I leaned against the side of the phone booth and wiped a tear from my eye. He said “I’m staying at your place tonight with your mom- I miss you like crazy- I can’t wait for you to come home.”
It was 2006 and I was freshly 18. Somehow I had convinced my overly cautious mother, an entire schoolboard, and myself that the best decision for my final months of my senior year in high school was to spend it abroad. I found myself in Schladming, Austria for a two month long program studying the Bible.
When I look back on that journey, I laugh. I had never traveled anywhere alone- the extent of my international travel up until then had consisted of a ferry from Seattle to Victoria, British Columbia when I was about 7. So you can imagine….it was uncharted territory, to say the least.
To be completely honest, I had no idea what I was doing or what to expect. I stumbled across the airport, juggling my overly stuffed suitcase and carry on. I looked for the nearest bus and hoped I was making the right choice. Paying the fare and sitting down, I heard the pre-recorded announcement of the next stop. That’s when I knew I was in trouble. I had absolutely no idea what he was saying, let alone did I know how to pronounce the town which I was looking for. I looked around and naively said out loud “does any one speak English?” (don’t worry, I’m cringing with you). An adorably sweet and tiny Austrian woman near me answered “I know a bit.” I asked her to help me find my stop, she smiled and waved and said “Please!” as I got off the bus (Bitte in German means both “please” and “you’re welcome” so I later realized what she had meant).
Nestled among the Austrian Alps, the tiny town of Schladming was literally exactly what you might imagine a picture perfect Austrian town would consist of. I loved it. I loved the landscape, the people, the language. Literally every little difference of life between my home near Seattle and the residents of Schladming brought a new rush of excitement.
To sum it up: I fell in love. I fell in love with the idea that people around the world have different lives than my own. It was vibrant, the very thought of it. It was colorful and exciting and exhilarating anticipation and I was completely and utterly in love with the idea of it all.
I knew what I wanted. I wanted to see it ALL.
So as I sat in that phone booth, halfway across the world, I felt a heaviness on my heart. Just as much as I knew that I wanted to spend my life seeing the world- I even more so knew that I wanted to spend it with him. We were young and in love and just like all those stereotypical high school sweetheart stories, we didn’t think the world could go on without each other.
It was that trip that I finally understood what homesick meant. Every new experience was shadowed with a feeling that I wished he was there experiencing it too.
“I want to marry you, Nicole.”
I wanted that too. “I want to marry you too- but, you have to promise me- we will come back here. We’ll backpack through Europe together. We will explore the world and travel together and see new things.”
He followed through with that promise. We were married just over a year later- and that next summer we found ourselves on a packed London subway, covered in sweat and avoiding knocking over commuters with our giant backpacks…but that…that trip is for another story.
My love for travel grew just like my love for him- I was curious and cautious and then one day I found myself diving head first and I never, ever looked back.