I started traveling abroad, on my own volition, on February 13, 2001. I was 21 years old, barely, and I was headed to Australia for 5 months and New Zealand for a month. There’s no way I could have known at that moment, when my family walked me to the gate of my plane (yes, this was pre-9/11 when you could still walk with your family to the gate to say goodbye) that traveling would become an addiction, an obsession, a passion.
Who knew that every extra penny I had would go toward planning for my next trip.
That I’d subscribe to travel magazines, adventure magazines, ripping pages out, put into a box of dream destinations…
That I’d take on 2, sometimes 3 extra jobs so I never had to say “someday”…
That I’d learn that traveling didn’t always mean staying in the nicest resorts…
That I’d jump from planes, pet tigers, bathe elephants, swim in waterfalls, walk with lions, stare at stars from a yacht, jump off bridges, raft down a raging river, hike mountains to ancient cities, jump into crystal clear water, eat food I can’t pronounce, watch the final World Cup game in the country who is in the final game, party till the sun comes up, walk the Great Wall, swim in The Great Barrier Reef, explore places I had never heard of and so much more.
Who knew that I was capable of making friends in 5 minutes, of trusting strangers, of walking alone at night in a strange city, of navigating a place where they don’t speak my language simply by smiling.
I’ve learned that life truly is what you make of it and no one holds the key to your happiness. I’ve learned that luck has everything to do with where I started out in life, and hard work has allowed me to appreciate and take advantage of the luck I have.
Today marks an incredible moment for me. July 23, 2018, 17 years after that first trip, I will set foot in my 40th country. What seems like a million years ago, I had this idea of getting to 40 countries before my 40th birthday, and today, two years before I turn 40, I will do just that.
One thing I have learned traveling though is that the number doesn’t matter to anyone but you. There will always be someone traveling longer than you, who has been to more countries, who has been to more remote places… and there will always be someone who is traveling for the first time, has been to fewer countries and likes to stick to the landmarks. There is no right or wrong way to travel. Traveling is as individual as each person. Reflecting back on the last 17 years of travel makes me want to cry. The magnificent things I’ve seen, the people I’ve met, all that I’ve learned about myself.
I can’t think of a better country to have as my 40th. My great-Grandmother left Slovenia (Yugoslavia) with her friend when she was 18 to go to The USA. My mom says I get my adventurous spirit definitely her. It’s a special moment that I will end this trip where part of my roots began.
Cheers to 40!