1. Learn English.
“El inglés te abrirá muchas puertas.” English opens many doors. That’s what I heard all the time while studying technical architecture at the University of A Coruña, in northwest Spain. So after graduation, I moved to Ireland to improve my language skills, thinking my dream job — drawing for an architecture firm in Madrid, Valencia, or Barcelona — would still be there when I got back.
Ireland was a fantastic experience. I lived in Galway for three months, where I learned more than just the ‘hey-I-can-hear-you-and-I-can-tell-you-things-now’ level of basic English. I also realized that travel can be something far more meaningful than the seven-day holidays to the Cantabric village of Noja my family takes every August.
I always knew my English vocabulary would never be like Thomas Pynchon’s, but at least it would allow me to travel, meet people, buy smoked salmon almost anywhere, and understand a few party jokes.
2. Experiment with solo travel.
When I was little, my grandmother and I were the early birds of the house. We had breakfast together. She ate kiwis. I ate Cheerios. And every day she kept prodding me to eat a kiwi: “¿Quieres uno?”
“Arggg, no me gustan,” I used to say.
“Pero si nunca los has probado.”
That “but you’ve never tasted them” line annoyed me. I’d tasted them, and I didn’t like them. Period.
After Ireland, I wanted to know if traveling was really my thing. So I packed my sports bag and went to some place cheap and close to try something new. Portugal and surf sounded good to me. Just five days later, I’d couchsurfed with strangers, made a dozen friends from all over the globe, and lost some skin from my left foot after trying to surf where a local had discouraged me.
Back home, grandma asked how it went” “¿Qué tal?”
“Espectacular, abuela. Espectacular.”
After seven months studying renewable energy in my hometown of León, I needed to find work for two months in order to finish my master’s degree. I applied for internships at 50 different energy companies. I told them the university would pay the insurance taxes and the necessary expenses. Some companies didn’t even answer me, and others just responded with witty negative comments about Spain’s dire economic situation.
While I searched for a job, my good friends Manu and Nuria, a couple in their mid-30s from Catalonia, were traveling through British Columbia. They sent me a picture of a sunrise from a beach in Tofino, a small town on the west coast of Vancouver Island. They were using HelpX and Workaway to find hosts and places to stay in exchange for work.
“This is perfect for you, Marco,” they wrote to me in a Facebook message. “You would love to travel this way.” By that time, I was almost begging companies to let me work for them for free. The photo and Facebook message got my attention. “Why not?” I thought.
I signed up, filled out my profile, and sent out emails to faraway hostels scattered all over Europe. Some hours later, a nice hostel in Skopje, Macedonia replied, asking if I could start in August.
I didn’t hesitate. “I’ll be there,” I wrote back.
4. Get ready, chill out, and say goodbye.
As I was returning home from buying my new blue backpack, I started thinking about all the things I’d need to carry on my travels. I spent the next few days running a lot to calm my nerves. I saw everything León has to offer because I ran through the entire city: the center, the river, the outskirts.
Finally, my departure day arrived. I stood in the waiting room of León’s train station, holding my heavy blue backpack with one hand, and my ticket of hope with the other. My mother was crying, but she knew perfectly well Spain wasn’t enough for me. It isn’t enough for most Spaniards under the age of 25, almost 55% of whom are unemployed. We must decide whether to live with our parents until God-knows-when, or go into adventure mode and find opportunity abroad.
“Hasta luego,” I said, and hopped on the train to the Madrid airport.
5. Fly away.
Just before leaving the country, I was thinking about Wallace. He’s a mixed-breed dog — part pointer, part beagle — who was found by the police on an empty road outside the city. When we met him, he was just six months old, and my parents and I decided to take care of him. Since that day, Wallace has been part of my family. Sometimes I even call him Wallace Delgado just for fun. He’d found his home.
“Now it’s my turn,” I thought before the plane took off.
Skopje, Macedonia. My new home for a month. And then what? I still didn’t know.