1. Finding the perfect price and timetable for a ticket on a trip you’ve been looking at for a while — finally seeing it all click into place, and getting the satisfaction of hitting “book” and knowing that your trip is actually going to happen.
2. Putting in your request for vacation, and marking the days on your calendar as OFF with a big red pen.
3. Arriving at the airport — where everyone is excited, nervous, rushing, or waiting to see someone they love — and everything feels much more possible. Getting to see all of the destinations flash on the board, and wondering how many people are taking a plane today, and where they’re going.
4. (Outwardly, you’ll complain about the idea of airplane food and a cramped seat, but inside you’re so excited to sit in your little chair and watch a few movies while you wait to be in a brand-new place.)
5. Touching down in a new city, but not before you look out the window of the plane and watch the patches of fields turn into real roads and rooftops and people.
6. Stepping out into your new surroundings and being overwhelmed (but thrilled at the same time) with the sound of a new language, and the look of signs and advertisements and newspapers in this place you’re unfamiliar with, and the idea that when you walk out of the safety of the airport, everything is going to be new.
7. Trying out the first few words in the new language, and feeling like you did when you tried to ride a bike the first time — shaky, nervous, but filled with a new sense of independence. Every “hello” feels like a victory, and every “thank you” feels like a first step towards freedom.
8. Looking at a menu and not knowing what you want to try, because the words are unfamiliar to you, and because everything is totally new. Looking at the plates going to other diners and asking the waiter (as best you can) what that is, and if you can try one of those. Feeling the profound culinary joy that can only come from trying a new dish in a new environment, and knowing that you’ll love it for the rest of your life.
9. Finally seeing something in person for the first time that you’d seen (and loved) a thousand times in pictures.
10. Taking your own picture with it and knowing that, even though it’s a little corny, there’s something truly magical in having a photo of yourself with something that you’d dreamt about for so long (it’s almost like a family reunion!)
11. Meeting other travelers in a bar and getting into a long conversation about where you’ve been, where you’re going, and how you’re liking this place so far. Feeling like you’re friends who have known each other forever, and skipping all the small talk to go right to the kind of conversations that matter within a few minutes of meeting each other because it’s travel, and nothing is quite like it is back home.
12. Buying a bit of street food and walking around with it wrapped up nicely in your hand, eating and strolling and wondering how you can possibly take in a city through so many different senses at once. Getting lost for the first time. Feeling like a kid again as you wander around gawking at the unfamiliar colors, letters, and images whirling around you.
13. Realizing that, for the first time on your trip, you know where you’re going without having to look at a map. Even though you might have only mastered the three blocks around where you’re staying, knowing even that much of a foreign place makes it feel a bit like home.
14. Seeing something that just seems so (insert place here), like a mime in Paris, or a fiddler in an Irish pub, and feeling like it just materialized out of a postcard.
15. Seeing something that completely upends the stereotypes of a given place and reminds you that while traditional motifs can be fun, they are by no means a representation of an entire culture, and that every country is full of surprises.
16. Finding that one “hole in the wall” café or pub that you stumbled upon completely by accident, but that feels miles away from the busy tourist traps. Looking around while you take your first sip of beer or margarita and hoping you blend in with the locals.
17. Doing something completely spur-of-the-moment, like a sunrise hike up a nearby hill, or a bike tour of the ocean coast.
18. Experiencing how different the natural terrain is from where you’re from. How humidity makes your hair curl, or how northern countries have the longest sunsets.
19. Marveling at how a region’s most common animal, like deer or snakes, can be completely fascinating when you’re not used to seeing them around.
20. Realizing all too soon that you have to return, and feeling the bittersweet pull of longing as you slowly begin to pack your things.
21. Looking back years later and knowing that, while the journey may have ended, it will always live within you. And that the place will always be there waiting, if you happen to find yourself missing it too much.