I was 19 years old and I was studying archaeology at university. I had always been interested in other cultures – obvious due to my choice in degree – and I wanted an excuse to travel the world as a job. The idea sounds very appealing, right? I soon realised that archaeology was less Indiana Jones or Lara Croft and, well, different (and much more safe). Becoming an archaeologist meant that I would be literally digging through the past, analysing every thing I discover, asking questions, answering question unanswered. However, there really wasn’t going to be a job that allowed me to travel to all parts of the world and work on different sites.
So I was in my second semester of uni when I got an email asking for applicants to a program held in Italy. The program was for the conservation and preservation of various artefacts. On a whim I filled out an application form and a few weeks later I got a reply – I was accepted in to the program! The next few months before I left was spent scrambling to organise the trip, and one of the most exciting things I have ever received in the mail – my passport!
Before I knew it I was on the biggest plane I had ever seen flying across to the other side of the world. A flight to Europe from Australia is LONG. This particular journey took 41 hours. I had suddenly been to four places I had never been before; Sydney, Taipei, Abu Dhabi, and Rome! It was difficult to sleep on the plane over because I was so excited to get there. When I heard the captain announce our descent I immediately looked out the window and saw snow-capped mountains; another first. There was a smile on my face after this point which would not go away. I could see villages, I could see Italy. With my own eyes.
Once I got off the plane I was no longer anxious about getting through the airport, to the train station, or even how I was going to get to San Gemini at 8:30pm at night. There were many ways to get to Termini Station from the airport but I thought the safest for a newbie traveller would be to take a cab. On the way to the train station I got my first glimpse of Rome, which included the Colosseum at night-time. This was absolutely amazing to me. I had not been in Rome for an hour and I had already experienced seeing the Colosseum with my own eyes. I felt the same thing the entire time I was in Italy, like I was home. I think that everybody’s first overseas trip is always the most memorable, it leaves a special place in your heart. After navigating the train station, getting confused by the tickets, and reading the signs wrong, I finally made my way to the right train and found my seat. The train was leaving at 9:30pm. I was extremely tired by now, with only a few hours sleep during my 40 hour journey, and I was struggling to stay awake. Luckily, somehow, I made it to Terni Station without falling asleep. I felt relief as I stepped off the train. Finally, I am here, I thought. Except I soon realised that the journey was not over.
I had not eaten or slept. My phone was dead. Payphone wasn’t working. Bus was not running. I used all my cash for the taxi & train ticket. It was 11pm. There was not a taxi in sight. I guess this was ‘the straw that broke the camels back’ if you will. So I did what any first time solo international traveller would do. I went to the train station toilets and cried. I got over that quick because I realised it was going to get me nowhere. I grabbed all my stuff walked outside and found an ATM just around the front of the building, and by the time I had money out a taxi had pulled up behind me. Hallelujah! The taxi driver took me up to the square in San Gemini and let me out. I had realised that I had not even thought of what I would do when I got there. There were no instructions on where to go.. I was planning on getting there, well not so late. It was 11:30pm by now. I saw a few steps that were big enough for me to lie on and hauled my bags over there. I figured everyone else attending the course would be sleeping by now. All of a sudden a crowd of people came streaming out of a restaurant on the other side of the square and I could hear American accents. I figured it would do no harm to walk over there and see if that was my group and thank the heavens it was.
The first thing I did was laugh. I could not believe my luck to begin with, then I realised I was worried for nothing – this country is someone else’s home, someone who would think Australia was a big scary confusing place. From then on I took everything that happened in my stride. I was not anxious or scared again. For the next six weeks we studied, and travelled, learned new things, ate gelato and pizza. For the first time in my life I had felt energetic, free and truly happy, like I had woken up from a dream and this was where I was meant to be. I did not know it at the time but I was in total wanderlust. I realised when I got home that all I wanted to do was explore new places. I would get this feeling in my chest. It was like a newly discovered need. Something that I couldn’t live without. I needed to travel to be happy. To be alive.