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This article is pulled from a MatadorU forum thread that was just too awesome to keep from the light of day.

I WOULD VENTURE that most everyone who’s made travel a part of their lifestyle can tell you where they were when they realized they wanted to see, taste, hear, smell, and experience as much as possible. When they realized that travel didn’t just happen to them — they traveled because that’s what they were now called to do.

I was in Verona, Italy, 20 years old and one month into a three-month baptism of international travel. I’d humped a rucksack full of novels from town to town, piazza to piazza, thirsty for the flavor of life I found in quiet moments on cobbled streets. I was a young man, just starting to figure out who and what I was. In that sense, I was looking for an identity and was a ready vessel.

I’d just finished a book that had consumed my free hours of leisure and train travel, and as I closed the cover and looked out over the city from the hill I’d climbed, I just suddenly knew: Travel was a part of me. I knew I wanted to finish books on hilltops and close the cover to see new cities, over and over. What I didn’t know was that I would go on to become a professional travel storyteller or join the Matador team, but something had clicked — I recognized myself as a traveler and not just some guy that was really far from home.

For me it was a sort of holy moment — a travel satori — where my mind saw a more distant horizon than my eye and beckoned me forth. I wanted to see if some of the students at the U had had the same experience.

They had.

When did you first know you were a ‘traveler’?

Stephanie:
I knew I wanted to be traveler when I was about 12. Every Sunday I’d page through the Los Angeles Times’s bulky travel section and fill out all the cutout forms and send them away for travel brochures and flyers. I still remember scoring an actual travel book about Tahiti.

I don’t think I knew for sure I was a traveler until I went on a trip to France with my parents and sister during my senior year of high school. While on the trip, as is to be expected, I experienced a few unknown situations (e.g., not knowing exactly how to flush a toilet and not understanding that “fromage de tete” was head cheese when ordering a meal in Paris). However, those small mishaps made everything exciting and turned travel into an adventure.

I was hooked and saved up money to travel to Europe again the next summer. Two years later, I studied for a semester in the Netherlands. Over the years, my feelings of being a traveler have just intensified, because I wanted to travel and write about it. Finally, I don’t want to just write bulleted points in a journal, I want to be a storyteller, too.

Natalie:
I would have to say the moment that I knew I was going to be a life-long traveler would be when I was in Sinai. We had driven three hours on a dirt road out to the edge of the Red Sea. The western edge of Saudi Arabia shone bright in the distance while our camp at Ras Abu Galum was shadowed by the blue mountains and there was a gentle, warm breeze that carried the scent of the sea.

I was dipping my toes in the water while watching a camel caravan navigate their way along the rocky shore to Dahab and I knew. I knew that I wanted a million of these experiences throughout my life and I would not be content without them. That’s when the wanderlust really began and when I knew that I could not keep these experiences to myself. So I began writing and here we are today.

Adam:
The moment I got in a car and drove from New York to Texas in a day and a half…by myself. I knew at that moment settling was not in the cards. Once you’re out there…you really don’t come back from that. I remember how frustrated I was when I got pulled over for unknowingly driving in an HOV lane in Washington DC during rush hour. Plenty of people were doing it, but the cops only seemed to be picking off those with out-of-state plates. All of that anger was worth it when I finally got to Austin for the SXSW Festival.

Later on that year I’d drive from Michigan to California. In six months I saw more of the United States than most people see their entire lives…I’ve been stuck since then, but I’ve finally found a way to make this life happen. I have grand dreams of living a nomadic life…the best part is that they’ll only be dreams for a short time before I start making them happen. Matador is going to help me accomplish this!

Daniel:
Although I was hopping on planes since I was one, I really felt I was a traveler only when I turned 30 and decided to offer myself my first backpacking trip (without any plans) to 2 countries I’ve always wanted to visit: Ireland and Iceland.

That, combined with my new passion for photography that year, changed completely my whole life and made me quit my job and become a full-time freelance travel photographer.

