How I Became Addicted to Travel

I guess I should start by introducing myself (or re-introducing, if you read my former blog)--I am Madison, age 19, American. I like to drink coffee, make art, read books until the early hours of the morning, and take the scenic route. In many ways I am just a normal teenage girl. Except one remarkable thing happened to me: I made a decision. 

I decided to travel. That I would do what I had always dreamed about doing one day--now. I had been researching for a piece of writing in which a girl had to travel alone on a small budget. And something just clicked. I could do that. So I left my university plans behind for a year, started working more, and spending less. I made a profile on Workaway to find a place to work part-time in exchange for room and board. I bought a plane ticket. 

Climbing Giotto's bell tower in Florence, Italy

Climbing Giotto's bell tower in Florence, Italy

What stopped me in my tracks was a single man, a border patrol agent. In Scotland, I was held up, searched, questioned, and eventually detained and sent home. I hadn't done anything wrong and yet I had. I didn't have a UK visa because I had not thought volunteering would be considered work since I was not to be paid. After some research I found that volunteering is a gray area, up to the judgement of the officer. I don't think I will ever forget this moment where I knew my thousand plus dollar return flight was being used in under three days, against my own volition. Because this was also the moment where I knew without a doubt what I wanted. I wanted to travel.

And I found a way to come back. After a few spare hours in Edinburgh, a flight home, another month spent working and planning again. Then I did France, Italy, Austria, and a handful of days in London. Back home for Christmas and to make a little money. After that, I traveled to Cambodia and Thailand where I learned through my time as an English teacher and elephant poop scooper how amazing it is to work for a cause while abroad.

A few of my students and me during  cheng leng  (recess) in Cambodia

A few of my students and me during cheng leng (recess) in Cambodia

From where I am now I have one major piece of advice: make travel happen. A year and a half ago, I had no clue that I could afford travel or that I could do it alone. So don't tell yourself that it will happen in five years, or when you have more money, or when you have time. Because it is possible now. So why wait? 

I would not change my gap year in any way. I've met so many amazing people and learned so much from history, new languages, customs, street skills, to other ways of life. I would tell anyone who wants to travel, who is at a turning point in their life to take a gap year. If you are trying to decide where to go next or what you want to do in life, a gap year will give you time to explore yourself and your ambitions.

Just hanging out on the beautiful island of Koh Tao in Thailand

Just hanging out on the beautiful island of Koh Tao in Thailand

I think the hardest part to long-term travel is that it's never quite enough. You'll always have something you did not get to see enough of or people you'll miss terribly. Back at home you will dream of lands you have seen and have yet to see--of icy mountains, a lit-up city, a forested village, a seaside retreat. Because once you have a taste of traveling, wanderlust will spread through your veins.

Mind the Gap

Welcome to my gap year blog. This virtual diary will follow me on my travels as I take a year off before college to explore the world. It started out ordinarily: visiting colleges covered in autumn colors, filling out extensive applications, trying to survive my senior year of high school. But then I decided that I had an opportunity that was about to go to waste. I had the time and freedom to take a gap year.

Here in America when I say I'm taking a gap year, I get puzzled and sometimes disapproving looks and comments about how most people who take a year off don't ever go to college. However, I will be doing my gap year in a different fashion. It is not uncommon for European kids to travel before attending a university, often backpacking or volunteering; I will be following this precedent rather than sitting at home watching Law & Order reruns. I am going to travel for at least five months out of the next year, experiencing local cultures across Europe and Asia.

You might wonder what made me decide to throw away my plans for entering college and embark on my own. Well I was writing my novel when...yep, I decided to write a novel to fulfill the senior project (a.k.a. capstone) requirement at my school. My fictional novel is about a girl who runs away from home to travel. But she doesn't have much in the way of funds or a college degree. So I began researching how she could plausibly travel the world. I spent hours looking on blogs and travel guides. I realized that travel is available to everyone. I had dreamed of traveling to every continent, yet I saw this as more of a far-off goal, something that wouldn't happen for at least another ten years.

So come late August, I will be catching a plane to England and starting my year abroad. I will be traveling alone, counting my pennies as I go. I will use this blog as an outlet for my plans, tips, experiences, and pictures. In the next couple of weeks you will read about how I am traveling affordably, what I will pack, where I will go, and how absolutely, out-of-my-mind excited I am to be living my dream.

Yours truly,