Why I Keep Choosing Travel (…and why travel keeps choosing me)

As a child, I would never have thought to describe myself as “adventurous.” I was most comfortable at home, or taking familiar vacations and talking to familiar people. Three years ago, this all changed when I packed an overweight suitcase and hopped on a plane to Heathrow Airport. This one decision, to embark on Semester at Sea when I was coming out of my first year of college, changed my life irreversibly.

It wasn’t a slow, careful, or deliberate decision to start traveling for me. It was a complete and total leap of faith. 

First port of call- Lisbon!

The decision came quickly. I had vague memories of a childhood babysitter discussing Semester at Sea with my parents when I was much younger. I had parused the Semester at Sea website, after hearing an upper classman discuss her fall voyage one March afternoon. The summer voyage application deadline was approaching: Northern Europe and Scandinavia.

As silly as it sounds, my first thought was, “I’ve always loved that Norway ride at Disney’s Epcot.” 

Once I’d applied and received my acceptance, not to mention frantically applied for the proper visa, reality set in. I would be traveling Europe for a whole summer. I would be trying different food, meeting new people, and living on a shipboard cabin the size of a typical bathroom. It didn’t hit me that I was truly on my own until my parents were dropping me off at the airport, wishing me a great summer. 

I went in with zero expectations. I had such little knowledge of the continent, seeing as I didn’t even know rain was likely in London. I had packed shorts and t-shirts, and was not prepared for cool breezes of Scotland or the damp nights in Ireland. I didn’t bother flipping through guidebooks, for some reason I’m still not sure. Perhaps this was due to nerves or uncertainty, or perhaps both. Now that I’d classify myself as an experienced traveler, I like everything planned out in detail. 

London, June 2014

I didn’t realize then that three years later, I’d be reflecting on each adventure, both large and small. I didn’t know that things I would miss out on, or time wasted with people who didn’t have my best interests in mind, would catch up with me. I look back now and regret not being brave enough to travel to Sintra Palace in Portugal. Lisbon was our first port, and I was not yet ready to travel somewhere remote by myself, even though I knew I wanted to see the colorful palace. I could make more excuses, but the reality is that I just didn’t know I’d think about it so much in years to come. 
The lesson here is to jump. If something scares you, you’re probably traveling right. As long as it’s safe and healthy, proceed with caution, and go forth. Someone famous said to do one thing a day that scares you, and looking back, I wish I’d done more. 

It took a couple of ports and some soul-searching to come to the understanding that I didn’t just choose traveling, but that traveling had somehow chosen me. No, I wasn’t in love with every second on the ship, there are of course ups and downs. However, by the time we hit Ireland in early July, I knew something was calling to me. Specifically, I knew that one adventure wasn’t enough. Three years later, I know now that no amount of adventure isn’t enough, life can’t be quantified. Life can only be measured in moments. I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. 

Amsterdam, April 2016

I left Semester at Sea with a heavy heart, pretending to embrace a continued life at my home institution with a smile. The facade didn’t work, because within days of arriving back to the US, I was back in the familiar chair at the study abroad office asking how we could make it possible so I could spend my junior year in Ireland. I was told I’d have to raise my grades, write powerful essays, and be on the receiving end of glowing recommendations. It wasn’t impossible, but a whole junior year at Trinity College Dublin, I was told, was unlikely. 

I took yet another leap, and landed comfortably in Ireland for a whole academic year the following September. I have professors, friends, and family to thank for study abroad round two. I’d like to say that mine is a story of bravery and perseverance, which is partially true, but it is mostly a story of falling through the right set of cracks. Much of my journey around the world has been possible because of the chances I took, and the people I’ve met along the way. 

I chose Ireland because of how solid I felt when I got there. I based my future off of a gut feeling, which of course, I highly recommend. It has paid off and then some. Because after a year at Trinity, full of adventure and joy, I came back to the US for the second time with a vengeance. I fell in love with seeing the world, but I also fell in love with academics. I needed to go to graduate school, and I needed it to be in Ireland. I am beyond lucky to state that I’ll be calling University College Dublin my home in a matter of weeks. 

