Traveling to Europe Didn’t Change My Life

When a friend of mine proposed a two month trip to Europe, I figured it would be the perfect distraction from my disturbing ambivalence towards post-grad life. In Europe, when you’re unemployed and go to the grocery store at 2:00 p.m. on a Tuesday no one will ask if it’s your day off, and you won’t have to falsely bemoan the fact that you always end up spending your days off running errands and doing laundry. You won’t run into any old high school acquaintances who will start to look really confused when you explain that you’re rooming with this adorable older couple which is actually really great because they cook a lot of meals for you and pay for your oil changes, and oh yeah, they’re your mom and dad!

Europe was my lovingly dog-eared, get-out-of-jail-free card. If you can’t get a cool job right out of school and you don’t have a boyfriend with really nice hair the only way to remain socially acceptable is to travel. I mean your definition of success might be confined to monetary gain and getting a ring on your finger, but I prefer to measure success by emotional development and cultural acumen. And also fuck you.

Travel is supposed to be this other-worldly experience. People always start looking all moony when they mention their travels, like suddenly they’re back in that musky tent in Morocco wrapped up in the paisley sarong they bought because they just, you know, really wanted to live it. They’ll explain that it was a really amazing experience that they can’t exactly put into words so why don’t they just show you the slide show they set to the music of Ravi Shankar? Super moving stuff but maybe the reason they don’t want to talk about it is because they’re afraid to admit that they came home exactly the same person they were when they left.

Europe was not my first trip abroad. A couple years ago I spent a summer teaching after-school art classes to underprivileged Guatemalan children. Some of them had never before had the opportunity to use paints. At the end of the day, the kids lined up to give me a kiss before they scampered off to show their drawings to Mami. It was precious. It made me feel like a good person. But some of those little kids were just as obnoxious as their American counterparts. And on more than one occasion, while I crouched perilously on a third world toilet seat deciding whether I was going to have to shit first or hurl first only to find that both situations had begun to happen simultaneously, I couldn’t care less about embracing the experience–all I wanted was to go home.

Once back in America, I opted out of writing the essay the organization that set up this little Guatemalan immersion program expected us to hand in. We were supposed to explain what we learned from hanging out with all those poor people and how it changed us for the better. But I felt exactly the same. Guatemala had been a dingy, grab bag of experiences; some bits were awesome and some bits made me want to die. I felt like I had failed. I did not emerge from those steaming Mayan jungles the beacon of humanitarian hope I imagined I would be. I had a lot of fun and I met some great people but that’s kind of it. And I would go back in a heartbeat.

So off I went to Europe. Still searching for the travel experience with the power to unveil the selfless and gracious phoenix goddess within me.

In Europe I learned many important life lessons. I learned that I don’t like one night stands. That spending the day munching on tapas and reading Patti Smith’s memoir in a local cafe, can be just as crucial as spending the day photographing every inch of the Sagrada Familia. I learned that most of the people you meet on your travels will be just as excruciatingly bland as the people you know on the other side of the ocean. They certainly won’t offer you any earth-shattering insights into the meaning of life, but maybe like five of them will be pretty amazing even without that information. I learned that not every moment is going to awesome. You will get on the wrong train. You will want to take a nap instead of going sightseeing. You will miss peanut butter.

Most people are finally able to admit that travel is more about meeting people than taking pictures of old shit–but they still don’t want to admit that the trip didn’t change their life. We shouldn’t expect to feel reborn. We should just expect to have some truly unforgettable nights clustered around a bonfire on someone’s rooftop deck where everyone is just the right amount of wine drunk and even though you could all be intelligently analyzing the situation in Libya everyone has decided to just laugh and have a good time instead. It’s basically a really, really expensive trip to a really, really cool bar. And that’s okay.

Everyone feels like they have to justify the $6,000 price tag by claiming that their trip altered them in a myriad of glittering ways you would have to experience to really understand. But why isn’t a fun night out with your friends worth that kind of money? I don’t really want to waste my time stressing about the secrets of the universe. I just want to go out on Friday night and yuk it up with my fellow man.

