Stepping off the plane in Rome was as if I had just landed on the moon. I’d arrived somewhere I thought I’d only get to visit in my dreams. I had waited years for this – maybe even a lifetime. Immediately, I felt lighter. Excitement was making me almost float as I walked up the gateway. And then, approaching passport control, I broke out into a happy dance as I strutted down the hallway. A little zig-zag side to side and forward and back. My hips playfully doing a little shimmy to the rhythm of my steps. There is video evidence of this somewhere but I have never seen it. Probably best that I not know what I looked like! It was performed many times in many different places over the next many days around the city.
If I knew what people saw, I might certainly feel embarrassed! But, at the time I certainly didn’t care. And, my travel partner (a classmate from university) took great pleasure in seeing this.
He was a seasoned traveler and was delighted to see that someone our age (a ripe old 23…) could feel childlike glee – and that’s exactly what it was. The small girl in me was taking her very first trip abroad. And, from that moment, I was forever changed.
And I hadn’t even seen the outside of the airport yet! But that didn’t much matter. The knowledge that I was in this foreign place with signs covered in a foreign language; that I would be lost and anonymous. How thrilling! But I also felt so calm. As someone with social anxiety (although, I had no name for it at the time), I had become so used to the feeling of internal ‘shivers’ and slight tense muscles that I no longer thought of it as stress in my body; that was just my normal state of being. That feeling of pins and needles and unrest that comes with anxiety was like breathing to me. But in that moment of stepping into an unknown city, it went away. The only time I’d ever known that type of calm before then, was stepping into the extremely familiar space of my childhood home. And so, I was home.
Travel – more specifically, exploring – is home to me.
As far as first trips go, Rome – and Italy as a whole – is a worthy one; such history
juxtaposed with modern chaos. I loved every minute of it. It is also where I discovered my true travel rhythm; one where I could move freely and without hesitation. No need to rush around and scurry to see every item on a checklist but revel in the sweet silence of the
random side street, sit by the river, walk away from the main direction of the tourist crowds.
Don’t get me wrong, I did see many of the top tourist sites. We made a daily pilgrimage to the Pantheon, I sat looking up in awe at the Sistine Chapel and even threw in a penny to the Trevi fountain. But my favourite memories from that trip were the moments in between. Experiences that are indicative of the place but not uniquely isolated to it. Local, but universal.
I also noticed that at the end of my 5 days in Rome, something that brought me great pleasure was being able to easily navigate our way back to the hostel without the need of a map. I could find my way to that gelato shop from just about any place around the main central areas. Turning corners without really needing to look up – just knowing that this left or right was the one that took us where we wanted to go. To me, it meant that I had lived there… the streets were my own now.
This was the beginning of my love affair with travel and those feelings are ones I seek out wherever I go. Stepping off planes now, I don’t quite do a happy dance… but the feeling inside is much the same. I am calm and eager to make the streets my own.