12 countries, 1 rule

I have a clashing personality. I easily go with the flow and just as easily can be extremely stubborn when I’ve made a decision. For as easy going as I can be; when I want to do something I do it.

I was with my family, waiting to board a flight thinking about how much I enjoyed traveling. We were flying to meet family for the holidays but my mind instantly went to more extremes. Backpacking Europe to be exact. It was just a thought at first, nothing more. That was until I looked at the boy my cousins were hosting from Denmark for the year and said: “I’m coming to visit you in a year and a half”. At that moment, the “thought” was now a “plan”.

I knew I didn’t want to do this alone so I started asking around. More and more people came up with their excuses until  I asked my best friend from high school, she had no excuses and said: “Why didn’t you ask me to begin with”. This was another moment where no one second-guessed the idea, it was simply “we are going.”

We spent two days on my grandparents porch mapping out our route, looking at cities and countries, checking hostels, putting all the pieces into place. Before we even knew it, we had a plan, this trip was really going to happen. It took us a weekend to plan with a grace period of a year to save up travel funds and get ready. The year went by like every other and suddenly I was in an airport with a ticket to Dublin in my hand.

Over those two months, I learned more than I could have imagined. Each country we went to had something else to teach us, showed us something to appreciate. Out of everything that I experienced nothing compares to the #1 rule that Summer taught me:

“It’s about the people, not the place”

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France is a country full of history and culture. It’s incredibly beautiful yet what I remember most is my friends’ host family. I remember how welcoming they were, how eagerly they tried to help me with my french and made me feel like I was family. ( The crème brûlée and flammeküche didn’t hurt either )

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Ghent, Belgium is one of the most unique cities we traveled to. One that was in second place compared to Brugge on every travel website, yet to me was one of the best cities we chose. We stayed in a hostel full of people, with different stories that somehow led them to Ghent. Everyone was unique and similar at the same time. We met backpackers, workers, and students that meant to go home months ago but continued traveling. People from opposite ends of the earth came together in one room.

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Then in Denmark, we stayed with my family friends and I have never met a more amazing family in my entire life. I could write a whole other post on this family and how great they are. They were just as happy to have us, as we were to be there. They simply wanted us to see their country and had pride in it. Plus who could hate a day that starts with a tour of the castle that inspired Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and ends in a warehouse full of food trucks from around the world?

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Now back in France with my own host family, I’m reminded of the same thing. I have never seen a happier family, a dad who smiles every time he walks through the door, or a 16-year old who even in her teenage ways, spends time with the family. They are generous, kind and more than I hoped for going into my time abroad. They go out of their way to help me learn their language and encourage me to see all that this country has to offer. My time here would be nothing without them and the friends I’ve made while in this beautiful city.

These are all moments made by people. My first time traveling through Europe was amazing because my best friend is the best travel partner. We have hundreds of pictures of cities and countries but what really sticks in the end, are the people met on the way; the couple you pass on the hiking path to Bray or the father and son you talk to as you explore church roofs in Denmark. The next time you’re out traveling; talk to your neighbor on the bus or train, ask locals where to go, get involved in the city and meet all the amazing people that live there.

Most importantly, remember that a place is simply a location, but the people, they give that place life.

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