I’m finally okay with the notion that I went to Europe to have fun. That I went to Central America to have fun. Ultimately, my travels only ever reinforced what I already knew. People are pretty much the same everywhere. Yeah this guy grew up without any shoes and his roommates are goats, but he still just wants to get a girlfriend and make enough money to buy himself a popsicle every so often.

So yeah, I traveled around the world and all I did was meet a bunch of people who are just like me, so we partied together and did some sightseeing.

So worth it. TC mark


More From Thought Catalog

  • Guest

    People aren't the same everywhere; that's sheer ignorance. Traveling Europe won't change your life. It's far too comfortable and caters to the tourist status quo. I imagine if, all you want to do it yuk it up on Friday nights with your fellow man, to indeed do so at home.

  • Mr. White

    I don't travel. But I live in what is supposedly the best country to live in so I guess I'm fine.

    • Kelvin Lee

      So you live in Switzerland?

      • Mr. White


      • poop


  • Craig Randall

    this read like a diary entry to yourself, addressed to “us.” This site is only good for its essays about sex and relationships.

    • Craig Randall

      and I had to save mad money to go to Italy for one week, so fuck ya being there changed me. You soak that shit up (and it changes you) when you work for it.

  • Aja

    To be perfectly honest, whenever I travel in the back of my head, I always know my priority is to make new friends first, see the sights second. The perks of making new friends is they'll tell you what to see and what to skip. Always a winning combination for me.

  • annie

    Oh brother. This kid sounds like a bratty self proclaimed overachiever whining about doing something zillions of people would do if they had the chance. “Taking pictures of old shit”? Grow up.

  • uhnonnymus


    • Nicole


  • Nico

    Sounds like you had overblown expectations. Travel doesn't suddenly make you a better person, that's in your own hands, regardless of locale. My travels were great because I went where I wanted to go, I experienced different cultures and perspectives, saw things I desired to see, read books in the cities they were written, visited the homes, lands, and effigies of my ancestors, indulged in the historical significance of ancient Roman sites, the antics of the French court at Versailles, the craftsmanship in the pieces in the Louvre, felt a hint of the weight of the loss at Culloden, fell in love with more pubs than I care to name, and above all else, I loved the freedom of anonymity.

    But then again, I'm obsessed with history, and only expected a change of scenery and more time to read.

  • erin pea

    I am kind of surprised to hear that you didn't “change” as you traveled, or at least learned something new about yourself (minus the one night stand thing). Wow, so if going to Europe and Guatemala doesn't change your life or your perspective, what will? Are you depressed? Void of emotion?

    “We shouldn’t expect to feel reborn.” – I agree, and it seems like you were expecting this a little. You went to have fun in these places – that's what traveling is about to many people. But if you're spending $6000 to just get drunk with Australians in a different country and then brag about how traveling just didn't do it for you, then I feel sorry for ya!

  • alma

    I'd also like to add that not everyone here in the US is wondering what YOU are doing at the market during working hours. People have a lot to do and worrying about why everyone else is doing their marketing at a certain time is not a priority. Talk about self absorbed.

    And a TWO MONTH trip to Europe? Sign me up, I promise, I'll enjoy the adventure.

    • V St.Clair

      She is right, I work at a market and always ask myself that question.

  • Alva

    “Yeah this guy grew up without any shoes and his roommates are goats, but he still just wants to get a girlfriend and make enough money to buy himself a popsicle every so often. “

    Condescending much? Get over yourself!

    • Sara

      I don't get it. What is it that makes this condescending? I think you're the one that needs to get over yourself.

  • Jack

    Vapid chick alert. Check out her bio:

    “Caitlin Rolls is a writer/artist/graphic designer who also enjoys making online purchases and indian food. She hopes to move out of her parent's house soon.” and she's 24.

    I live in Los Angeles. Don't blame the city.

    • TerranceL

      Take it easy, Jack. Two posts weren't enough hatefulness? What seemed vapid to you was refreshing in its frankness about the banality of the universal to me.

      Geesh, just a touch of honesty here brings out the pitchforks. Settle down, folks, she's just telling the truth.

      And if you bother to google her site, as I did, you'd find that this artist/writer is anything but vapid.


      I'm obsessed with the fact that you made three dick comments. not one. not two. three.


