ordered a side of french fries! I’m still a kid at heart. Want an easy trip? Travel with friends.
3. Building Each Other Up: One thing I refuse to get caught up in for MYSELF is talking myself down as a mom. I know I make mistakes… I make a LOT of them. But at the end of the day, I think I am an excellent mother. I love my kids to the extreme with all my heart and I never wake up saying, “Hmm…How can I screw my kids over”. Yes, I may yell at them, maybe too much, but my imperfections teach them that no one is perfect, you’ve gotta love yourself, always do better tomorrow, and PICK UP YOUR DANG CLOTHES OFF THE FLOOR! That doesn’t mean I don’t tear myself up for random stuff all the time. I get hung up on those mistakes sometimes. Don’t we all? I worry about so much stuff. I worry about some really really really stupid stuff. Sometimes the worries accumulate so fast that you start questioning yourself. All this to say, there is nothing like a trip with friends to slap you back into reality, “Dude… YOU are an EXCELLENT mother and YOU are absolutely GORGEOUS!” Hope we all left feeling this way. Our kids are all thriving and excelling, so I’m gonna take a little credit. And you can’t see my sun spot above my lip in this photo so it can’t be THAT bad! Traveling with friends refreshes your perspective.
4. Diversity: Everyone has a role and a strength. From the moment we landed we all took a role and I have to say this is one of my favorite reasons for traveling with friends. I love to see how others deal with certain situations. Su was not having it when we got to our hotel room and we only had a partial city view. I definitely would have taken it and not complained.. just kidding… I would have complained a little to my friends. Su made us march back down to the lobby and request a room to our liking. I have to say, although a bold move for me, it was well worth it, and I would do that again in the future. Ashley stepped foot in to our hotel room and immediately inspected for bed bugs. She was also our DJ and played our favorites while we danced around getting ready for dinners. I took the role of translator. There was a moment or 3 when I probably wasn’t helpful. The languages began to merge together in my mind and my mouth stopped expressing anything, but nonetheless, it was my strength of the group. Someone was always on it, from requesting ubers to turning on water pipes, we worked together in a seamless fashion. Specially if you are afraid to travel alone, traveling with friends can boost your travel experience!
5. Bonding Memories; Two days after arriving back in our hometown, we gathered together, braving the freezing cold temperatures to eat at our favorite Korean restaurant. We reminisced about the pina coladas, the funny quotes we kept saying, the scary taxi drive, the wifi, the weather, the plantains, the laughs, the cries, and most importantly, the friendship. I have known these friends for almost 10 years but I learned so much more about them on this trip. We shared very intimate stories that had never been shared before, we delved into politics, expressed our religious and spiritual journeys, and through it all, it was a safe place. As we recalled details of our trip and finished each other’s sentences and stories at the restaurant, it was a “you just had to be there” kinda moment that can never be recreated. It was weird to see each other in regular clothes again. We laughed and all felt grateful for these memories that we will have for ever. That’s unless we get dementia, in which I vote that I will get because translating made me lose my mind. Anyhow, we’ve promised each other that we will find a place by the beach when we are real old old ladies and I will surely listen to our Panama stories over and over again in pure delight. I am a gypsy soul, not lost, but in love with adventure. It doesn’t have to be traveling to a far away place to make it an adventure. An adventure could be an experience right out my back door. I feel like every place I go I take a piece of it back with me. When you travel with friends you take back so much more.