It’s not a painful bite. In fact, it’s a bite you might not even notice at first. But once you have it, the symptoms stay with you forever. Ask anyone who has been bitten and they’ll tell you when and where it happened. After all, catching the travel bug is a life changing experience.
For me, it happened on my first overseas trip. The adrenaline and excitement kept building in my body as we raced down the highway in our sleek black Mercedes shuttle. For the most part, everything looked the same as home. Rolling hills were the backdrop to a blur of cars. The closer we got to the city, the smaller the cars got and the rolling hills were replaced with billboards. Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Armani, the list – and billboards – go on. It was then that I knew I wasn’t at home anymore.
We entered the city limits through a stone wall that reached towards the Gods. Winding through the streets, face pressed against the window of the shuttle as I watched tanned skin, camera-operating tourists and ancient ruins from a completely different lifetime go past. But it wasn’t until we turned a bend in the road and I caught site of the Colosseum – magnificently grand, preserved in the City Centre like a giant of history – that I felt the bite.
Ah, the travel bug, felt by millions worldwide and the itch that keeps many cities and countries afloat. If you’re like me, you start planning your next holiday before the one you’re currently on has even ended. Before the day was done in Rome, I had already decided I needed to come back. It wasn’t just the fresh pasta that made my mouth water and my eyes tear up. It wasn’t just the post breakfast, lunch and dinner gelato that brought the heat radiating from the concrete city to a bearable level. It was a feeling inside. It was thinking of the millions of others who set eyes on the Colosseum through the centuries. It was an instant connection to history. In that moment, I felt true passion, respect and euphoria. It was a feeling I knew I needed to chase.
And I did. I chased it for two and a half years. However, not everyone is able to quit their job, spend their life savings, and end up on a wild adventure of country hopping. That is why the word “solo” had to become familiar in my vocabulary. Through the lush and tropical lands of Northern Australia, through the preppy champagne and escargot of Paris and even as far as the winding roads in the Andes Mountains, I went alone.
The idea of travelling solo was daunting at first. Fresh out of high school and having turned eighteen just a week and a half earlier, I landed at the Gatwick airport in London. I followed the signs and the hordes of people to find the train to take me to London. I’m sure I asked every person in a uniform if I was going the right way. And I’m sure I checked my pre-planned itinerary that I’d written out before leaving home at least once every ten minutes.
I watched out the window of the train in quiet awe as the rolling green hills and quaint stone homes past in a blur. I could hardly control my excitement when I saw the Tower Bridge, standing majestically over the Thames River. The feeling of laying eyes on one of the most photographed places in the world was certainly a special one – even if at the time I was not able to share the experience with anyone.
I was never alone for long though. And that is the true beauty of travelling, really. It doesn’t matter where you go or if you’re alone because there is always someone else you’ll come across who shares the same bite mark that you have. So, you’ll come home with more than just stories of falling into the icy waters while rafting in Austria. Your story will include your friend, Megan, who you met on the trip – Megan, who has been to 60 countries and has eaten snake – Megan, who pulled you out of the water and bought you a beer to cheers your funny mishap.
I can say without a doubt that my travels were made thanks to the people I met on them. The stories I tell about my travels are never complete without first mentioning the personalities I experienced it all with. Some were friends for a day, while others remain friends still, after years. No, I don’t see them often and no, most of us don’t even live in the same countries. If we do get lucky enough to reunite, the days of travel and the moments of adventure come back to life like it was yesterday.
The travel bug stays with me every day, keeping the beautiful connections to history and people fresh in my mind. I look at the green pastures and hills out by Elkwater and feel like I’m in Ireland again. I read the postcards hanging on my corkboard at work and remember the laughs of partying in Berlin. My wedding guest list has friends from across every body of water and I’m thankful for it all.
Travel is about more than simply going places and seeing things. It’s about the adventure and journey that comes after booking that plane ticket. It’s about becoming best friends with your bunk mate simply because you both like pizza and there is a great pizza shop down the street. It’s about getting lost on your own and finding your way back again. Travel is about embracing that first bite and reliving it again and again with each new adventure you take. And more than that, it’s about taking it home with you and sharing each moment with anyone who is willing to listen.
-Emily Wilson is still relatively new to the wonderful city of Medicine Hat, having moved here in May 2016. She was born and raised in Ontario and lived in Australia for a year. Emily has visited 32 countries and will share some of her experiences and advice for globetrotters of all ages.