In light of my 20th birthday I’ve been consciously reflecting on the experiences I’ve had during my teenage years. I’m attempting to remember all the phases (& there were A LOT of them). To acknowledge all the emotions, the changing faces, the heartache; the progression and pure confusion. The specifics of everything that happened and the choices I made that lead me here. I can’t help but feel like my future self is watching me through my memories right now so this is my way of capturing what it was like to be a teenager while it’s still fresh in my mind.
There’s many gaping holes in my recollection but I can remember my 13th birthday vividly. We drove for countless hours into the middle of the desert in Namibia. I spent most of the day learning how to drive a left handed stick shift pickup. By the time we got to camp I was exhausted. I ran off by myself, climbed a huge rock formation and laid like a starfish at the top. As I watched the sun set over the sand dunes I could feel the change in the air. There was a storm coming.
Now, on my 20th birthday, I’m coincidentally riding in the back of a pickup truck through the desert in Jordan. Everything has changed but I can’t help feeling that something greater than myself has lead me back to the desert today. Being in the middle of the desert emphasizes how tiny human footprints are in the sand. If I had the chance to go back and tell my ignorant 13 year old self something, I wouldn’t say a word because I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be today. As I’m looking out over this strange, alien landscape I can almost see film grain dancing over years of warped memories. Such an unbelievable amount of life experiences have gone down since I was that 13 year old girl, staring up at the sky, wondering what would happen next. My life feels so full and complicated and beautiful that I’m literally writing a book to capture it all. For now let’s touch on the relevant parts.
High school hit me with a tidal wave of depression and self harm. I have trouble looking back at this time in my life because I don’t know who that person was or where she came from. I was angsty, angry and full of emotions I didn’t know how to deal with. Being in useless classes I had no interest in was mind numbing. Having to sit through it all for 8 hours a day with children I had nothing in common with made everything so much worse. I surrounded myself with poisonous people that only poured fuel onto my fire of negativity. I completely lost touch with who I am on every level. It took becoming the absolute worst version of myself to find the motivation to change my life. Traveling with the least grateful person I’ve ever met was the straw that broke the camel’s back. When I came back from spring break my Sophomore year I tested out of all my classes and graduated high school at 16. I broke off relationships with almost every person I knew. That part was messy and uncomfortable but it was a clean break that probably saved my life. I thrived in college, finally being able to study fascinating subjects on a schedule that worked from me. I shook some bad habits and made a few more in the process but for the first time I felt in control of my own destiny. I finished my first 2 years of college with an AS in Behavioral and Social Sciences with Honors in Astronomy before my class graduated high school in 2016.
I spent 5 consecutive summers (age 14-18) traveling to every country in Europe and the experiences I had there shaped me as a person more than anywhere else in the world. One summer spent biking through the endless sunflower fields and chateaus in Southern France. Another summer exploring the lesser known but equally beautiful corners of Eastern Europe. I drank my first beer with my dad after hiking in the Swiss Alps and ate traditional German sausage from the oldest sausage house in Germany. I spent a month sailing on a long ship from Romania to Amsterdam via the entire Rhine and Danube rivers. Chasing castles became one of my favorite hobbies and my love for photography was born. I even got arrested in Rome when I was 18 for flying my drone *near* the Colosseum.
In 2016 I faced my biggest fear: falling. I bungee jumped 220m (750 feet) in Switzerland, the 3rd highest jump in the world. After turning 18 and graduating from college I was asked countless times what I was going to do with my life next. My relationship with my boyfriend exploded in my face. I felt so pressured to make a decision that I got a ticket to Europe with my friends to go backpacking instead. It began as one of those cliché attempts at finding myself and turned out to be the most special trip of my life. The conclusion I came to was that I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, face all my fears and experience the world in a way I never imagined possible. This bungee jump was the climax an indescribable spiritual journey. After my feet left the top of the dam all the emotional and physical stress that had overwhelmed me for so long up until that moment ceased to exist. Completely unfiltered emotion poured out of me and resulted in the most relieving sensation I’ve ever felt.