Jennifer:
Interesting question. I’ve spent so much of my life moving around different towns and countries I think I just grew up with it. My mother was obsessed with the Classics so we were travelling around Greece, Turkey, and the Mediterranean since I was 7 years old, taking local buses to see obscure archaeological sites. I’ve never been happy staying in one place for too long, and travel makes me feel so alive. I hated going to beach resorts even in my teens and preferred staying in small villages with locals. I think it’s become more and more infectious as I’ve got older though — especially since taking my first trip alone to Venice after finishing my PhD, I’ve felt braver about travelling alone.

I don’t think I could ever move back to the UK. I’ve spent my childhood abroad and then moved away again when I was 20 and never regretted it.

Nicola:
Like Steph said, I always knew I *wanted* to be a traveller, and over the last few years have been doing just that, but I had my own identity shifting moment just last year. I was living here in Bilbao but in a flat that was inside a house where two elderly people lived. It was kind of a weird setup — I had to walk through their house to get to my flat, and sometimes I got invited to family dinners or to go for a drink with them.

I had a week off for Easter and I’d decided on the spur of the moment to head to the south of Spain and volunteer in an organic fruit farm (with Help Exchange). I’d just had to explain to my workmates what I was doing and answer their questions (“you’re going alone?” “you found this last night?” “you’re planning to spend your week holiday working?” “you don’t know the people you’re going to stay with?” — yes, yes, yes, and no). They all thought I was crazy.

When I got home, I knew I was going to have a bit of trouble explaining to my elderly landlords. I thought they wouldn’t ‘get’ it either. I considered lying just to make things easier (“I’m going to stay with friends”), but decided to go with the truth and after a while trying to explain in slow English and broken Spanish, the man turned to me and stared at me for a while before nodding and saying “Ahh, you, are an adventurer” in a really slow and deliberate way. I think my mouth opened and closed a few times like a fish before I confirmed that I was! It was a great moment. He didn’t just ‘get’ it, he ‘got’ me too.

I’d been having a bit of an identity crisis about what the hell I was doing with my life at the time, so it was definitely a moment that sticks out for me as I continue down this path!

When did you first recognize yourself as not just someone who has traveled but a ‘traveler’? Leave your tale in the comments.

Student Work

 

About The Author

Joshywashington

Joshywashington is a Travel Media Ninja from Seattle who enjoys writing, climbing trees and strong coffee.

  • Scott Hartman

    I still don’t know if I am one… started in motion over thirty years ago… maybe when I stop I’ll give the question some thought :)

  • Rosa Lia

    Travel is simply when I’m happy. Not a life-is-working-out kind of happy, but an even-if-everything-goes-wrong-I-wouldn’t-want-to-go-back kind of happy.

    The closing a book on a hilltop moment, for me, was in Morocco. I’d booked the ticket on an insomnia trip and couldn’t believe what I’d done the next morning. Going alone freaked me the fuck out. But meeting people when I was so stripped down like that made it much more intense. It was much easier to share. And everything was so spontaneous. I could go where I wanted, when I wanted, if I wanted.

    The actual moment though, was sat beneath a waterfall (Cascades d’Ouzoud). It was night and looking up you could see the spray and the stars and the sound of it was so loud. It was the way the water moved the air though. It made this strong breeze. It felt like I had wings.

  • Mike Mentz

    For me, it was on an overnight bus from London to Paris. It was pitch black, cold, and drizzling outside. I was traveling alone, and although it wasn’t the most comfortable seat, it was saving me money by doubling as my bed for the night. I was paying vague attention to a very small screen 5 rows up playing Pretty Woman dubbed over in French when, as we rounded a bend near the coast at quarter til midnight, I caught my first glimpse of the White Cliffs of Dover in the pale yellow floodlights of the customs building that processed buses and cars before they boarded the English Channel ferry. As everyone got off the bus to stretch their legs, I stood in the chilly mist, my eyes drinking in every inch of my surreal surroundings that, due to the hour and my weariness, I had to silently convince myself were real.

    At this moment when I was tired, cold, achey, and hungry, I found myself consumed instead with an intense feeling of exhilaration. I felt alive. I knew I was seeing something very special, something that I would try to share with friends one day, something that I would write songs about. I knew right then that it was something I would never stop doing.

    I knew that I was a traveler.

    • Mary Rhee

      beautifully written, mike, thanks for sharing

    • Art by Chum

      Inspiring stuff Mike, you took me there… And now I want to paint but its bed time!

