by Sara Martz
I was studying abroad in a small town in Italy, in a program with only 14 other students. I was in a foreign country living with 9 other girls in a three bedroom apartment. I spent every day with the same 14 people. I was desperate to get away. So, when the opportunity presented itself for me to spend Thanksgiving with an old friend who lived in London, I jumped on it. I was young, I was naive, I was impulsive, and I was terrible with money.
Looking back it wasn’t the best decision to make financially, seeing as I only had 50 euro to my name. I also had finals coming up, and so much homework that needed to be done. The program directors hadn’t even fully given me the okay to go anywhere. Despite all of this, I purchased a plane ticket and went anyway. It ended up being one of the best trips of my life, and I will never forget the lessons it taught me about traveling.
It’s ok to be a tourist
I grew up in a very popular tourist destination, and have grown to hate tourists of all types. I don’t go to touristy spots, and I try my best to live as the locals do wherever I go. This is to some extent, a really good way to travel. However, there are reasons some places are considered tourist traps. They can be incredible and unforgettable in a way that makes you want to go back time and time again. The day my friend suggested we go to Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, I was very uneasy. I only agreed because I have seen Winning London and What A Girl Wants more times than most, and needed to see the Queen’s Guards in person. We emerged from a park and onto a very busy street, and there it was. Buckingham Palace in all it’s glory, and I was blown away by how beautiful it was. I didn’t even notice the people around me or in my photos. I was left in a daze, but we ventured on through another park and past some buildings. I hadn’t noticed where we were going, and suddenly I was on the London Bridge looking up at Big Ben and the Parliament building. Again, nothing else seemed to matter. It was beautiful, and all I cared about was staring and admiring. It was a very small piece of London, and I left not caring if I looked just like every other tourist there. I know I will one day go back and happily do it all over again.
You don’t have to photograph everything
This is a poorly shot photo from my film camera I carried around for the three days. This was before everyone had iPhones, and I brought one roll of film with 6 pictures left for the city I had always dreamt about going to. I had assumed my friend (who is a professional photographer) would take all the photos and capture every moment on her nice DSLR. She didn’t. She used her camera just about as often as I did. I don’t care at all that I have few photos of my time here. I don’t need photos to remember the many places I went, and the people I met. I spent quality time with my friends, and we had a blast without the need to take photos of it. This photo reminds me that earlier I spent the day at a local artists bazaar and ate weird food from vendors, later I would go and get ready in a London townhouse that looked right out of Harry Potter, and then I would venture to this beautiful winter festival in a park downtown. After this photo was taken my friends and I took the London Underground, went to a pub in a different part of the city and I drank my first beer. I learned that it’s one thing to get a photo of just a single moment, and another to take photos of everything that happens. I remember the days spent there more than I would have if I hid behind my camera, and I try to remind myself this on every trip I go on.
Try something new
You can’t tell from this photo, but there are a lot of firsts going on. If you had told me the morning this photo was taken that I would go out wearing a tight, black pencil miniskirt and wing tipped eyeliner, I would have laughed at you. I was shy, extremely self conscious, and never did anything to my appearance outside of my comfort zone. My friend and her roommates wanted to dress me and do my makeup for my first and only night out in London. I felt like I was pushed through a door and into a crazy party I wasn’t prepared for. It was exhilarating. I felt confident, and what followed was a lot more firsts. I had my first “glass” of mulled wine. It was like heaven opened up in a tiny styrofoam cup. I went to my first pub, and had my first beer. My friends and I chatted briefly with a group of British guys, and then we ended the night singing songs while waiting for the train. I experienced London’s nightlife with no rules and a confidence to step out of my comfort zone. I would have never done any of these things because I always worry about what others think, and my friends were quick to remind me that I was in a huge foreign city and I probably would never see those people again. My last night in London was spent in pure bliss. So now, I try to remember that traveling is actually the perfect opportunity to push yourself out of your comfort zone, and a great excuse to wear a miniskirt.