I choose travel because of the friends I’ve made along the way. These people have left a long lasting imprint on my life, and I would not be the same had we not seen the world together. I am lucky enough to have made lifelong friendships with my study abroad cohorts, both in Ireland and on Semester at Sea. 

Friendship at Blarney Castle, Ireland

I choose to go abroad (for the third time) because as cliche as it sounds, I found myself on the other side of the world. I found myself through books, adventures and misadventures, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to practice my navigational skills in a new city once again. It took getting horribly lost in a small Scottish city, with my heart pounding in my ears, to be able to understand what my capabilities are as a traveler and a person. It took wandering Amsterdam, aimlessly, for hours with someone I’d confidently call a best friend to understand the very definition of trust and a true spirit of adventure. 

I choose travel because I caught both flights and feelings in Ireland, almost two years ago, and I can’t wait to be reunited with my better half. 

I am choosing travel because I would not be the same without it. I would not be the same had I not improperly packed for Europe there years ago. I would not be the same had I not learned my lesson by not going to Sintra Palace. I would be a much different person had I stayed at my home institution, and didn’t take a risk by spending two semesters in Ireland instead of one.  
I am choosing to find a place for myself abroad, for the third time in three years, because I don’t know who I’d be otherwise. 

Barcelona, February 2016

To first-time study abroad students

Dear first-time study abroad students,

Congratulations. You’ve made the exciting and life-altering decision to travel somewhere new, and see beyond the horizons that you’ve become accustomed to. This is both wonderful and scary, but as someone who has studied abroad for three semesters, let me assure you that you’ll be alright. In fact, you will grow immeasurably because of this choice. 

The months, weeks, and days before your departure will feel long and anxious. You’ll have many questions prior to this new adventure, but at the same time, you know you’re ready to see somewhere new in the world. You’re going to learn a great deal about another culture, and most surprisingly, yourself.

Spend extra time with family before you go, because they will miss you. You may not realize it now, but you’ll be thinking of the ones who love you most in every city you travel to. 

It’s been three years since my first study abroad experience with Semester at Sea. Even now, I am still reflecting daily on the small and large adventures I embarked on during Summer of 2014. There are the obvious ones, like traveling to Europe without parents, and hopping off a plane into Heathrow Airport with an open mind and heart. 

There are the smaller adventures, like my first stroll around a foreign city independently. I associate Stockholm, Sweden with utmost happiness. It was the first time I went on a non-English speaking public transport by myself. I went to all the museums of my choosing, and had ice cream and waffles for lunch. I was on my own, but never lonely. I walked miles into a park called Skansen, and pet some baby reindeer. The Academic Dean of the ship called me “intrepid”, a word I’d never thought I would be associated with. 

Me featuring a baby reindeer in Sweden!

During your time abroad, you will learn to rely on others. Your friends will be there for support, safety, and most of all, joy. Your friends are your fellow navigators, your biggest confidants, not to mention those who will leave a mark on you for life. I haven’t seen some of my Semester at Sea friends since we parted ways in Southhampton, England three years ago. However, I know with certainty that if I called one of them up, in need or just for a laugh, I could count on them.

You will absolutely make new friends, but you will most importantly find a friend within yourself. You may travel on your own, eat out on your own, and explore your new universe unaccompanied. Your senses will grow and heighten. You know to hide your passport in a different pocket than your cash, and your sense of direction will be ever-improving. There is no place for self-doubt in travel. You’ll grow in confidence, happiness, and contentment. Study abroad is transformative, by the very definition of the word.


You’ll find the little memories will add up, years later. I have the greatest joy in reminiscing a beautiful morning in Norway, sailing through the fjords three July’s ago. I’d forgotten my wallet in the coffee shop, as I’d insisted on getting a drink and almost making my cohort late for the ferry. By the time I’d thought to look for it, the kind shop owner had rushed it to the only boat leaving the harbor that morning. I remember the crew on the MV Explorer knowing my name, even though I ate meals alone frequently with a book propped up on the table. Most importantly, I remember falling in love with learning again, and seeing the world genuinely as my campus.

Fjords in Norway

I remember hearing Pharell’s ‘Happy’ at every pre-port session and knowing that’s how I was truly feeling. You’ll remember small details like that, too.

