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Birth of an Independent Traveler

It wasn't by design, but Italy is the country I'll forever associate with my birth as an independent traveler.

I'd arrived in Europe with my best friends from college on one last adventure before we'd have to face the real world.

After brief stays in Paris, Amsterdam, and Prague, we arrived in Venice, a city I fell in love with upon exiting the train station onto the Grand Canal.

The Venice train station
The Venice train station

My friends didn't share my enthusiasm, and we left a few days later. Tension in the group had been growing from the moment we'd arrived in Europe.

I knew what I wanted to see and do in every city and was baffled by friends who didn't share those same interests.

The breaking point came in Florence, where my friends decided to return to the United States more than a month early.

I chose to stay — an empowering decision in my early twenties that has continued to help shape life in my thirties.

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Sunset over the Venetian Lagoon
Sunset over the Venetian Lagoon

Once I'd said goodbye to my friends, and they departed the hostel to make their way back to Paris for their return flights, I was left alone to take stock of the situation. But not for long.

Another backpacker arrived in my room, and before I knew it, we were talking about music.

I realized I wasn't going to be alone after all. As long as I continued to stay in hostels, I'd encounter a neverending stream of young travelers out discovering the world like me.

Under my newfound freedom to do whatever I wanted, my first order of business was to hop a train back to Venice.

Any city that inspires me to call my mom from a payphone and proclaim I want to live there deserves more of my time.

Gondolas, vaporettos (water buses) and assorted boats make it easy for independent travelers to get around Venice.
Gondolas, vaporettos (water buses), and assorted boats

Upon my return, I took a dorm bed under the rafters of a pension, where I met other travelers with whom to drink cheap wine and soak up the old-world charms of Venice's canals and hidden alleyways.

I left Venice for Rome a few nights later, followed by Nice, Paris, Dover, London, and two weeks tooling around Ireland in a clockwise direction.

I returned home from my two months in Europe as a changed man. I'd tasted the exhilaration of traveling to foreign lands with nothing but a backpack and a bank balance to deplete.

St. Mark's Square
St. Mark's Square

Four years later, with a few more trips to my name, I lost my job at a dot-com company due to a massive layoff.

I used the resulting four months of unemployment to reflect on how little travel I'd done, given my penchant for it after that first summer in Europe.

I decided it was time to prioritize travel, and everything else would feed into taking more trips abroad.

Twelve years and more than fifty countries later, I can look back with outstanding clarity and say I decided to first take a risk and head to Europe with my friends, and second, stay there when they decided to return home; that has made all the difference in my life.

Visiting Venice's Grand Canal as an independent traveler
Posing along Venice's Grand Canal

In 2012, while traveling Eastern Europe by rail, I made it a point to return to Venice for a few nights.

For a city whose architecture and way of life on the water hadn't changed much in 1,000 years, it was safe to say I noticed few changes in the 14 years since I'd been gone.


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The Scuttlefish

Wednesday 1st of October 2014

Independent travel can truly be liberating. I've spent time alone travelling in post-war Jaffna (travel story will be up on my blog soon) and Thailand, and it not only opened up the places to me in new and amazing ways but also helped me learn a lot about myself. I totally recommend it. PS: I write my blog under a pseudonym, so do treat it as real ;)


Sunday 7th of September 2014

Becoming an independent traveler has granted me a confidence that has spilled over into other areas of my life. Without a doubt, it has made me into the person I am today!


Thursday 4th of September 2014

Venice is just amazing :) We had a wonderful stay there at the Molino Stucky, but there are probably many more typical palazzo to stay in.


Wednesday 27th of August 2014

Great story and enormously inspiring. It's always a good thing to look back and see how far one has come. You can't get any better than Venice. Congratulations!


Wednesday 27th of August 2014

Thanks Victoria :)


Thursday 21st of August 2014

I remember stumbling onto your story a handful of years ago on Flickr, back when you had your whole journal from that fateful trip posted online. I was as inspired as I was entertained then as well as now, by your writing and grainy scanned 35mm photos from that trip. As a college grad of the late 90's (I believe we're similar in age) I regret i did not discover the beauty and euphoria of travel at the time. But as I tell everyone now, it's never too late. I'll be heading to Italy soon and maybe I'll visit Venice again too. Thanks for sharing.


Thursday 21st of August 2014

Hi Kwong, thanks for reading then, and now. Knowing people are actually reading what I've posted online has always been a big part of what's kept me motivated to keep going. Glad to hear you'll be in Italy soon!

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