Cultural Experience | Europe

Why I Keep Choosing Travel (… and why travel keeps choosing me)


I am choosing travel because I would not be the same without it.

As a child, I would never have thought to describe myself as “adventurous.” I was most comfortable at home, or taking familiar vacations and talking to familiar people. Three years ago, this all changed when I packed an overweight suitcase and hopped on a plane to Heathrow Airport. This one decision, to embark on Semester at Sea when I was coming out of my first year of college, changed my life irreversibly.

It wasn’t a slow, careful, or deliberate decision to start traveling for me. It was a complete and total leap of faith.

Lisbon image

First port of call- Lisbon!

The decision came quickly. I had vague memories of a childhood babysitter discussing Semester at Sea with my parents when I was much younger. I had parused the Semester at Sea website, after hearing an upper classman discuss her fall voyage one March afternoon. The summer voyage application deadline was approaching: Northern Europe and Scandinavia.As silly as it sounds, my first thought was, “I’ve always loved that Norway ride at Disney’s Epcot.”

Once I’d applied and received my acceptance, not to mention frantically applied for the proper visa, reality set in. I would be traveling Europe for a whole summer. I would be trying different food, meeting new people, and living on a shipboard cabin the size of a typical bathroom. It didn’t hit me that I was truly on my own until my parents were dropping me off at the airport, wishing me a great summer.

I went in with zero expectations. I had such little knowledge of the continent, seeing as I didn’t even know rain was likely in London. I had packed shorts and t-shirts, and was not prepared for cool breezes of Scotland or the damp nights in Ireland. I didn’t bother flipping through guidebooks, for some reason I’m still not sure. Perhaps this was due to nerves or uncertainty, or perhaps both. Now that I’d classify myself as an experienced traveler, I like everything planned out in detail.

London, June 2014

I didn’t realize then that three years later, I’d be reflecting on each adventure, both large and small. I didn’t know that things I would miss out on, or time wasted with people who didn’t have my best interests in mind, would catch up with me. I look back now and regret not being brave enough to travel to Sintra Palace in Portugal. Lisbon was our first port, and I was not yet ready to travel somewhere remote by myself, even though I knew I wanted to see the colorful palace. I could make more excuses, but the reality is that I just didn’t know I’d think about it so much in years to come.
The lesson here is to jump. If something scares you, you’re probably traveling right. As long as it’s safe and healthy, proceed with caution, and go forth. Someone famous said to do one thing a day that scares you, and looking back, I wish I’d done more.It took a couple of ports and some soul-searching to come to the understanding that I didn’t just choose traveling, but that traveling had somehow chosen me. No, I wasn’t in love with every second on the ship, there are of course ups and downs. However, by the time we hit Ireland in early July, I knew something was calling to me. Specifically, I knew that one adventure wasn’t enough. Three years later, I know now that no amount of adventure isn’t enough, life can’t be quantified. Life can only be measured in moments. I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.

Amsterdam, April 2016

I left Semester at Sea with a heavy heart, pretending to embrace a continued life at my home institution with a smile. The facade didn’t work, because within days of arriving back to the US, I was back in the familiar chair at the study abroad office asking how we could make it possible so I could spend my junior year in Ireland. I was told I’d have to raise my grades, write powerful essays, and be on the receiving end of glowing recommendations. It wasn’t impossible, but a whole junior year at Trinity College Dublin, I was told, was unlikely.I took yet another leap, and landed comfortably in Ireland for a whole academic year the following September. I have professors, friends, and family to thank for study abroad round two. I’d like to say that mine is a story of bravery and perseverance, which is partially true, but it is mostly a story of falling through the right set of cracks. Much of my journey around the world has been possible because of the chances I took, and the people I’ve met along the way.

I chose Ireland because of how solid I felt when I got there. I based my future off of a gut feeling, which of course, I highly recommend. It has paid off and then some. Because after a year at Trinity, full of adventure and joy, I came back to the US for the second time with a vengeance. I fell in love with seeing the world, but I also fell in love with academics. I needed to go to graduate school, and I needed it to be in Ireland. I am beyond lucky to state that I’ll be calling University College Dublin my home in a matter of weeks.

I choose travel because of the friends I’ve made along the way. These people have left a long lasting imprint on my life, and I would not be the same had we not seen the world together. I am lucky enough to have made lifelong friendships with my study abroad cohorts, both in Ireland and on Semester at Sea.

Friendship at Blarney Castle, Ireland

I choose to go abroad (for the third time) because as cliche as it sounds, I found myself on the other side of the world. I found myself through books, adventures and misadventures, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to practice my navigational skills in a new city once again. It took getting horribly lost in a small Scottish city, with my heart pounding in my ears, to be able to understand what my capabilities are as a traveler and a person. It took wandering Amsterdam, aimlessly, for hours with someone I’d confidently call a best friend to understand the very definition of trust and a true spirit of adventure.

I choose travel because I caught both flights and feelings in Ireland, almost two years ago, and I can’t wait to be reunited with my better half.

I am choosing travel because I would not be the same without it. I would not be the same had I not improperly packed for Europe there years ago. I would not be the same had I not learned my lesson by not going to Sintra Palace. I would be a much different person had I stayed at my home institution, and didn’t take a risk by spending two semesters in Ireland instead of one.
I am choosing to find a place for myself abroad, for the third time in three years, because I don’t know who I’d be otherwise.

See more from Mary on her Blog : New Adventure Awaits 

Why I Choose Travel .. and Why Travel Keeps Choosing Me

Mary Sheehan

Elon University | 12 stories

I am currently a senior at Elon University studying creative writing. I participated in Semester at Sea in summer of 2014, and spent my junior year abroad in Dublin, Ireland. I enjoy reading, writing, and of course, traveling.


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