From Tourist to Traveler

Author: Rachel Neal

Tags: Semi Finalist

                Lost.

                That’s what I was last summer before I went on a life altering adventure to France, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. I had devoted sixteen years of my life to being the best I could be in school. My grades showed that I had potential, but numbers on a report card didn’t give me the fulfillment I craved. I felt like I had wasted my life trying to be the best at something that I would only ever be sub-par at, and I grew miserable. Nevertheless, I kept pushing myself to take rigorous classes and spend my time studying because that was simply what I thought I was supposed to do. I was ready to give up. All my work seemed like it would never pay off.

                I went to Europe with a travel program to be a tourist, to see all the sights. But I left as a traveler, a person who looks beyond the landmark to truly experience a place. A few hours before we boarded our plane, I met for the first time three people who would soon become my best friends. While abroad, we spent hours wandering the streets of foreign cities until we didn’t know where we were anymore. The four of us came from completely different walks of life, but we were brought together by a common adoration of adventure. It’s funny how being lost in a city with people I had only known a few weeks felt more at home than being in my own house.

                The most poignant memory that I have from that trip wasn’t from a monument or a Wonder of the World, but it was from the night I became a traveler rather than a tourist. One night my friends and I sat on a rooftop overlooking a quaint village in Italy, amazed by the splendor of a place at which we had no idea what our coordinates were. From where we were, the rooftops formed a terracotta sea, and as the sun set, the sky turned colors that complimented the waves of rooftops as everything was slowly consumed by night. As we talked, someone remarked with a voice filled with astonishment “Guys, we are sitting on a rooftop in Italy right now.” It is estimated that nearly five million people visit the Roman Colosseum each year, but nowhere near that many would sit on that same rooftop and witness the masterpiece even more beautiful than the meticulous artwork that hung in the Louvre.

                As I looked out at the terracotta sea, I began to wonder how many other places in the world held similar uncultivated splendor. I knew there were probably thousands, maybe millions. Suddenly, I wanted to learn about all of them; I wanted to have the knowledge of how they came to be, and I wanted to experience them in the fullest capacity. As I was sitting on that rooftop, a spark was lit that rekindled my passion for curiosity, for learning all I could about the world. All the information I had spent hours memorizing for school wasn’t useless, but instead each fact would help me better understand the world around me. These facts were more than tools to get a higher GPA; they were the keys to unlocking the hidden secrets of Earth. When I went to Europe I was lost, but I found my way out through the reminder of the infinite knowledge that the world held. I no longer felt empty; the spectacle of being a traveler filled the void that standardized grades never will.