The First Time Travel Advice You Actually Need

Rachel in Italy

As the youngest of four, I will forever be the baby. This year on family vacation my mom actually asked, “Does someone have the baby?”

With this in mind, you can imagine my family’s apprehension when I applied to spend a summer in Italy, BY MYSELF.

Four girls in Chicago

My sisters and I in Chicago!

Dropping me off at the airport was a family event. Even my sister who lives in Orlando was flown into Nashville to see me off. Before waving at me through security, everyone was giving me all sorts of one-liner advice – from the obvious to the comical.

“Don’t walk down alleys at night.”

“Try the pistachio gelato.”

“Bring a deck of cards.”

When I landed in Italy – although bleary eyed and jet lagged – I was ecstatic. There is a surreal feeling that comes over you when you realize you are finally doing something you have always dreamed of doing. My entire trip was in front of me and I couldn’t wait. My summer in Italy was like a dream. Before I left I had virtually no idea what to bring, but luckily I had unpacked my expectations and my fears, which in turn revealed to me a world of possibilities.

View of an Italian town

View of my summer home, the small town of Urbino.

When things went wrong, which they often do, I found myself to be a surprisingly competent problem solver. I was able to make every wrong turn and every missed bus (because, yes, I missed several) into a new opportunity; I even said ‘yes’ to things I never would have dreamed of doing that I ended up loving.

One of my favorite experiences was going to an opera at an outdoor theater. As a college student, an opera wasn’t exactly my scene but during the second act there was a meteor shower. Hearing the amazing symphony accompanied by the beauty of the cosmos was a once-in-a-lifetime event I would have missed had I turned down an opportunity based on face value.

friends in the Italian countryside

My friends and I dressed up before the opera!

This trip changed me in unforeseen ways. Although I’m still the girl who left her wallet in a Chipotle the day before she embarked on her first solo trip abroad, I am no longer the one who is phased or nervous before an adventure. Two years ago, I never would have imagined that I would have the opportunity to visit 13 countries, spend over a year outside of the United States before graduating college, or have the luxury of getting to study abroad on four separate occasions.

Girls on a camel in Israel

Riding camels in the Judean Desert in the Middle East.

Actually doing something alone, something entirely for myself, showed me how capable I am and how detrimental self-doubt can be. Before I left I never would’ve believed I could navigate another country by myself, learn another language, or even fly overseas on my own. Now I’m the girl who has spent significant time on two continents.

Rachel eating gelato

They were right about the gelato.

Before I left I was given some advice, some of it helpful, some of it parental fears. But, here are a few things I wish people would have told me instead:

“You’ve got this.”

“The things you are worried about now are not the things you should be worried about.”

“You WILL make friends.”

The most important thing I would like to leave you with is…

If you can, you should.

Some opportunities are once-in-a-lifetime, so be sure to take advantage of them.


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