How travel has changed me (so far)

travel changed me mountain

Since I began planning my first backpacking trip in July 2013, not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about travel in some way, shape or form.

My Instagram and Twitter feeds are overflowing with gorgeous photos from exotic locations and advice on everything from how to travel Thailand in two weeks to which backpack is the best–thanks fellow bloggers! I’ve read countless guidebooks and travel memoirs, all of which have inspired me. Every night, I fall asleep while making a mental list of all the places I want to visit.

My desire to travel and see the world has consumed me. It’s more than an obsession. I’d go as far as to say that it’s an addiction–one without any rehab known to me. Even if there was, I wouldn’t want to go.

I wouldn’t want to “cure myself” because I love having travel as such a big part of my life. Travel is fun and exciting, but above all, it’s rewarding. It’s rewarding in more than a “Yay, I finally saw the Coliseum” or “I can speak Spanish now” kind of way.

It’s rewarding because it changes you as person. It changes you at your very core. It’s rewarding in the “I went somewhere and did something and now I’m a better person” kind of way.

This is how travel has changed me (so far):

I’ve become more assertive.

I used to always say exactly what I thought and do exactly what I wanted to do–sometimes to the point that I got myself into trouble. In college, I realized I had to make people like me in order to get anywhere in this life. So, I set off down a path of people-pleasing and soon realized it was a slippery slope. I did what other people wanted because I thought it would help me get what I wanted. But amidst all the saying “yes” and doing favors and just plain ol’ keeping my mouth shut, I forget what exactly is was that I wanted.

Travel helped me to kick my passivity. On the road, relationships are generally so short that there’s no point in worrying about how something you say or do will affect a person’s future attitude toward you. It’s all about the here and now. I’ve relearned how to just say or do what I freaking want. For example, “I want to eat at this restaurant” rather than “You choose. I really don’t care.” Or, “No, you can’t buy me a drink. I think you’re creepy” rather than “Um sure…I guess that’s fine. How sweet of you…”

I’ve learned how to make the most out of any situation.

Even on your best days, something (anything) is bound to go wrong. Whether it’s life at home or life on the road, things rarely turn out as planned. Even (actually, especially) if you’re the kind of traveler who has your itinerary mapped out minute-by-minute, your plan is more than likely going to change due to circumstances beyond your control. You’ve got to deal with it.

For some “travelers,” dealing with change means going back to their hotel or hostel, curling up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor and ruing the day they decided to take a trip. For me, dealing with change means making the most out of whatever is thrown at you. Sure, I might have wanted things to be different, but just because the museum I wanted to visit is closed on Mondays doesn’t mean I still can’t have a great day lounging in the park.

Weather. Money. Transportation. Hours of operation. These are just a few of the things that could potentially ruin a trip. The only surefire why to ensure that they don’t is–simply–not to let them! I don’t think pre-travel Alex would have understood that concept. If you’re determined and open-minded, you’re guaranteed a great trip regardless of the circumstances.

I’ve become more outgoing.

It’s been a long time since I actually had to make a new friend. Like a really really long time. I think the last time I had to make a new friend was when my family moved to Michigan when I was 11 years old. If my memory serves correctly, that was the last time I was in a situation where I didn’t know anyone. In the years following, I was fortunate to be in situations where there were built-in friends already in place. For example, teams, jobs, etc.

Until, I moved to Spain of course.

Making friends isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ve really gotta like put yourself out there, and at first, that freaked me out. I’m much more the “hang back and let you come to me” type. If I would have kept that attitude though, I’d be spending a lot of Friday and Saturday nights at home instead of enjoying Madrid.

Getting out there and making friends is a lot like dating (or so I think…I’ve had the same boyfriend for almost five years). I can relate to men (and lesbians) a lot better now that I, too, have approached single women sitting at the bar and tried to charm them. Ugh, the worst is having to ask chicks for their numbers. How do guys do it?!

In addition to bars, I’ve met people at hostels, on Couchsurfing and at parties. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. Regardless, you just keep trying. When you do click with someone, it makes all those awkward approaches worthwhile. Go ahead. Put me in an eHarmony commercial.

How has travel changed you?