  • earlobe

    of all the globe trotting i have done, very few of my trips may have actually “changed” me so to speak. i loved this piece and especially appreciated this:

    “I mean your definition of success might be confined to monetary gain and getting a ring on your finger, but I prefer to measure success by emotional development and cultural acumen. And also fuck you.”

    i completely agree.

  • earlobe

    errbody hatin' but i appreciate YOUR THOUGHTS, caitlin, which is EXACTLY WHAT THIS IS, people.

  • Antifreeze33

    My friend and I had a discussion about this very topic recently so it is good to see that other people feel the same way. Right now I'm living abroad, and when the glitz and glam of being in a new country finally wears off, you begin to realize that it really is just a bizarro version of home. I've met good people, I've met a few shady characters, and I miss my peanut butter too, damn it!

    Taking time to travel can be an entertaining distraction from your life. If you are trying to reinvent yourself, traveling will certainly give you a push in the right direction, however you will have to put forth significantly more effort to realize any sort of substantial change. You said it succinctly by describing traveling as a “really expensive trip to a really, really cool bar.” Unless you stop being a tourist and make a long term investment in a community, a “really cool bar” is all your vacation will be.

  • ≤≥≤≥≤≥≤≥≤≥≤≥

    “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” -Proust

  • yelena

    One time my friend and I were lying on my floor talking about a summer trip I took to Europe two years ago, and after giving him a quick run down, he asked what I learned from it. I was confused for a second and asked him what me meant. He clarified by asking if I had learned anything “profound” from the experience. I thought about it for a second and I almost instinctively said that it taught me that there are many ways to live and experience life and be happy other than very narrowly prescribed way we are taught is the only good and acceptable way throughout our lives. And the more I've thought about it since then, the more I realized that it was true and it was profound.

    Though it varies of course from person to person, I think we all have a certain perception of what it means to be happy and what we should seek to do that, but the simple realization that it is all relative and the exposure to the incredibly different lives other people lead all around the world is very, very valuable experience. It's actually very empowering in that it makes you realize that things you think are resolute in your life are actually very subject to change, a change that is malleable to YOUR will. It didn't change anything concrete in my mind about what I want to do with my life, etc, but, in the way of the lovely quote from Proust at the top, it did open my eyes.

  • Jack

    I don't think it's hateful, I think it's just extreme annoyance! I read the article a couple of times thinking there would be something redeeming about it but found nothing. So there, I've made another comment.

  • an0n0n

    Travel isn't for everyone. It's true, everywhere is equally horrible, however, there are those of us that have a great sense of wanderlust – those of us that need a change of scenery to be miserable in.


    “I mean your definition of success might be confined to monetary gain and getting a ring on your finger, but I prefer to measure success by emotional development and cultural acumen. And also fuck you.”

    This is awesome; I loved it too. Even though I haven't traveled, this piece still resonated with me– I thought it was insightful and honest. Nice work.

    • Terbnamron

      3 shillings bets that natalie and caitlin are a couple o’ real drabby muckrakers

  • Julene

    Thank god I'm not the only one that doesn't need every good experience in life to equal out to crazy realizations about the universe as a whole. I liked this a lot.

  • Pfft

    It's so strange how Americans see travelling as some sort of enormous accomplishment.

    • Comic Insult

      Well I think that is because “country hopping” isn't really as practical in the US as it is in other parts of the world. It's sort of a commitment to get on a plane and spend thousands of dollars flying from San Francisco to Tokyo. It's much easier in continents like Europe, so yeah, I get why Europeans don't see a weekend in Italy as an “accomplishment.” Traveling from Paris to London is the European equivalent of traveling from New York to Newark.

      • Moleskin

        Yep, right. Like hopping from US to Canada or Mexico is so fricking hard…

      • S.

        Well it can still be “fricking” expensive. The US is a big fucking country.

  • Comic Insult

    Damn, the commentators here are so hateful! Where does this rage come from?

  • gimmemore

    this article is on point – those who are criticizing stick your thumbs back up your butts and keep going on life changing trips, ill keep having a good time.

  • Charley

    Traveling is a fool's paradise. –Emerson

    Think about it, take a second, yeah.

  • federico

    just another bullshit town

blog comments powered by Disqus