By: Ashleigh Aycock
There seems to be this world “wanderlust” floating around the internet lately. I’ve seen it on pinterest and tumblr in strange Helvetica fonts on a background of heavily photo-manipulated mountains. The word itself seems enticing. Wanderlust. It’s almost sexy and mysterious. Though hipsters have claimed the word as their own (and I don’t consider myself hipster in the slightest), I’ve stolen it. One, because it’s a pretty word, and two…well what other word in the English language correctly illustrates the feeling of wanting to just go?
I mean, I certainly go often. I’m a natural traveler. Military Brat, outdoor junkie, heck I even fly-fish! I’m no stranger to trains, planes, automobiles, mountains, caves, you name it. It’s kinda in my blood. But as I came upon my senior year of high school in 2012, college on the horizon, I began to wonder if I could do it alone. Go that is. So I thought about it. I thought about it so hard and so often that it almost seemed obsessive. I had to get out of the good old U.S.A.
Spring semester 2014 I submitted the very last page of my London abroad application. It was done. All I needed to do was wait. In April I received my acceptance, and by the last week of August I was standing by my front door with a duffle bag and a suitcase, jittery, wide-eyed, and giggly.
I’ll tell you it’s a strange feeling as the jet engines roar and the speed of the plane pushes you gently backward into your seat. Oh, I’d flown before plenty, even by myself. But there’s something about knowing such a vast expanse of roiling water lies before you and there’s sky above you so vast it makes you dizzy…it’s both awe inspiring and terrifying.
I eventually made it to London safe, tired, hungry, but wildly ready to begin my adventures. I zipped through customs in a daze, presenting my passport and blinking furiously at the accents I had only heard on T.V. and in movies. Though my cab driver was late, he was nonetheless kind and chatty, hauling my heavy luggage filled with too many clothes into his extra-small car (and let me tell you’re they’re all extra-small).
Despite my eyesight being blurry from lack of sleep, driving from Heathrow to my homestay’s house was absolutely incredible, and I would become so familiar with London that at the end of my stay I knew exactly how to get back. But on that first day everything was so shiny, new, busy, bustling, and loud that my breath was stolen from me with every sharp and dangerous turn my driver took.
I arrived at my homestay’s house. It was a tiny four story terrace house in the suburb of Kentish Town which was located just above Camden Market. My homestay guardians and their two adult children welcomed me with open arms, and my residence with them would be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. They even took me out right away to a local pub, and it was just across the street from Hampstead Heath where I tried my first Scotch Egg.
My first week of orientation to London wasn’t so much a culture shock as a thrilling rollercoaster. The most important thing in London is the transportation. The Underground is, at initial glance, one of the most confusing systems ever invented. Think D.C. Metro but less easy to navigate and with more colors. At first the map itself is so vast, with so many lines and stops and detours that one gets easily turned around. Yet by the second week I could glance at its position on the Northern Line Kennington/Morden platform with my Bean-About-Town coffee and know exactly where I needed to be. After a month or so I would come to relish the looks on traveler’s faces when they stared befuddled at their maps, feeling slightly superior in my quick assimilation into the London lifestyle of early-morning commuter.
Unfortunately, I never quite grasped the bus system that well, though red double-deckers are as cool as you think.
Let me just digress for a moment and gush about how stunning London is. Granted I saw some of Her sketchier backstreets, and spent way too many nights out past 2 a.m. on the Night Buses, but even at Her most dismal London is breathtaking. One of my first nights I spent two hours on a cab tour of London. There are no words to describe how beautiful, how big, how glittering, how magical and romantic She is lit up. Everywhere we went there was some ancient relic, Big Ben glowing brightly, or a group of impeccably dressed men and women drinking wine outside a pub. The London Eye seemed to follow wherever we went and as we passed Buckingham Palace I felt like London was home. I had made it across the Pond and, tearful, I knew it would hard to leave once December came around.
Anyway, back to the point. It’s a strange feeling when you move to a different country and find yourself becoming one of the “locals”. Okay, well maybe I wasn’t truly “local” but by the time people started asking me directions and I could tell them “Yeah, so just take a right by the Horse Guards Parade and I swear you’ll run right into Westminster Abbey”, it became hard to see myself anywhere else. Maybe it was the history and the bigness of London, its wide streets and open parks, but it seemed to me that living in London was like slipping on an old pair of reliable shoes (which are imperative if you’re visiting, just to let you know).
I traveled outside of London too of course. The study program and work hours I had allowed for free weekends and a fall break where I was lucky enough to travel. Weekend trips were devoted to Bath, Brighton, and Oxford. I was able to spend four days in Paris drinking way too much wine and trying escargot, which is surprisingly delicious. I spent another five days in Scotland visiting Inverness, where the famous Nessie lives, and traveling by train to Edinburgh, where I got to be a part of the Samhain Fire Festival. Oh and drinking way too much Scotch. Actually, looking back, I spent more 5 a.m. mornings regretting drinking that last dram rather than thinking about what I was going to do that day.
Honestly I could go on for pages about my experience, but I won’t. Instead I’ll leave you with this last paragraph because I’m out of tissues and scrolling sadly through my pictures.
The thing is it’s so easy to sit at our desk and listen to a professor lecture. It’s nice sometimes. I mean you’re getting an education, planning your future, making goals. It’s easy to get excited about life. But there is nothing compared to spontaneity or to change, to getting up and packing your bag. It’s a thrill. It’s exhilarating. Traveling does something to you. It opens your eyes to a world you only see on news channels and movie screens. I’m here to tell you something, friends: the world’s out there. There’s absolutely nothing stopping you from traveling and making new memories. It doesn’t have to be London or some far-fetched country. It can just be the mountains or a local river. Just know every new experience is worth remembering and will undoubtedly give your life more texture and meaning. So exit out of your browser, shut the computer off, and go. May wanderlust guide your way.