There will be moments you miss out on, but know that every adventure is different. There is no “wrong” way to travel. Invest your time, energy, and money only on what you want to explore and experience. 

Love every second of it, even when you’re missing home. You’ll find yourself looking back, three years later, wondering how sixty-something days could’ve gone by so quickly. 

Three years ago today…

Three years ago today, my “home afloat” (Semester at Sea) docked in Dublin, Ireland. I had my first sighting of what would become my home– the place that I would fall irrevocably in love with. However, I don’t believe in love at first sight. I believe in pathways leading you to where you’re supposed to be. My first journey through Ireland began exactly three years ago.

I’ll admit, when I first saw the dirty port, I wasn’t impressed. It was the only port that Semsester at Sea forbade us from walking on unsupservised, due to the dangerous construction surrounding the ship. Instead, we had buses drop us off around George’s Quay in the city center.

I came into the country on an emotional high from a joyful experience in Scotland. I had just completed a challenging hike around Loch Lomond, despite being admittedly overweight and out of shape. Most importantly, I took my first solo-journey into the city of Glasgow to meet a family friend, giving me my first real sense of confidence that only travel can provide. For the first time in years, I arrived somewhere new feeling accomplished and capable.

A successful hike in Scotland
Ireland was a shock to my system. Dublin felt too industrial. I have Irish heritage, and I thought I’d feel at home right away.

I still read my travel diaries from that summer occasionally. On the first day in Ireland, I wrote, “I don’t feel as though I belong.”

I had signed up to take a field trip to the Cliffs of Moher from Dublin, the day after our arrival. A four hour bus journey to rural County Clare led us to an indescribably cloudy vista. I remember putting my hands out in front of me, and not being able to see them, or the Cliffs. I didn’t do a superb job of hiding my disappointment, as I thumbed through the vibrant postcards in the gift shop that day. I had looked forward to seeing such an iconic landmark, only to be let down and put on another four hour bus back to the city. I returned to the ship in Dublin with a bad attitude, thinking to myself that I’d spend the next day buying souvenirs for family, and I’d be onto Norway.

Cloudy day at the Cliffs of Moher
A tiny spark in me insisted on seeing Trinity College. My cousin studied abroad there, and something told me I needed to see it. It was in the city center, not far from touristy souvenir shops. I thought I’d give myself one more chance to enjoy myself. The sun was setting on a gorgeous summer day, as the tourists started to filter out. I took one look at the school, and knew I was home.

I’ve always been a reader, but never dreamed that loving literature is what would take me across the world. I love my undergrad institution, and I am a proud alumni. However, as a first year, I was still deeply unhappy. I felt isolated and unsure of myself, and didn’t identify with the party culture. I didn’t really know where I saw myself fitting in the school and the world as a whole. The first thought that came to mind while walking into Trinity’s main square is, “Well, it’s time to shake things up.”

No metaphor quite does it justice– the feeling of loving somewhere new, or more specifically, feeling as though you are “welcomed home” somewhere you haven’t been before. I knew, certainly and instantly, that I had to go to Trinity, and it had to be for longer than a semester. Thus, when I returned to the states in August, my first mission was to bother the study abroad office and tell them my new plan. Lucky for me, my ever-supportive parents were on board.

Trinity College Dublin
As mentioned, I struggled in my first year of college. The first real success story I had academically was an English class my second semester, and the grades I earned on Semester at Sea. My grades weren’t where they needed to be to even apply to the school of my dreams. I would like to say that this is a story of perseverance, but mostly, I found the kindness and encouragement of others to get me on that plane to Trinity. I would not be the same person without the help from those professors who believed in me, when I did not quite yet believe in myself.  I remember getting an email from the former director of the program, saying, “You can apply, but I have little faith that you’ll get in.” I guess a little reverse psychology was what I needed to keep persisting, because I received my acceptance letter just a few months later.

I am thankful for each day of that academic year that I got to spend at Trinity College Dublin. Not only did I make new friends, I found my passion: academics. I didn’t have any idea that I wanted to be a professor, or go to graduate school. I didn’t know that reading David Foster Wallace or studying 19th century Irish literature would change my perspective on everything I had learned previously. I had no clue some of my work would be accepted into academic conferences, and that I’d love every second of presenting.

