This past summer marked a really special event for me: the 10th anniversary of the trip that changed me forever. It’s amazing how one decision can alter the trajectory of your life. The 2008 trip was with my high school LAX coach, on a celebratory EF Tours trip to Italy and Greece after I graduated.
To celebrate this tremendous occasion, I took a trip back, 10 years later, to where it all began: Greece.
10 years ago, I remember sitting in my high school Biology II classroom, studying the kinds of animals that live in the deep sea. My LAX coach came into the class to make an announcement.
He informed us that he would be taking a group of graduating seniors, and a handful of rising seniors, on an EF Tours trip to Italy and Greece in June of 2008. And he was inviting everyone in the class.
For the first time in my life, I felt a little tug in my heart. I wanted to go on that trip. Mom will never go for it, I thought, there’s no way she’ll let me go to Italy and Greece on my own…I shouldn’t even ask…
For the rest of day I thought about how lovely going on the trip would be-exploring a new place, celebrating with my friends. But it was expensive. And Mom would say no. 100%.
When I went home, I asked her anyway. I’m not sure why.
She surprised me by immediately, not even pausing to think, “Of course you should go.”
I was shocked. “But, it’s expensive.” I said
Mom shrugged, “You work, it will be your graduation present.”
And I prepared to go to Italy and Greece with EF tours, just like that.
I loved traveling. I loved the smell of the new air, the sunshine on my face, the small hotels that we stayed in during our tour. Our guide was fantastic, and I loved that she knew multiple languages, kissed people on the cheeks, and knew so much history.
The cities we visited were filled with beautiful people who spoke in beautiful languages. I ate fresh, flavorful food, and drank wine and felt grown up and in awe of everything around me.
Every day was something new, something exciting. I drank everything in like some person who had been wandering around a desert. I couldn’t stop looking at buildings and art and ruins, like some new born babe seeing the world around them for the first time.
The EF Tours trip began in Italy, where we spent time in Rome and Pompeii and then moved onto Greece where we saw Olympia and Delphi. And we finally made our way onto a small cruise ship that would sail us around the Greek islands.
On that cruise I truly believed that I had seen the most beautiful places the world had to offer: The Greek islands.
It was love at first site.
When I say everything was perfect on that EF Tours trip, I’m not exaggerating.
And I know, from experience, that travel is not perfect, far from it, but this trip was an anomaly. It’s like the world was showing me that I needed to go out and explore, that I shouldn’t be afraid.
It’s been 10 years since I fell in love with Greece, and with traveling.
So much has changed, but some things have stayed the same.
Travel still has my heart. I still feel that pull to go. I still love seeing different parts of the world with new eyes. But now, even when I visit a new place, I feel like I’m going to visit an old friend. I feel so safe, so loved by the world. There is something so inherently right about traveling for me.
When I went back to Greece this summer, something inside me felt so at peace. Like some circle was being completed.
After all of the heartbreak, job problems, money problems, emotional problems, through the stress of deaths of family members, pets, the loss and gain of old and new friends, and a thousand other small changes, good and bad that have happened over the past ten years, I was back in Greece. Somehow, I had traveled all this way, and ended up right back where I started.
I kept thinking of “The Alchimist.” The man who traveled all over the world to find his treasure, only to return home and realize it was right there all along. This is what Greece was, my treasure and my home.
I walked through the streets of Athens-revisiting my old haunts, And exploring the young hip side of the city-something I had not seen when I was a teenager but was not quite apparent in my late 20s. And I greeted the beautiful island of Santorini like an old friend. As I slipped on the cobblestones, I thought if a little bit of the old me was still on this island. Maybe some fabric of my old t-shirt, a strand of my hair. Something of the me that I used to be, and still am.
And I imagined leaving a bit of this new me behind. I would leave Greece, return home, to the United States, and life would continue. I would grow, change, live, and then, maybe, return to Greece. And some things would be the same, and some things would be different. Including me.
When I was in Santorini, I started contemplating how my love of travel began. It began with a teacher (how appropriate that I now am one and teach my students all about other cultures) and with a high school guided tour group.
A lot of people poo poo group tours, but I don’t, I never have. I don’t think that you should do exclusively group tours for your whole life, but I think for people who are nervous, scared, young, old, or unsure, a tour can spark something in you. EF Tours sparked a love of the world in 18 year old me-and threw me on my journey of seeing as much of the world as possible. And I am eternally grateful.
If you’re a high school student, or parent of a high school student, or really anyone who is considering going on an EF Tours trip, just go. You will learn so much about yourself, and so much about the world around you. You will grow in ways that you didn’t think were possible.
And you will become more compassionate, more loving, and more accepting of all different kinds of people.
And, like me, an EF Tour will spark a change in you. Maybe the EF tour will inspire you to study abroad, to learn a language, to teach a semester abroad, to travel more, to obtain a job in the global marketplace or workforce. Maybe the changes will be smaller, the tour might encourage you to talk to people who are different, or misunderstood. The tour will make you more confident, more self-assured. More content with who you are.
Maybe you will go on a tour, and it will change your life. And 10 years later you will have lived abroad, obtained a job in the travel and education industries to fuel your passion, and visited 30 countries before you turn 30. Maybe you’ll start a blog helping other people travel.
Maybe any one of these things will happen.
But one thing is certain. If you go on a tour with EF Tours, you will forever be changed.