The very first time I thought about breaking the world record for the Youngest Person to Travel to Every Country was on October 2, 2016. I had just gotten back from Morocco and I can remember exactly where I was. I came to San Diego to visit one of my best friends from high school. I was laying in his bed unable to sleep, my friends scattered all over the floor. It was nearly 3 am when it hit me. I reached for my phone excitedly and looked up the Guinness World Record for the first time and when I discovered the current record holder’s age (24 and 192 days) I knew at that exact moment I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t give this everything I’ve got. Worst comes to worst, I just travel a lot. What could go wrong?
Learning the importance of having someone that understands you
Its sad to think that people live their whole lives without finding a soulmate. Every person needs an accomplice and there is no one in this world that I love more than Brynn. She was the first friend I ever brought on a family trip and the first person I ever traveled alone with.
She walked into my life almost 9 years ago and we’ve been running ever since. We’ve traveled to 15+ countries together, experiencing what it really means to share your life with someone. Rarely do you find someone who is an extension of yourself, someone who is both capable and worthy of unconditional love.
I coerced her into spending all the money she’s ever made on travel and these are the memories that warm my heart the most. Riding on the backs of camels through the Sahara Desert as the Milky Way appeared over our tented camp. Reading books together on bullet trains through Japan during cherry blossom season. Getting lost in the Hermitage Museum in Russia. Pushing each other to climb to new heights in the Swiss Alps. Flirting with countless boys who barely spoke English. Sun soaked summers, running around recklessly and getting into all kinds of mischief.
With her I feel like I’ll never have to face the world alone. We’ve always said that we are one person in two bodies and together we fill in each other’s weaknesses. However far away I run from everyone else in my life I know she’s with me. Soon we will have known each other longer than we haven’t. I realize how rare it is to find a life partner with zero ulterior motives. Its crazy to think I’ll never have another relationship with someone like I do with her because of the history we share. We went through all the phases, the highs and the lows, together. I feel like the luckiest person that has ever lived, especially because I traveled to 24 countries with my best friend while we were still teenagers.
These have been the greatest and most difficult years of my life. Sometimes I look in the mirror and don’t recognize the person staring back at me. I’m grateful for all the nights that turned into mornings, friends that turned into family, and dreams that turned into reality. Somewhere along the way I learned that everything is temporary; people, places, emotions. I learned that you simply can’t love others until you love yourself. I’ve given myself permission to be vulnerable because its too easy to be cold in a world that makes it so very difficult to stay soft. I learned all things come in twos like a divine unspoken duality. Life and death. Pain and joy. Beauty and ugliness. Realizing that you’ll never be this young again but this is the first time you’ve ever been this old. Its the balance of the universe. Its the experience of hurting that makes feeling good so good. I’ve learned that just talking about it really will fix just about anything. I’ve come to accept that most people who enter into our lives are drifters and their only purpose is to enhance the moment or teach us a lesson or two. I’ve also learned how to identify the nomadic from the ones who are here to stay and that has made all the difference.
I remember asking my dad what he wanted me to be when I grew up and his answer was always the same, “happy”. So in this moment, happiness is my only full time job. After all, life is too short to suffer. I repeat these words like a mantra; especially when I fall into myself and the perpetuating cycle of everything from ‘this totally sucks’ to ‘I totally suck’. We all make mistakes and bad things happen but its so important not to dwell into the misery, but rather to smile through the tears and make an effort to appreciate the gift of life. We are so lucky to be alive right now and that should be a enough of a reason to be in a good mood.
I’ve traveled from the Great Pyramids to the Great Wall to the Great Ocean Road. I’ve seen Mount Everest and I’ve floated in the Dead Sea. I’ve chased some of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls and soaked in the most pristine hot springs. I traveled to my 130th country on my 20th birthday. Nonetheless,I struggle to appreciate where I am in life while I’m there. I tend to set my sights on the future – always aiming higher, bigger, better. Being too focused on the future means that I let the unknown monopolize all my energy. In this new phase I want to work on living my life more consciously, being present in the moment, and remembering that time is a gift not a given.
This last year I felt like still being a teenager gave me an edge, but now I have to find a new one. Maybe my edge is just being myself and I’m okay with that. On this birthday, a part of me feels like a wise old man clasping the pages of a thick, 1000 page book tightly closed. The other part of me feels like a slightly over prepared woman ready to, quite literally, take on the world.
Cheers to an ever changing version of myself and another decade of lessons to learn!