I had no idea I’d fall in love with a person, as well as a place, while I was studying there.

When I returned to Elon University in the fall, I walked around with a heavy heart. A month into the school year, after a celebratory birthday dinner, a professor asked if I was thinking about graduate school. Without thinking, I said yes. The fire in me that invigorated each step while I was abroad seemed to spark yet another change in me– I had future goals. Of course, those goals would lead me back to Ireland. I couldn’t see myself studying anywhere else, other than the place that had changed me so remarkably.

Of course, my first thought was I would need to return to Trinity. It made sense, because I had been happy there. Upon further research, it seemed that UCD would have a program directly aligning with my interests: modern and contemporary literature. The same thought that came to me three years ago reappeared. “Well, it’s time to shake things up.”

I received my acceptance letters from both the programs at Trinity and UCD by January. After visiting UCD, and envisioning myself happy there, but most of all happy in the program, the decision was easy. Trinity will always have my heart, but it’s time to start something new.

All roads have led me back to Ireland. The change in me within the last three years has been drastic. When I seriously traveled for the first time with Semester at Sea, at age 19, I will admit that I began my journey a bit entitled and dramatic. I am grateful and humbled to have seen and engaged with so much of the world at a young age. I just wish that I’d appreciated it more at the time.

I am learning now that it’s never too late to start over. I am looking forward to a new, yet somewhat familiar life in my favorite place. For the past three years, Ireland has been my stationary constant. I am ready for my next big adventure.

Semester at Sea… Three Years Later

One of the major caveats of study abroad is once you return, you truly never stop talking about it. Three years after Semester at Sea, I continue to share memories with loved ones, or just about anyone that will listen. 

Three years ago I left the country without my parents (for the first time), and with a buddy who I can confidently call a lifelong friend. Three years ago this summer, I packed what I thought would be appropriate for a trip around Northern Europe (shorts and t-shirts) into a giant suitcase. I put myself and my ever-growing heart on a red-eye to London, and hopped off the plane to what felt like a new world.

I had never been to Europe before. My knowledge about the continent was so slim, I didn’t even know it would be likely to rain in London. More importantly, I didn’t know that the memories I would make on Semester at Sea, would be so impactful nearly three years later.

I was a shell of a person before I started traveling- anxious, obsessive, and afraid. I feared excitement and human connection, I worried both would be taken away all too quickly. This is the reality of who I was before traveling Europe in sixty days.

Of course, not everything came easy. There were days when I thought the comfort of my bed at home, or even the safety of the library on the ship, would be superior to exploring a new city with new faces. Study abroad was what healed me, but I had to work for it. 

Little memories are what I find to be most impactful. I remember the crew members knowing my name, even though I frequently ate breakfast alone with a book and didn’t always engage much. I remember the first time I felt like a new person had “broke through” to me. I had wanted to see a fortress in Finland, and secretly feared going alone. By the time I had voiced my concerns, a crowd of girls with similar interests wanted to go with me. 

I of course loved the sunsets, but they were not my favorite memories. My favorite moments on Semester at Sea were the ones I felt most alive. I think about dancing on a table in Portugal (…after having my first mojito.) I reminisce treading the water in France, or feeling bold and unafraid in Russia, despite being horribly lost. On my worst days today, these are the moments that are giving me extra reasons to smile. 

Semester at Sea taught me to be honest with myself. I knew after traveling, trying new foods and customs, and making new friends, that the change had to come from within. If you asked me today what my favorite place in the world is, I can still say after seeing 16 countries in three years, my favorite place is anywhere. If I haven’t been there yet, it’s on my list.

I believe in an unfolding chain of events, that everything has a consequence. My consequence for Semester at Sea was studying abroad again. This time, I studied in Ireland, for a whole year. My next consequence starts in August– graduate school in Dublin! If I hadn’t done Semester at Sea, I don’t think I would have made it through college. I say this not to be dramatic or extreme, but because the person I was back then needed to see the world and get perspective. 

If I hadn’t done Semester at Sea, I wouldn’t have found Ireland. I wouldn’t have found love. Most importantly, I would not, in any circumstances, have found myself.

I’ll end with a quote… “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”