“Why would you want to go to London?” my sister asked. “They have weird food there.”
“I love new food, Ms. Ranch-Dressing-On-Everything,” I shot back. “And it’s not weird. I love fish and chips, and I’m excited to try more Indian food.”
I read an article recently titled ‘The Wanderlust Gene: Why Some People are Born to Travel’ and it describes me perfectly. Author Dan Scotti writes that “the gene itself, which is identified as DRD4-7R, has been dubbed the ‘wanderlust gene,’ because of its correlation with increased levels of curiosity and restlessness, for the most part.” I apparently inherited it, but my sister did not. I love her for steadfastness, but this conversation she and I shared in 2008 before I left for a summer abroad in London showed what little else we shared at times.
I have known since first grade that I wanted to be a writer but my sense of self hasn’t always consisted of much more than that one truth a lot of times. I dubbed the summer of 2008 as the “Summer of Yes” for myself. I would say yes to every opportunity, or as many as I could, and by doing so I learned so much about the world, and in turn, about myself. I learned how to be alone without being lonely.
I embarked on this adventure an almost 21 year-old college student who didn’t know anyone else in the program that brought students from across the country together and matched them with internships based on their fields of study. I was the Marketing and Development Intern for the Dulwich Picture Gallery, a perfect fit for this journalism major and art history minor student.
I loved working at the gallery where I had a chance to help with the filming of an episode of the BBC’s “Antiques Roadshow.” My supervisor was from Australia, my fellow intern from the Prague, another co-worker was from Germany and each one had a unique perspective of work, London, and of the world.
I also enjoyed hopping on the tube, London’s subway, after work each day and exploring somewhere new. The shops (the wonderment of Harrods didn’t disappoint), the museums, the parks, and even the universities. Because students can legally drink when they turn 18, each university in London has their own pub. I stopped into the nearest uni one evening and introduced myself to a girl in line at the bar and she introduced me to the famous Pimm’s Cup and her group of friends. We then headed to Zoo bar for dancing and it wasn’t until the wee hours of the morning that my new friends made sure I was in a legit cab (the program had warned us against unmarked cabs) to get back to my flat full of American students.
This was something new to me. People in Omaha, Nebraska are friendly, but it’s not generally a place where you could have a spontaneous evening like I did with new people. I used this new found courage to try a lot of new things. I was glad I stayed a night at Izzy’s house, a high school student I befriended during her work study program at the gallery, and got to see how the English live. I regretted taking an overnight bus with another student to Scotland where it rained the entire time and I got kicked out of a pub because I didn’t have my passport with me and the bartender refused my driver’s license as a form of ID. But had I not gone, I would have regretted it more. I enjoyed seeing Oxford with a couple friends but was a bit jealous to find out another friend had scored tickets to Wimbledon. It was a summer of endless opportunities. A weekend spent in Alicante, Spain with my roommate was planned just one night prior to the trip and it just happened to coincide with a festival going on.
After the summer program ended, some students stayed in Europe to travel until their student visas ran out and the fall semesters started. I was one of them. I left the larger of my two giant suitcases at the gallery and lugged my other bag through the tube and onto a bus where I spent a week on an Irish Whirl trip. This was a trip that catered to the retired with group dinners at hotels after which sightseeing ended promptly at sunset. I had to venture out on my own if I really wanted to see the Emerald Isle. I took a cab to Temple Bar, a cross street of pubs in Dublin, and it was one of the best nights of my life filled with conversation, Celtic dancing, and pints of Guinness.
Upon my return from Ireland, I did the whole thing over again the following week by lugging my suitcase onto a train that would take me from London to Paris in a matter of hours. Again, I ventured out on my own since the next youngest person was close to twice my age. I spent hours at the Louvre and my solo walks spanned several arrondissements. I wasn’t naïve about the dangers of traveling on my own though. I loved the freedom but was always fully aware of my surroundings. My cash for a cab came in handy when a French gentleman became a bit too pushy about his expectations for the night after chatting with me on a docked party boat. I had a blast of a drunken night with my two girlfriends back in London where we took a night bus to get around, but I didn’t try to recreate that experience once they had flown back home.
The summer that I turned 21 in London was the best summer I have ever had, and I owe a lot of who I have become to that summer. If you have the wanderlust gene, putting a priority on traveling is so important for the soul whether you’re traveling with others or alone. In two days I leave with my husband, the best travel companion a girl could ask for, on vacation and I can feel the stress of my life be washed away by a renewed spirit and sense of self.