“Watch out for the bus!!!” Carisa, my friend, travel buddy and founder of this awesome blog, squealed with fear, panic, and anything else you feel when you finally get the courage and means to travel abroad and you realize you might actually die in the process. We were turning out of the airport terminal in Dublin, Ireland and it was my first time driving a European car that was on the opposite side of cars in the U.S. That was quite the adjustment! To be honest, I couldn’t have mastered the fine art of opposite-side driving in our 4.5 days in the Emerald Isle without Carisa. Her squeal made me panic somewhat and I swerved the wheel a bit… Well, more than a bit. We jolted into a wet pothole on the side of the road, but it was better than headlong into the bus. When I managed to straighten the car and take a breath and continue on, there was a collective sigh of relief from both of us.
How did we get here? Well, let’s start at the beginning. My hunger for travel began the same as probably any other normal nerdy girl – with books. For a shy young girl from a small town who was dying to see the world, books were my escape.
I grew up on welfare – our family of five was surviving on $250 a week (and those were the good weeks). My childhood is full of memories of our car breaking down every other week with no money to fix it, visits from the local Housing & Urban Development (H.U.D.) office for housing assistance, trips to the food bank, and hand-me-down clothes and toys. We couldn’t afford the big fancy family vacations to Disney World or cruises… Our family vacations were mostly camping because it was the cheapest option, but it got us away from the mundane. It’s also where my love for nature grew.
My parents were hard working and loving. We had very few material possessions, but we always had a roof over our heads and we never went hungry. Our family was strong and close; we had each other. My mom homeschooled us for many years and I inherited my dad’s love for books and self-education. He made me believe I could do anything I put my mind to. In our house, “impossible” and “can’t” were bad words.
In our house, “impossible” and “can’t” were bad words.
My teenage years turned turbulent and our family went through a time of almost being torn apart. In one year, my parents split up for a time, my high school boyfriend broke up with me, and I got seriously ill. During that difficult time, I would take walks to the local airport and just watch the planes take off and dream of faraway places and adventures I had yet to see. In the midst of it all, I decided that education was my ticket out. If I had a good job and a reliable paycheck, I could prevent some disasters from occurring, or if they did, have a means to get out.
For the next decade of my life, I would work and put myself through school, eventually graduating from law school. I was the first in my family to get a graduate degree, and they were so proud of me. I didn’t study abroad like I had always dreamed; it was too much of an expense to add on top of student loans. During that decade, I had traveled here and there within the U.S. (even lived out near Las Vegas for a short stint in my early 20s), but nothing too crazy. After law school, my wanderlust returned with a vengeance. My mom says I inherited it from my grandmother – she was an amazing woman who could never stay long in one place. I started to feel free and curious again. I had spent well over 10 years doing what was practical, never giving myself permission to dream further, and suddenly the world was wide open.
Growing up, travel was for the wealthy, or at least that’s what I believed. No one in my immediate family had ever been outside of the U.S. My mother had traveled to every state but four states in the U.S. during her girlhood and teen years (which was quite a feat, actually!). She is also the only person in my immediate family besides me who has ever been on an airplane. My dad had been raised in New York City and never went far beyond the Northeast, even when he met and married my mother. My sisters both started families young, so they had little time or resources to go anywhere but where their children needed them.
During law school, my long-term college boyfriend and I broke up. There are always a million reasons for these things, but it came down to our desires for different paths. He wanted a house, a kid, a dog, and a wife. The white-picket-fence life was never for me – I knew it. I had been running from that truth for a long time, pretending I could fit into a “normal” life like so many others I knew. But as life frequently plays out, sometimes dating the wrong person brings you to the right place. I felt free after our breakup and when I graduated, I felt even more liberated somehow. Well, in some ways. I was a single, educated woman in her early 30s with a boatload of student debt, living on overtime, unsure of her career path, with a burning desire to jump on a plane and just go anywhere.
During law school I was fortunate to meet Carisa, and it was because of her I made traveling a priority again. We went on our first trip together my last semester of law school for spring break. This was also the first time she witnessed my issue with packing too much for trips (that story is for another time). After my graduation, we took another road trip in the fall. I can’t remember the exact date, but I recall we both got tired of the anti-climactic New Years’ celebrations we fell victim to every year – watching the ball drop and seeing another year pass without a new adventure story to tell. Somehow we decided to take a new trip every year on New Years so that there would be no more disappointing years gone by. Those New Years trips have turned into other trips, and we are each other’s go-to person for frequent travel.
Our first international trip was totally Carisa’s idea. Once again, I got caught in the “practicality” of it all and what was likely to be affordable or possible for us. She found a deal for Ireland and asked me what I thought – we just decided to go! And that is how we ended up in Ireland. It was our first passport stamp, our first international adventure, and we returned to the U.S. with renewed hunger for travel, some fun stories to tell, and friends we had met along the way.
Travel is a funny thing – by the end of the trip, you might love or hate the person you just spent a significant amount of time with. Carisa and I have a groove – we each contribute to the planning and scheduling, and on the trip we look out for each other, even in the exhausted moments when you might want to strangle the other person. Carisa had the idea to start an Instagram travel page; our online friends were starting to love our travel pictures and it was just the natural next step. I had played with the idea of a travel blog for about a year and I knew that this summer was the time for it to happen. So it is.
Just in this year alone, I have inspired my family to want to travel more. I call my parents when I go abroad and share the stories with them. They’re always so excited to hear. I video chat with my sisters, nieces and nephews, showing them some of the sights I get to see. I bring back gifts when I can. I share my adventures with the kids and with wide eyes, they start dreaming of the adventures they want to have – because someone in their family has showed them what’s possible.
I am far from an expert globetrotter; I am just getting started. I have a million more adventures waiting for me. I am blessed to have a few friends who hunger for travel like I do. In fact, the trip Carisa and I took to Greece this spring was an idea from another friend. I am so glad I have people who push me beyond what I think is possible, because Ireland and Greece were always at the top of my bucket list!
What I find so incredible is what traveling has done in terms of my perspective. I can find color, an adventure, a story, anywhere I go now.
What I find so incredible is what traveling has done in terms of my perspective. I can find color, an adventure, a story, anywhere I go now. Even if it is simply visiting family for the weekend to places I’ve been so many times before. There is always something new to discover. Life has become an adventure again – not an obligation. That’s the biggest change.
The next biggest change is my realization of how affordable and possible it is to see the places I’ve always dreamed of. Our millennial generation is changing the face of travel and enhancing the global experience in unimaginable ways; things that people 20 years ago would never have thought possible. Travel is no longer a privilege allotted only to the wealthy or those with means to accomplish it. Some part of me is still that shy, nerdy girl who dreamt of adventures beyond her present reality. I take her with me everywhere I go. That little girl inside me is the one who cries happily when she finally sees the wonders of the world… It used to be that she could only see those wonders in her very richest and vivid of dreams.
That little girl inside me is the one who cries happily when she finally sees the wonders of the world… It used to be that she could only see those wonders in her very richest and vivid of dreams.
Kara Citarella currently lives in Silver Spring, Maryland and works as a contractor for the federal government in Washington, D.C. Her favorite things include yoga, rainy days with hot tea and a good book, classic rock, and laser tag with her nieces and nephews. You can follow her travels on Instagram at @kandctaketheglobe, where her travel blog will soon be announced!
Note to readers: The photo above was a shot of her real first time driving a European car on the opposite side!