    • Tiffany Fitchett

      my best friend’s aunt makes $65 an hour on the computer. She has been fired for 5 months but last month her check was $19188 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more here………….. http://www.Up2000.com

  • Maarit Tymchyshyn

    On a train from Moscow-Riga. Nineteen, alone and oh-so-green. It was my first solo trip-abroad and I had just finished a 3-week language course in St.Petersburg. I had that moment, the “Oh my god, I’m actually doing this. I’m traveling alone in a country that I barely know the language and I have innumerable possibilities at my feet.” moment. I knew after that, there was no way I could spend the rest of my life in a small town in the middle of the Canadian prairies where there were no strangers. So, I knew that travel was my future.

  • Martina Mc Auley

    I started traveling and working around Europe on my own about 16 years ago. I left everything behind me in London: turned down a promotion at work, left my house, car and friends and headed off into the unknown, with the challenge of having to find work in every country I went to. It was the best experience of my whole life and I managed to find a job in four different countries.

    I’m not really sure when I found out I was a traveler but I think it might have been when I stopped traveling in 1998 for a two year period, to find longer term work. I got a bad case of ‘itchy feet’. It wasn’t just the need to be on the move, I missed heading off to somewhere new, meeting new people, learning about different cultures, hearing new languages, experiencing life on the road and all the challenges that brings with it. Every three or four months I need to travel. I get really cranky and restless if I don’t. So for me, that’s a sign that I’m an adventurer and will always be one.

  • Jenn Campbell

    The first time I got on a plane I had just graduated high school and was moving to China- a country where I knew not a single soul. I think something happened to me on that long and terrifying flight. I got a sense of active participation in my own life and the world I lived in. Beautiful things weren’t just going to be seen on the pages of books any more.

    I started to grow with that trip but I don’t think I realized I was a traveler until recently. I was on a flight, filling in the customs forms and found myself hesitating on the question where you’re asked to fill in your address. I could put my parents’ place or my best friend’s but truth is that I’m a traveler and while I hate to say ‘homeless’ I have no fixed address.

    • Evelyn Prefontaine

      Your never homeless as long as I am alive. Even if it is just the address you use. You will always have a place to come back to when your ready. I am glad your happy with your life. I am also proud of you for living your dream.

    • Heather McPhee

      lol put your home as “EVERYWHERE” instead of “homeless”

  • Monica Comercio Layton

    I finished college at 21 and bought an open ticket from Buenos Aires to London. I’d been obsessed with England ever since I was 4 years old, long before I learned that my great-grandfather was English. I spent a year in Europe. I met people who welcomed me into their homes even though they didn’t know me. First I worked as a clerk in the Argentine Consulate in Madrid. In London I worked as a tea lady and on the production line of a chocolate factory. I was also a clerk at Aquascutum, the Royal College of Nursing, and Central Middlesex Hospital. I lived in Grünwald, a wealthy suburb of Munich, where I was an au-pair for an actress and her family. I stayed at Youth Hostels from Corfu to Hamburg and I hitchhiked. Traveling was easy. Whether I was with new friends or by myself, no matter what part of the world I was in, I felt at home. It was like walking into a fairy tale I had read and was familiar with. Knowing that God had created this beautiful world made me feel safe and curious about all the other wonders that are still out there waiting for me to discover them.

  • Monica Comercio Layton

    I finished college at 21 and bought an open ticket from Buenos Aires to London. I’d been obsessed with England ever since I was 4 years old, long before I learned that my great-grandfather was English. I spent a year in Europe. I met people who welcomed me into their homes even though they didn’t know me. First I worked as a clerk in the Argentine Consulate in Madrid. In London I worked as a tea lady and on the production line of a chocolate factory. I was also a clerk at Aquascutum, the Royal College of Nursing, and Central Middlesex Hospital. I lived in Grünwald, a wealthy suburb of Munich, where I was an au-pair for an actress and her family. I stayed at Youth Hostels from Corfu to Hamburg and I hitchhiked. Traveling was easy. Whether I was with new friends or by myself, no matter what part of the world I was in, I felt at home. It was like walking into a fairy tale I had read and was familiar with. Knowing that God had created this beautiful world made me feel safe and curious about all the other wonders that are still out there waiting for me to discover them.

