I’d say that nothing can really change you like travel can. I was sixteen years old, teetering on the edge of elated freedom and terrifying reality. I had never flown without my parents before, but here I was, with my best friend, about to travel across the country. Moments before, my parents had left us in, after making sure that my spanking-new debit card would be able to serve me well on our journey. Taking advantage of our newfound freedom, my friend and I stocked up on airport Oreos and fruit snacks for the plane ride. “I hope we sit next to a cute guy!” I told her, and she agreed wholeheartedly. Ten minutes later, we giggled at our wishful thinking as a bearded old man took the plane seat next to us.
We soon arrived at a tiny airport in Aspen, Colorado, where my uncle cheerfully picked us up. I think both of our mouths were still hanging open from the intense beauty of the mountains we had just flown over. He drove us to his small, downtown apartment, and we prepared the room we got to ourselves. The next morning, we woke up early and bundled up for a day on the slopes. I’d skiied back home on the East Coast, but nothing had prepared me for this feeling! The sun was warm as we gazed around us, laughing at our luck and the incredulity of the vast mountains- Buttermilk, Snowmass, Aspen Mountain- it was impossible to even keep track. We sped down the slopes, with me trying in vain to keep up with my ski-team friend and expert ski-bum uncle. I felt giddy, a little bit scared, but most of all free.
That night, my uncle brought us to a concert in Belly Up nightclub. The permanent marker Xs on our hands took days to fade off, a stern reminder of the barriers that still existed between us and the adult world. Every time the singer would cuss at the audience, we’d awkwardly avoid eye contact with my uncle, giggling while simultaneously trying to play it cool. The next days were exhilarating, as we freely wandered around town, perusing everything from the cute Thrift Shop of Aspen to the absurdly expensive workout clothing at Lululemon. We did manage to get lost a couple times, but we felt invincible anyway.
The next night, we impulsively decided to ditch the fancy dinner and catch a movie. The only problem? It started in ten minutes! We raced breathless to the ironically named New York Pizza, grabbed slices, and sprinted to the Isis Theater amidst the curious glances of passersby. Attempting to hide the contraband dinner, we bought tickets for the newest chick flick and rushed into the theater to see- no one? “We’re the only ones here!” we yelled, celebrating this personal screening with bites of the most delicious pizza I’ve ever tasted. As people started to trickle in, however, my friend and I sheepishly realized that we had gotten the showtime wrong and were just early. But I knew that the experience of sprinting through the cold city with our paper plates flapping in the wind was something we’d never forget. Also, we realized with glee, they had let us into an R-rated movie!
These days of feeling lost but liberated, young but also on the verge of adulthood, were a part of travel that nothing else could have provided us. In a new city across the country, dusted with snow and sunshine, we began to find who we truly were, and I’ll never forget that.
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