Coincidentally, this month not only marks the one-year anniversary of Characters & Carry-ons, but also the three-year anniversary of one of the best travel experiences of my life. I wanted to share the story with you all because it was a huge inspiration for this blog.
Where has the time gone? It’s been exactly three years since I’ve stepped foot in Europe for the first time. Though I had previously traveled a lot with my family, September 2011 marked the very first time I had ventured out completely by myself, and I had no idea what to expect.
For four months, I was lucky enough to call Milano my home. Since Milano is located at the center of Europe, it makes visits to neighboring countries relatively easy and cheap. But the best parts of those four months weren’t the jam-packed trips I took outside of Italy. They were those slow nights having aperitivo at Navigli. Watching old movies with new friends. Taking vodka shots on Tuesday nights for no good reason. Learning how to make tiramisu from my Italian friend. Going on group grocery trips and later getting tipsy together on two-euro wine. Kicking around a soccer ball at midnight at the Duomo. Exercising late at night with my roommate Angela, then devouring copious amounts of gelato and Nutella the morning after. Journaling and doodling on train rides.
Those are the times I miss the most. It was in those moments where I really experienced and learned from Italian culture.
I discovered that Italians are a generous and welcoming people. People would always greet me with a cheery “Ciao, Joyce!” (Or, how they would pronounce it, “Ciao, Giois!”) Their enthusiasm was contagious! I realized that the heart of their joy was rooted in the simple pleasures in life—good coffee, good food, good company. La vita è bella! When I look back to this time, I am reminded that I should live everyday with the same wonder and appreciation of the little things that I had had in Europe.
I was amazed at how much I had grown in the four months in Milano. Since I had been traveling internationally since I was 10 years old, I figured that I had little to learn from this trip. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I realized that regardless of mileage I had under my belt, lessons still unexpectedly crept into my head, or sometimes less subtly, smacked me in the face. I found inspiration everywhere. People continued to amaze me left and right. Dreams sparked in my head without the nagging self-doubt that normally clouded me back home.
My experience from this trip is why I always encourage others to travel. It surprises you. It makes you stronger. The friends you make and the wisdom you gain stay with you long after you leave.
PS - I want to thank those of you who made those four months so amazing and memorable. Thank you for the adventures. Thank you for being a shameless tourist with me. Thank you for saying yes. Thank you for sharing your stories. Thanks for teaching me and learning with me. Thank you for all the laughs. Thank you for making it so hard to leave.
"You get a strange feeling when you're about to leave a place...like you'll not only miss
the people you love but you'll miss the person you are now
at this time and this place, because you'll never be this way ever again."