How I Caught My Wanderlust

Before high school, I had never really traveled much. We went to Pennsylvania to visit my dad’s older sister, we went to Maine once to see my brother, and I went to Texas a couple of times. I had only ever traveled to see family; it seemed there was no other reason to travel.

Freshman year of high school I joined Key Club. It was one of the best choices I’ve ever made for so many reasons. One of the best perks of KC was the international convention  hosted annually in one of many awesome cities in the U.S., Aruba, British Colombia, and other assorted countries affiliated with Kiwanis which I can’t remember. That year, it was going to be in Orlando, Florida. I had never been to Florida, I had never done a lot of service or volunteering, and I had certainly never traveled for that purpose. I was intrigued. When I learned that those who went on the service trip to the convention got to go to Disney World, I was hooked. I begged my mom to let me go. It was a pretty sizable fee to go, but she caved and funded me.

I am so incredibly grateful that she did.

It was the first time I was on a plane, the first time I had traveled without my mom. It was a lot of firsts. I was a little bit anxious but mostly I was thrilled. I was asleep on the plane in ten minutes. I fell asleep during takeoff. Who does that on their first airplane ride? Apparently me.

When I woke up I was in another world. It was hot, there were palm trees, and it looked nothing like Ohio, Texas, Maine, or any other state I’d been to already. It was incredible. There was a tingle in the pit of my stomach and it didn’t leave the whole time, it just grew and grew until I nearly burst with excitement, happiness, and general astonishment.

It was a four-day ordeal. I had almost no money, but I didn’t care. I was able to attend so many cool workshops at the convention and I participated in some pretty bomb service projects. I was in my element- an element I never thought I would have. I was discovering a passion. Uncovering desires I would never be able to sate. I remember it so vividly- that first service trip.

I returned in a tizzy. I was more excited about just being somewhere different than I was about being in Orlando, staying in a super swanky hotel, or even going to Disney World (gasp!). I was in love with discovery. Exploration was my inclination.

(Now, before I finish, I want to point out that I love to travel with my family. I love visiting new places and seeing family members who live far away. I adored my trip to New York with my mom, Chicago with my dad, etc.  I dig traveling with my fam- but this post is about how I caught my own strain of the travel bug, and my experiences without la familia)

I didn’t travel without my fam again until college. It was the summer after my sophomore year and we went to the Texas-Mexico border to teach and support the youth in border communities. It flared in me again, that old flame. The one that says, “go somewhere new, learn a new culture, meet new people, and breathe air a little different than the air over here. Go. Do. Be.”  We were there for a week, but I wished it could have been longer. I made incredible connections with people I had never before known. It was so amazing.

That’s also when I learned how peoples’ true selves come through when traveling- another curious insight I love about going new places with people I don’t know; the kindred feelings of trepidation and adventure on which our bodies soar when traveling somewhere for the first time.

My junior year of college I flew my happy ass to Spain. Across an ocean. The longest (and furthest) I had ever been from home. On occasion I did miss home a little. I missed the physical comfort of my high-school sweetheart. I missed my mother’s embrace, her kind words, my sister’s quirkiness, my father’s comforting voice. I missed home a lot. But it never bogged me down. I happily discovered a new side of the world and a new side of myself in tandem. I loved being away from home. The independence I felt was mind-rattling. I had to rely on people I had never met before to make sure I was safe, happy, and taken care of. I met some wonderful people and forged incredible relationships. I yearn to return to Spain, to walk the streets of Los Remedios, my neighborhood, one more time. To see the torre del oro or the bullfighting ring. I ache for the smell of roasting chestnuts on busy calle tetuan while I briskly walk to school.

You see, Orlando, Florida was the kindling for a much, much larger fire. I found out while in Spain how I thrive on being out of my comfort zone, in an alien land with things so familiar but just a little bit off. Spain was another first for me- the first time traveling on my own, without the end goal being service. My trip to Florida and my trip to Texas were both service trips. Spain was my first taste of actually living somewhere else. It was astonishing every single day.

I then went on a service trip my senior year of college to Jinotega, Nicaragua. I taught English in a church the size of a common garden shed. I taught children on dirt floors and a gravel front yard. For one week.

It changed my life.

I was surrounded by a community so vastly different from anything I had ever encountered. On top of that, I was enveloped in kindness and embraced with smiles and kind words at every turn. I remember telling Profe, one of our chaperons, that I was “SO HAPPY” to be there. All the time. I said it every day. She grinned each time I did. My adoration of our adventure was palpable in every comment, movement, and breath of mine. I was smitten with our service trip.

As soon as I had returned to the states, I had to go back. Just freaking had to. So I did. Less than three months later I was back in Nicaragua for twelve more weeks. I blogged about it all the time on here. I loved the people, the culture, the children, the food, nature, beauty- everything. I was in my very literal “happy place.”

But I’ve found that wherever I travel tends to be my “happy place.” As long as I’m learning something new, meeting someone new,  or doing something meaningful to leave behind, I am perfectly content with myself. I am truly at peace when doing good for others or when learning from others.

Hi, my name is Jessica Reed, and I am addicted to traveling. It’s an expensive addiction that I just can’t appease. I itch all of the time for a new trip, a new discovery. Even going to a new section of Cleveland is enough to keep me sated for a day or two- but I’m always thinking about my next move. I’m always planning the Next Great Trip.

I hope I can take it soon.

Thanks for reading, folks! Until tomorrow!

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