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That Pit in your Stomach

I’m no stranger to the pit-in-your-stomach feeling when diving into something unfamiliar. In fact, I’m getting a little bit of that right now. I’ve studied in Europe, I’ve visited Europe and traveled around. I’ve even worked in Europe as an assistant guide for my dad’s company for 2 summers, but I’ve never been self-employed anywhere but my basement growing up when I taught piano for a couple years back in high school.

 

I felt that same feeling when on the plan down to Lima, Peru this last summer when I started 3 weeks of backpacking through South America with my little sister. We spent a week each seeing Machu Pichu, Buenos Aires in Argentina, and the one more in Rio de Janeiro. On that plane, while my heart was beating with apprehension stemming from countless warnings of caring family and friends of the dangers of traveling through South America, I looked around and saw dozens of smiley faces excitedly anticipating a return to the familiar, to home.

 

It was the first time anyone from my immediate family had been to South America, and yet again, I was exposed to yet more cultures however different beautiful in their own right.

 

In the travel workshops I’ve given across the States (by that I mean at Notre Dame, University of Michigan, St. Mary’s College at Notre Dame, Brigham Young Universities, and a Skype chat with a 7th grade classroom in Omaha ,NE) I’ve always promoted going outside of your comfort zone, and extending yourself to those you come into contact with. In South America, we did our best to connect with locals, and get off that beaten path. But time and again, given the language barrier, it made it difficult to have a meaningful talk with anyone besides Brits, Aussies and other English-speaking backpackers.

 

But back to my first independent travel experience, my best friend and I took off from Seattle for a 6-week tour of Europe 2 days after graduating high school. Traveling independently opened up an entirely new continent to me. We could do what we wanted when we wanted. It wasn’t even that we ignored the museums—in fact, I believe we saw more than I would have with my family—but rather we could make our own decisions, and it was up to our initiative to make things happen. I’m an avid cyclist, so we caught the Tour de France in the French Alps. I was into the Godfather at the time, so we checked out Corleone down in Sicily. But it was up to me to make the decision, and follow it up with logistical arrangements. And I found out I loved it.

 

The following two summers, I worked as an assistant tour guide for my father’s business on a number of tours that traversed across the continent in spans of about 2 weeks.  I spent years studying French and Italian, and it was great to reap the rewards of my efforts in the form of surprised expressions of the locals with whom I was carrying on a conversation. Each time only made the late nights, and GPA damage more and more worth it.

 

So the summers of ’06 and ’07 provided an opportunity to get my feet wet in tour logistics, and I had the great fortune of learning from a number of unique and passionate guides that showed me just how important the local’s inside scoop is when visiting a place you’ve never been.

 

Come Spring’ 08, I spent my junior semester abroad studying in Rome. Check out my in-depth blog from that life-changing experience on wsaeurope.com. A semester abroad was a completely different type of tourism for me—I was able to plug into my surroundings and become apart of the local culture. I began seeing the same people every morning when picking up fresh eggs at the corner market. I had a sandwich guy I really like by the Pantheon. I became friends with locals. I landed a ticket to watch the initiation ceremony of the Swiss Guard INSIDE the walls of the Vatican City. I had a girlfriend. Life was good. Nay, great. Probably the best 4 months of my life to date.

 

 I’m realizing this blog is going to be part bio, part storytelling, and all about Europe. Hope you enjoyJ 

Comments:

Katie Nikas, University of Massachusetts - Boston

Happy Backpackers

I recently went on the Budapest weekend trip with my roommate from Ireland. We had the BEST time ever! The whole weekend was planned out for us by our amazing and funny leader Bogi. She had our itinerary jammed pack with everything you want to do in Budapest then some. We walked the whole...

Katie Nikas, University of Massachusetts - Boston ~ University of Limerick, Spring 2016

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