Going Abroad Again: Things I’ve Learned Over the Years That I Will Take with Me to Mexico

Every morning when I wake up, I see the map of the world hanging on my wall. On the back of my door, I have all the pictures I’ve taken in my life, a lot of them taken abroad. Whenever I open my door, I am reminded of just how lucky I am to have had the privilege to travel to a lot of the places that I have in my life. Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved the feeling of being in a new place: I crave the excitement of being somewhere new, learning how to say “hello” and “goodbye,” trying the new food, and getting to know a culture that’s not my own. Well, I’m going abroad again in two months, to Puebla, Mexico. I’m no longer a teenager running through the streets of Vienna or 18 in South America. This time, I’m 21. I’ve learned a lot, come very far in a lot of ways, and I try to credit a lot of that “becoming” to the experiences I’ve had while traveling. Here are some things I’ve learned over the years and hope to keep in mind for my next adventure!

  1. 1. You will never be too old to learn something new

    This is something that I try to remember not only while I’m traveling, but at school, and at work. A lot of people act like their time as learners, as students, stops the moment they get their diploma, but that’s not true. I think that the beauty of life is learning something new every day, and when I’m traveling is when I learn the most about myself and who I am in the world.

  2. 2. It doesn't matter how much you know about the culture, you're still a visitor

    It’s important for me to remember this one because Latin culture is so close to my heart and was a huge part of my childhood. I may speak Spanish, know the culture well, and it may feel like my own, but I’ll be a visitor in Mexico, to its people and its culture.

  3. 3. Be okay with being ignorant about a lot of things

    This is something that I am most self-conscious about, looking dumb. It’s easy for me to hold my head high as a college student thinking I am incapable of making a wrong turn (literally), for saying the wrong words, and for simply not knowing. I practice embracing the moments when I don’t know the answer or what to say and not think of it myself as any less because of it.

  4. 4. Travel often to the most famous cities and the smallest towns

    I can’t stress this enough, go see as much as you can and don’t be afraid to get lost along the way. There was a time when my friend Sarah and I were traveling to a town called Baños in Ecuador. It was late at night, we were in the middle of nowhere at a truck stop waiting for a bus. In that moment there were so many “what ifs” going through my head, “what if the bus never comes?” “What if something bad happens to us? No one knows where we are.” But, that night was one of the most memorable for me because we felt so small, so free and still. For the first time I didn’t know what was going to happen next, and while it’s important to think about things like safety, it’s important to let go sometimes and to let be. We ended up getting to baños at around midnight and the town was quiet and there was music playing and locals walking down the roads. I never would’ve gotten to see the town in that way had that day gone any differently.

  5. 5. Get to know the locals

    Getting to know the locals is what I am most excited about when I go to Mexico. When I was living in Perú, my roommates and I lived with a host family and got to know them very well. However, there were six of us, and we became so close that we didn’t really need anyone else to travel with or to go out with. I am forever grateful for Sarah, Jared, Gigi, Lauren, and Sydney for being my people when we were there. We had the greatest time together. I am looking forward to have a similar connection with my roommate in Mexico and hopefully make some friends with local students while I’m down there!

  6. 6. Do something that scares you at least once

    Most of the greatest adventures I did and the memories I have come from moments of being scared, and that’s okay. You learn a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of when you’re traveling. I wouldn’t have gone paragliding if I hadn’t gotten over my fear and jumped off the side of a mountain. I wouldn’t have become best friends with my roommates had I chosen not to go with them on the adventure trek to Machu Picchu. I guess what I mean to say is, jump, swim, say “hello” to new people, places and opportunities that come your way, you’ll have so many unforgettable memories and stories to tell.

  7. 7. Make a point to call home

    I wrote this one because I really do need to remember to call my grandma today. In school and away, I tend to get wrapped up in my world, with my life and my people and my endless list of things to get done. That’s supposed to be my life at 21, I’m supposed to be experiencing life away from home! But at the end of the day, you have to call home and tell your mom, your dad, and your grandma about it all and let them know that you love them.

  8. 8. Take more pictures

    I have mixed feelings when it comes to taking pictures when I’m traveling. I mean, there are some views and moments that are just too beautiful to capture on your phone, so do I even try? The answer is yes, try and take as much as you can everywhere. The truth is that I didn’t want to look at my pictures for the longest time, not because I missed it (because I do every day) but because they were no match to the actual moments. No matter how many times I tell stories to relive those moments or explain them to family and friends, the only people who really know how it felt to be at the top of Machu Picchu that day were the people I was with. It’s been three years and I haven’t made a photo album yet, in fact my pictures are on like three different computers. But whenever I come across a picture of Machu Picchu, of Sarah and I in Ecuador or the beaches in Chile, it doesn’t feel like three years, it feels like yesterday.

  9. 9. When you come back, tell people about your adventures

    This is also a hard one because there will be people who tell you that you are gloating about your abilities to travel, but don’t let them silence you from sharing your memories with others. I’m lucky because I’ve seen more of the world at 21 than most people do in a lifetime, and that is beautiful. I’m trying to keep those memories alive by sharing them with people, not only in class, but at work and at home. Those memories that you make traveling are a huge part of who you are and if you don’t show that to others, what’s the point?

I feel old when I write this, like a grandmother telling her grandchild all about her life. Reflecting on my adventures is really important to me because it allows me to be grateful, to think about the moments I’ve had and share them with others. When I go to Mexico in the fall, I hope that I will keep these things in mind and experience new things in better ways, by taking more pictures and more risks and really living my life down there. If there’s anything I’ve learned is that the gift of travel and cultural immersion does not come around that often. So when you get the opportunity to go out into the world and live somewhere new, be present in every moment, embrace everything fearlessly, and don’t be afraid to jump and fall in love with the place that you’re in.