    • Pupe Anganuzzi

      MUY BUENO !!!!!!!!!!

    • Juan Daniel Videla

      linda experiencia!

  • Travel Wanderings

    I think we knew when we were in Japan. We were teaching English and were based out of a small town in Kyushu where not many people spoke English. It was tough, but we were getting used to where to go, what to do, how to live, etc. etc.

    We were riding our bikes back from the grocery store (like we did every day) and we stopped by a bench to have a snack and a cool drink. We were relaxing on the bench, the sun was shining down, and a cool breeze was blowing just enough to cool us off a bit. We could hear the cicadas chirping loudly and some kids rode by on their bikes, giving us a look as they sped by.

    We were enjoying relaxing on the bench and Tim said: “What if EVERY day could be just like TODAY? Like every day we could go to the grocery store and it would be an ADVENTURE!” and I think we both knew at that moment that there was no way we were going to stay in one place for the rest of our lives.

  • Steve

    I’ve always known that I wanted to to see the world, but never knew I wanted to be a traveler until recently. I’ve always looked up to my elderly grandparents’ pictures and stories of times past, traveling through Europe together in the 1960s and 70s, before some cities that are today flocked with tourists, were even a spot on a map to many. They romanticized the lifestyle and the places they traveled on their journeys, and it was enthralling and terrifying at the same time to think of doing the same.

    I positioned myself, naturally, to follow their footsteps and venture off for 6 months of my life. The moment I realized that travel was going to be part of my life forever, and I myself would always be a traveler, was a on a June evening standing on the top of the Danauturm in Vienna, Austria with an amazing Czech woman I recently fell madly in love with. Looking over the city with the sun setting over Stephansdom and the Alpine foot hills, and with the woman of my dreams in my arms, the travel that my grandparents romanticized about and claimed changed their lives all made sense. I realized travel isn’t about the places you physically see or the places you check off your bucket list, but the relationships you build, new and old, as a consequence of immersing yourself into a new culture and surrounding and allowing yourself to be vulnerable to the unknown. Having that feeling that night, and as an American learning that it is alright to show the passion that you have for someone else, made me realize that this is a high that I will chase my whole life

  • Paola Analy

    I’m from Mexico. When I turned out 15, my family and I went on our first 24h road-trip travel to Cancun. It felt so good, and the whole experience was so different to what I was used to ( I wondered how people can be and think so different from one place to another even in the same country) that I started thinking in study tourism. that experience just changed my life for good. And I didn’t realized it at the time.

    Every time since then when I saw people traveling around the world on TV I felt excited.

    Then when I was 20 already studying tourism with some help I got to go to work and live to the US during the summer vacations, which helped me see the world from a much wide open perspective.

    A year later I did it again. I went to a different state in the US and it only intrigued me more and turned my six-years-ago question to a statement: “People is and think completely different from one place to another, no matter how close they are to each other”.

    That year (one year ago) I realized I was a traveler, that I wanted to see how people is, think and live, their different cultures and traditions, make an adventure from it and just enjoy life.

  • Jill

    Linnea and I had just exited the tour bus in the pouring rain. Tropical North Queensland, in quiet, subdued, exotic Kewarra Beach. We had just returned from a day tour to Cape Tribulation, the farthest north you can travel in Australia without 4WD. We had seen wild cassowaries, bearded dragons and drunken the sweet adventure serum only the sound of “Where the rainforest meets the sea” could conjure up. Like I said, the rain was pouring, the tour was over. Linnea and I had met 2 days prior during my first couchsurfing experience with a local Aussie called Nevan. Linnea, a young and exicted German, and I began running through the streets to avoid the rain. Realizing not getting wet was a fruitless effort, we jumped through giant rain puddles, maddeningly, high on life. It was then Linnea expressed, “This is life! This is REALLY LIVING!” That was the moment I knew I’d be a traveler from now until I died. That moment, and so many countless moments since then, have been “REALLY LIVING.” When’s the last time you were so exhilarated by life that you were forced to exclaim that you were really living?

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