At 11:54am on March 15, 2014 a high-pitched scream shattered the silence of Lusty Cup’s computer lab in Bryn Mawr College’s Canaday Library. I jumped, I screamed, and I cried all at once as I saw my name listed as a 2014-2015 Thomas J. Watson Fellow on the foundation website.
I ran out of the library and with shaking hands picked up my phone. I did what any independent, strong, 21-year old woman did when they had good news to share. I immediately called my Dad. After making tons of phone calls and running through the dorm halls to tell my closest college friends, I finally sat down on my bed in my dorm room.
Suddenly, the significance of this year hit me like a ton of bricks. Me? Traveling the world for an entire year? My heart raced faster as I thought about all of the different places that I was going to see, all of the people I was going to meet, and everything that I would learn.
Almost as quickly as the excitement flooded into my mind, so did the heart-stopping fear and anxiety. I thought about disrupting my established daily routine and leaving friends, family, and loved ones behind for a year. What major events would I miss? Who would still be here when I returned?
These were questions that I struggled with as I signed my acceptance letter and began telling family and friends that I would be leaving for a year of independent, international travel.
For the next two months I focused primarily on my studies, submitted and presented my two undergraduate theses, and finally walked across the stage at graduation.
After saying goodbye to friends and spending time with loved ones on the day of graduation, I sat alone that night and thought about how I wanted to spend my last two months before I left on July 19, 2014.
There was so much to do and so little time, but I tried to do as much as possible.
I went to the beach, visited Six Flags Great Adventure and went on the new record breaking drop ride, spent time with friends, ate all of my favorite foods, visited my mother, went on an amazing tropical vacation with my family, spent time with my special someone, went shopping for supplies, researched, babysat, and spent time in court volunteering as a domestic violence court advocate.
As the date came closer and closer, I really struggled with how to prepare and how to pack for my coming year. How do I pack for a year of international travel when I don’t know exactly where I will be staying, what I will be doing, or how the weather will really be like? How do I pack for a year that involves different climates and different cultural expectations for clothing?
A few days before my trip I scattered everything I had accumulated for my trip onto my floor and slowly started to eliminate things that were not absolutely essential.
One full year of international travel and I hardly had any space in my small backpacker’s backpack and day pack. I narrowed my pile down to the following: 6 pairs of leggings, a pair of sports shorts, a pair of long pajama bottoms, two t-shirts, six three-quarter or full-length sleeve shirts, two bras, 10 pairs of socks, 20 pairs of underwear, a bathing suit, a dress, two jackets, a scarf, a cardigan, a pair of boots, a pair of sneakers, flip flops, two mini-backpacks, a watch, chargers, my phone, my iPad, my blue-tooth iPad keyboard, face cream, concealer, a wide-tooth comb, shampoo, conditioner, soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, deodorant, hair-ties, bobby pins, Advil, limited medicine supplies, a small flashlight, and a folder with all of my travel documents.
As the countdown reached its end I struggled with goodbyes. I knew that my family would be there for me when I returned, but what about all of the other people who I valued in my life? Would my friends, acquaintances, and staff members from my college, my internships, and my jobs still be there for me?
Some goodbyes were extremely bitter-sweet and were filled with huge hugs and waterfalls of tears. Other goodbyes were completely avoided.
My last few days before my trip felt like a complete blur. I did last minute planning, got my last manicure-pedicure, went to dinner with my family, and could hardly sleep during my last night in my bed.
After tossing and turning, I looked over at my phone with tired eyes and saw that the date was July 19, 2014. It was the day that I would leave everything I knew.
The morning went really fast as I gathered my things and fit everything into the back of my Dad’s car. Getting to the airport and saying goodbye to my Dad and my sister was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I tried to stay strong and tried not to show them how scared I was, but nevertheless tears poured down my face. I saw my Dad turn away and walk back to the car. I knew that he didn’t want me to see him crying.
I nervously spent the few hours before I boarded my plane with my step-mom at a diner in the airport and waiting near my terminal. I appreciated having her there for me in the terminal and had the same, difficult tear filled goodbye when I went to board my plane.
I was slightly shaking with nerves and excitement as my plane lifted into the air. I watched the New Jersey and New York skyline slowly disappear. This was it. No turning back.