Day 45

Day 45 Spain

Yesterday was day 45. If I’m not able to get a visa (which is looking unlikely at this point), day 45 marked the halfway point of my stay in Spain. Totally. Freaking. Cray.

When I woke up on Sunday morning, my first thought was: I arrived in Spain 45 days ago. My second thought was: I leave Spain in 45 days. Both sentiments are bittersweet.

I miss my family and friends in the States. Without a doubt, there are a few people I’m most definitely looking forward to getting back to.

At the same time, I now have family and friends in Spain. I’ve got life in Madrid pretty well figured out (finally), and I don’t want to think about how hard it is going to be to say goodbye to my second home.

Oh well, there’s no point on dwelling on it either way. The next 45 days are going to go by all the same whether I’m ticking them off on a calendar or crying myself to sleep every night. I didn’t miss the invention of time travel while I’ve been away, right?

With the first half of my stay over, I’m looking at these last 45 days like crunch time. I want to get to the most out of Madrid and my au pair experience as I possibly can. Finally having the hang of Spanish life should make this easier.

My first priority is my Spanish.

I want to continue to dedicate myself to my studies, and when I leave Madrid, my plan is to have completed both intermediate levels (B1 and B2). In order to reach that goal, I will need to spend more time studying at home and practice my conversational Spanish every chance I get.

My second priority is exploring Madrid.

Like so many other young expats, I have a tendency to get caught up in my city’s nightlife. I sometimes forget that there’s more to Madrid than just wine, tapas and staying out until 6 a.m.–although that is a big part of life here!

In order to achieve this second goal, I’ve mapped out my remaining weekends in Spain. I only have six weekends left! Without being too anal, I’m going to try to plan out my remaining free time. That way, I can continue ticking activities off my Madrid to-do list. I’m all about efficiency over here.

Between the five days I spent here in May and my first 45 days as an au pair, I’ve seen and done a lot in Madrid. Of course, there’s always more! Just to give you an idea of my itinerary…I’m planning on visiting the Thyssen, touring the Palacio Real, eating at the San Miguel Mercado and dancing the night away at Kapital.

I’d also like to visit at least two Spanish cities other than Madrid. This weekend, I’m going with friends to Salamanca. Additionally, I’m considering a trip to Sevilla over Halloween weekend.

If you’ve been to Madrid, what sights and/or activities do you think I need to include? If you haven’t been to Madrid, can you give me any general advice regarding how to get the most out of a city?

Immersion over everything

immersions learning

I studied Spanish for four years during high school. Yep, freshman through senior year. Every. Damn. Day.

Yet, when I graduated, my Spanish conversational skills were equivalent to those of someone ordering from the Taco Bell drive-thru.

Okay, maybe not that pathetic, but you get the idea.

I could whip through vocabulary flashcards, conjugate verbs in my sleep and recite the South American capitals in alphabetical order. I was a straight-A Spanish student. Top of the class.

But, if you had asked me to put my knowledge into intelligible sentences and have a conversation in Spanish…well, my eyes would have gotten as big as two flour tortillas. I hope I’m not giving myself too much credit when I say I might have been able to get out an “hola.”

Today and for obvious reasons, the majority of my life revolves around speaking Spanish (or at least trying to). It blows my mind that I spent so much time studying it but am now just learning how to speak it.

So, why didn’t four years of high school Spanish result in any practical conversation skills?

I’m definitely partly to blame. I didn’t dedicate the time and effort necessary to become fluent. Instead, I memorized what I had to in order to get good grades on the tests. I didn’t have time for Spanish. I was too busy with other classes or boys or whatever the hell else high school girls do.

It isn’t all my fault though.

My Spanish class was taught almost entirely in English. How backwards is that? I hardly ever heard Spanish spoken (the occasional telenovela with subtitles being the exception), and I rarely spoke Spanish myself. Even if my teacher asked us a question in Spanish, we were permitted to respond in English. At best, it was a Spanglish course.

Total immersion courses are a whole different ball game. The classes are taught entirely in the language you’re studying. In fact, I don’t think my professor can even speak English! I’ve only been enrolled at C.E.E. Idiomas for two weeks, but my conversational Spanish is already better than it was after four years of high school Spanish. I can’t wait to see where I am two months from now.

Have you ever taken an immersion course? Did it benefit your conversational skills?