Life is about moments.
When I look back at the past 8 months of travel, I think in terms of flashes.
People always ask me about my favorite country or the best memory. But it’s not like that at all. When I think about the best times I’ve had, I see it in flashes of moments. These were the times when my breath was taken away and I got lost in the moment. Really LIVED. Really felt ALIVE. These were the times when I looked at the world with the wonder of a child.
Like the time in Tuscany when I did yoga with my new Israeli friends, Inna and Serge. We sat atop a soft green hill as the sun was setting, overlooking the vineyard we were lucky enough to call home for a brief
time, soaking in the mountains in the distance and breathing in the fresh air. I remember smelling the grass for the first time since I was a kid, and all the incredible summer memories that came with that smell. Feeling one hundred percent at peace with my surroundings, and appreciating the mind numbing beauty of the Italian countryside.
Or the time I rented a SMART car and drove down the Amalfi coast – absolutely convinced that I had
reached the end of my life while angry Italians honked at me for driving less than fifty miles per hour at the ninety-degree curves. That moment was one of pure exhilaration and sheer terror.
How about the time I (naively) went with Patty into El Chupinaso during the running of the bulls in Pamplona? Sprayed with sangria, beer and whatever other liquids the locals could get their hands on; barely able to breath because of the mobs of people, yet feeling the palpable excitement in the air at being part of of a one-in-a-lifetime event.
Or the time in Split when my new “Croatian family” and I went cliff jumping at a hidden local spot after spending the day on a retro VW beach van, listening to Bob Marley and Jack Johnson, visiting beaches, caves and castles around the city. Feeling incredible fear and adrenaline at the thought of the cliff jump…armed with nothing but a running start, a leap of faith, and my beautiful friends, Taylor and Avalon, into the cool Croatian waters. Coming up for air, realizing all my limbs were intact…and then going back for seconds.
I also think about the time in Santorini when the very same Taylor and Avalon, plus one Swedish Daniel, hiked our way around Oia – completely outside the tourist area – to a remote cliff known only to the locals. We swam out to a little cliff island with an abandoned monastery built on it, decorated with a big iron bell. We climbed up to the monastery, rang the bell, and jumped into the royal blue Greek waters, while the sun set and the lights of Santorini danced above us. It was more magical than any movie I’ve ever seen. At that moment, I remember thinking: “This is it. THIS is living.”
How about getting lost in the ancient streets of Jerusalem, walking to The Wall and experiencing the surrealness of three colliding worlds: the religious enthusiasts praying intensely, the armed military meandering about with machine guns, and the oblivious tourists with cameras around their necks. The unique colliding of worlds was not lost on me: old world meets new world and being able to experience the contrast of it all – while still managing to fit in a fierce game of foosball with incredible new friends.
I’ll never forget hopping on a hot air balloon in Cappadocia, staring at a minimum of sixty other balloons in the air and mesmerized by the Dali-like landscape of this magical place. Floating on top of the world and watching the sun rise.
Or kayaking in Paraty, Brazil with twelve new friends. I remember it being a Monday, and thinking to myself how much I used to hate Mondays in my former life…then soaking up the majestic mountains and clear water around me, thinking I was in a Jurassic park movie, and realizing I could get used to Mondays like this. Being grateful for being there at that very moment and wondering how on earth I made the right decisions in life to get me there.
I remember sitting alone at a fruit stand in Rio, just after my iPhone and debit card had been stolen, feeling pretty down for the first time in a while. Suddenly, like three little surfer angels, my roommates showed up out of nowhere. They adopted me, not letting me focus on the bad stuff that just happened, and told me to go to Ipanema beach with them while they surfed. It would take my mind off the things I couldn’t control, they said. And they were right. Their positive vibes, smiles and kindness were just what the doctor ordered. Such a simple act of kindness, but such a powerful moment, and one that will forever remain embedded in my mind.
What about moment just before I went inside the waterfalls of Iguazu? The sheer power of water, the feeling of being so small right next to these cascades. Looking up and experiencing this fierce force of nature from a tiny boat and drifting into the Devil’s Throat.
Or riding a horse through an Estancia, led by a real life gaucho, who serenaded us with just his guitar and beautiful voice. For a girl from New York, riding a horse through fields of green grass, lined by stately trees is about as dreamlike as it gets. It’s the stuff you read about in books or watch in movies. It’s not really real life…at least it was never mine.
What about the time I went to the top of the mountains in Mendoza, where all I could see were the white caps of these beautiful peaks, blue skies, and the pulsating colors of the landscape. Plugging in my headphones and letting the moment carry me away; feeling like I could reach up and grab a cloud with my little hand.
But mostly, I remember moments I connected with people. Like the lady on the plane who was an NYU anthropology professor who congratulated me on my bravery of letting it all go and following my heart. A complete stranger who smiled at me so warmly, and genuinely wished me all the best on my journey, because she, too, believed that when you follow your heart, everything else falls into place.
The conversations you have with strangers from around the world would make the United Nations proud. You have 23 year olds asking you about your country’s foreign policies; you learn about the heart of different countries from their people, not from books; you forget that you’re all from different places because when you sit down together to eat a meal, all you care about is exchanging stories and sharing laughs.
The connections you make with people when you travel are paramount. People don’t have the guards up that we have in the ‘real world.’ That protective gear is removed, which makes is possible to have some of the most intense friendships and relationships in the span of a few short days.
So if I’ve learned anything so far, it’s to be present in every single moment. Smile at strangers, talk to anyone and everyone because you never know what you’re going to learn. Let yourself be inspired: by places, by people, by stars. Make your story as surreal and dreamlike as you want, and live life loud. Don’t let your light fade, and always embrace magic. And above all else, always trust that things will work out the way they are supposed to. Because all of these moments, they lead up to the path you’re supposed to be on, and every person you connect with somehow gives you tools or knowledge you’ll need along the way.