You know when you read something you wrote a long ago (think high school people) and it’s oh-so-cringe worthy? I’ve been having a lot of those moments lately. But I’ve been also having a lot of ‘aha’ moments; little bursts of clarity and perspective, brought to me by my 17 year old (and 21 year old) self.
In the process of unpacking my life from 10 years ago, I ran across two of my oldest travel journals. One from 2004 when I was on a school trip to Ecuador, and the other from 2008 on a 5 month trip to Europe. I actually had so much fun reading these to myself that (between the cringing and cackling) I highlighted parts to share. Here is what I discovered about 17 and 21 year old Julia:
- She’s actually really, really nice. Waaay nicer than 30 year old Julia.
- She was more than a little naive (yes, that Italian man who bought you dinner and walked you back to your hotel was “Soooo lovely!!!”).
- She’s excited! All the time! So many exclamation marks! Ahhh!!!
- She was a seriously picky eater.
- She fell for traveling – it was love at first sight.
It’s easy to see how instantly I was hooked by traveling. My first thoughts on Equador and Europe included comments like:
“Everything in the market was colourful and dirty and noisy. There were farmyard animals and people yelling and smoke and traffic horns. It was hard to breath, hard to walk, hard to hear but oh, so wonderful!”
“I think I was born to be a traveler. I have absolutely no desire to go on MSN or e-mail people back home (all the other girls want to spend all day in the internet cafe!). I just want to be right here, right now.”
“I’m leaving Canada for 5 months. I won’t see my family or friends or anything remotely familiar for 5 months…and… I’m SO excited!!!”
“Last night was one of the most incredible nights of this trip – make that one of the most incredible nights ever! Everyone at the hostel pitched in making food (bruchetta, stuffed peppers, pasta, cheeses and breads, olives and anti-pastas, a while chicken and about 20 bottles of red wine!) It was just this incredible mix of song and laughter (with purple teeth and purple tongues!), delicious, fresh food and genuine human connection.
I get why I ended up spending the next 7 years of my life abroad – it fit me well. And I believe it’s responsible for my expanded diet and the fact that I now eat foods that fall well outside my previous colour restriction of ‘beige’.
“I was really worried about the kind of food to expect here being the picky eater that I am, but I’ve impressed myself so far, Mom, you would be so proud of me! I actually ate full out scrambled eggs with no hesitation! And I somewhat enjoyed it!”
“We stopped for a road-side snack and yes, it was the famous guinea pig! I was so excited to eat it, and it honestly pretty tasty even though it had ears and a head and fur and a mouth full of tiny, little teeth! It was still oh-so-delicious, and only slightly disturbing.”
“We ate at McDonalds today. I told myself I wouldn’t eat at Western chains while in Equador but I only had a McFlurry so, it doesn’t count.”
“I didn’t realize how much I love feta. Or actually, how amazing feta can taste. I could eat it every day for the rest of my life and be SO blissfully happy.”
I think, what floored me the most while re-reading these journals was how much I liked everyone. I only had the most incredibly positive and enthusiastic things to say about people. For example:
“I LOVE Laura! She’s just the kindest, sweetest woman ever. I am going to miss her! And Carla! Everyone is so nice! “ (I wasn’t kidding about those exclamation marks!)
“The boys I’m staying with are gentlemen: they gave me my own bed and make an effort to put the toilet seat down!”
It’s possible to read some of those with sarcastic undertones: don’t. As much as a part of me wishes there was just a hint of mockery there, it’s straight-up honest enthusiasm.
With some of these memories, I actually recall people being jerks, however, my written record is very rose coloured. What do I say about the creepy guy whose couch I crashed on in Meteora, Greece?
“He was a tad lonely and I felt bad I couldn’t give him the kind of connection he needs.”
Interesting approach, 21 year old Julia. 30 year old Julia would say that he’s lonely because he’s creepy and you shouldn’t stay on creepy guy’s couches! Even when it’s free and you’re trying to conserve travel money!
Am I curmudgeon now? Was I just naive and lucky? Or did my favorable opinion of others protect me, like some positivity super power? Here’s a final excerpt from my Europe travels:
“People are just so good. There was my distant family in Germany who treated me like they had known me my entire life, touring me around, gifting money and chocolate and words of well-being. There were those woman in Greece who gave us a ride because they said the taxis weren’t safe and that other woman who helped me make a phone call because the pay phone was broken. I am tempted to say that I was just lucky but I don’t think it was luck, I just think that people are good.”
These journals were a good check-in for me: yes, I still believe that people (most of them) are good when given the opportunity to be. Yes, traveling fit like a glove and was the perfect way for me to spend my 20’s. Yes, I was lucky for the opportunity to explore and expand my palate with delicacies like feta, guinea pig and scrambled eggs.
Apparently I’ve changed a lot over the past 13 years – more than I realized.
This of course, makes sense, but somehow it took reading my old thoughts and hearing my younger voice for me to see just how much I’ve changed in little over a decade. I sometimes still feel like I’m in high school (or at least University) and most days, I surprise myself by remembering I’m a teacher, a mother and now responsible for the education and well being of small humans.
I also gifted myself a couple of reminders: it wouldn’t hurt to add more exclamation points to my writing (!!!) and life. Uninhibited enthusiasm is so much more fun!
And, to keep writing. Because, even when it seems like I’m detailing the most mundane of memories, I will, at the very least, have some good cackling and cringing to look forward to in 10 years.