Rain whipped my cheeks and the mingled smells of cows and wet soil filled my lungs as I bounced around the bed of a rickety old truck. The rotting wooden railing seemed less than capable of holding four teenagers in and hundreds of folding chairs threatened to topple onto us. My eyes stung and I had no idea where I was being taken, but bursts of delighted laughter spilled out of me as I looked all around me. To my left were crumbling shacks painted in vibrant faded pastels; to my right were miles of coffee plants and cow pastures in front of a backdrop of green-covered mountains. The drive over the pitted dirt road seemed ceaseless in the most phenomenal way. In those moments, I could not believe that I had never experienced such beauty, joy, excitement, and at the same time…peace.
I still don’t quite understand why that truck ride has had such a lasting impact me. I am a girl who has skipped across a pond at a Japanese temple, climbed to the top of St. Peter’s basilica, and floated on her back on a river winding through the rainforest…and yet I cherish an uncomfortable truck ride in Costa Rica over every other memory I possess. I think it is because I felt such an incredible freedom that I call back to myself whenever I feel dejected.
This one truck ride has not made me the person that I am today, but it is one of the many experiences that have shaped me into the girl that I imagine myself to be. Travelling and participating in service trips has been the most influential part of my life, the thing that has shaped me most. The trips I have taken have stripped down the walls of fear and shyness that once surrounded me. They have taught me to seize the joys in each experience of my life. Leaving my home and going places where I do not know anyone has forced me to become confident and self-reliant in ways that staying home could never have offered.
When I was a child, I hated meeting new people and trying new things. I clung to what was familiar. Today I am exactly the opposite. I crave new experiences that further open my eyes to the world around me because these new experiences bring new understanding with them. I am proud of myself for venturing far outside of my comfort-zone whenever I travel and for overcoming my fears each time I step onto new soil. Travel has been a fundamental part of my life, and I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to do something I love so much as often as I have. The reason I travel is because I want to experience life; I want to have so many more moments of extreme joy like my truck ride. This is who I am. I live for the joys in life, whether they are trivial or life-changing. I find these joys every day, but the most memorable and significant I have experienced through my travels. Travel is experiencing new places, people, and things; and these are the experiences that I search for.
As I sit here and write this, I can still feel the turquoise paint of the railing flaked onto my skin.