What I Learned From Six Weeks of Travel

by Jacob McCartney on 2017-09-03

Because I am the type of person to take something very simple and straightforward and dig deep into its complexities, I have decided to write a piece on what I learned from traveling around the continent of Europe for a month and a half.

Making the decision to travel after I graduated high school was the best decision I have ever made. Many people want to travel, but they never put in the effort and take that first step. My decision to leave home and travel Europe took a drive that many lack. The places I went, the things I saw, the people I met, and the things I did gave me a perspective on the world so different than I had before that I can hardly recognize the man I used to be.

I grew up in central Texas, a place with a culture in many ways independent from the rest of the United States. Though I traveled around the country to other states with my family frequently and even lived in California for a few years, I mainly stayed put. For the first 18 years of my life, the farthest I had ever traveled away from home by myself was a 3 hour drive to Magnolia, Texas for an Accounting competition. Acting completely on my own was foreign to me in many situations, as it is for most people that age.

While in school, I heard stories about people who traveled, and I met people who had traveled all over the world. The passion they had for the world and all the interesting stories they had made me realize that my own life was predicable and repetitive, and I started looking into what it would take to travel like they did. I spent hours and hours reading travel blogs and researching places to travel. I settled on the location, and I worked hard for two years to save money for this trip.

The summer after I graduated high school, I went on a six week tour of Europe, making it through 17 countries in both western and eastern Europe. I put myself on a plane to a place thousands of miles away with a return date of almost two months later. Arriving there, I was forced to figure everything out on my own and get myself where I needed to go from there.

Throughout the following six weeks, I traveled around the continent with a group of people I will never forget, and I experienced things I will never forget. I dined in Paris. I got left behind in foreign cities. I drank a $13 Budweiser in Monaco on the rooftop hotel next to the Monte Carlo Casino. I slept on rickety beds in cabins in Venice. I celebrated the 4th of July in Corfu, Greece, and recovered from third degree sunburns in the Greek islands. I browsed markets in Istanbul. I ate bratwurst and drank beer in a biergarten in Munich. I had the full experience of Amsterdam.

I basically learned how to drink on this trip. Since the drinking age everywhere I went was 18, I took this time to learn all the things I could not in the US. I did a lot of things I could not do back home. I will not mention everything I did, but each thing I did was an experience contributed in some way to the person I am today. What was important to me during my time there was that I learn as much as I possibly can, and I would say I succeeded with that.

But experiences are not the only part of travel. So many of the people you meet along the way are just as amazing, and some of the best times I had were with people I met there. In Barcelona, Spain, I ended up spending hours drinking on the beach with people from all over the world. By the end of it, we all felt like we had been lifelong friends. I spent the 4th of July with Americans I will never forget. I drank and arm wrestled with Turkish guys in Istanbul. I discussed American politics with non-Americans. I drank with and wandered London at night with a couple Australians I had only met a few hours before. I spent the entire trip traveling from place to place with the same group, and anyone who has spent that long with the same people understands the bonds that can be formed from that.

I had various culture shocks throughout my travels as well. One of the first concerns people express when I say I like to travel is about whether a place is safe. I have been asked if they are “civilized” too. A dominant view in the West is to look at the outside as less stable and less safe. I understand the concerns of these people when they express them to me, as I have watched and read the same media they have. The media portrays much of the world as more dangerous and chaotic than it really is. Media outlets with different political biases will focus on certain aspects more than others. Had I not been to many of these places myself, I would be inclined to believe more of what the media has to say about them.

I did see a lot of the things I had been warned about. There were significant amounts of Muslims in Europe where one would not expect to see so many. There were also a lot of Antifa signs and graffiti, and I saw protests. Police, especially in southern Europe, were armed with semi-automatic weapons and drove armored vehicles. For some more extreme examples, a little over an hour after I left the Champs-Elysées, a man drove a truck full of explosives into a police vehicle there. A couple days after I left London, there was a terrorist attack at a mosque.

However, these experiences were minimal. For the most part, everywhere I went was rich with the culture of the area, and everyone was extremely friendly. There were very few times I ever felt unsafe. Even in Turkey, where people were most worried about me going, I never felt unsafe. The majority of the people in other countries lead the same types of lives the majority do here in the United States. In the end, all I remember from seeing different cultures firsthand are the positive and interesting aspects. Other cultures around the world are amazing to see and be a part of. Just because something is different does not mean it is wrong.

But what about me, personally? My worldview changed, but how did I as a person change?

The day I left, I expected to be nervous. I was waiting for that feeling to build in my stomach, but I felt nothing. It felt almost natural. It was shocking for me to feel this way, but in retrospect it all makes sense. Being free and independent, with the ability and endless chances to live life to the fullest, is who I am inside. I was taking risks and doing things I had never done before and knew almost nothing about, and what I got out of it was knowledge, a man’s most valuable asset. I had forgotten fear altogether.

Fear is every man’s obstacle to leaving his comfort zone, and my entire trip was me going outside my comfort zone. I had to leave this feeling behind to be successful there. Nothing phases me now; I am grateful for this new aspect of my personality. As I continue forward in my life and pursue my many business plans, I feel more prepared to succeed in my goals.

While most people enjoy the domestic lifestyle of staying safe and comfortable in their home, I grew to realize that I prefer an unpredictable lifestyle of moving around and always adapting. While traveling, I never stayed in one place for more than three days, and I grew accustomed to this. Returning back home afterwards, I was met with boredom from a more monotonous, predictable lifestyle where the biggest problem on a given day was whether the dishwasher had been run yet. I solidified in my mind that I will always be better off when my life is unpredictable, chaotic, and difficult. As foreign a concept as this is for most, I prefer that over the domestic lifestyle.

I will end this with saying that anyone who wants to travel should go and do it. People will put it off, waiting for the “right time,” while the reality is that there is never a right time. Do not accept mediocrity in your life. Live life to the fullest. Experience things while you can. It was the best decision I have ever made, and I would wager others will have the same feeling at the end of their own travels.