Travelling was not a big part of my life when I was growing up. I came from a very poor background and traveling was not something we could afford back then. However, I have always loved reading. Books were my best friends. I would spend hours up in a tree with a book in my hands reading about foreign lands, different times, and other cultures. One day I would picture myself climbing the snow-covered hills in the Swiss Alps. Another I was running through a flower-covered meadow in the south of France, or driving a motorbike along the Amalfi Coast, and suddenly that fire for travelling was ignited in my heart. My soul started longing for a chance to explore this immense and wonderful world, to experience things that would never have been possible in my small hometown of 14.000 inhabitants.
My first trip abroad happened when I was 25 years old. I used all my savings to go to Portugal with a friend of mine who was going to get married there. It was my first time on an airplane, and I was terrified. Seated by my side was a girl who was the bridesmaid and I had just met. When the airplane took off, we both grabbed each other’s hands and squeezed tight. Our friendship started at that moment. We visited Cascais, a coastal town in Portugal just 30km to the west of Lisbon, easily accessible by train. We stayed in a friend’s house which was great. I got to experience how a Portuguese family works, their customs, their traditional meals, and they took us to places unknown by most of the vacationers. They took us to day trips to Belem, Sintra, and Fatima. We saw Portugal through the eyes of the locals. We also went to Paris and London. It was grey and very cold in both cities but that did not make them less beautiful and charming. Paris was my favourite city in the world and being there was indescribable. I remember when I first saw the Eiffel Tower. I stared a few moments at it, in silence, in astonishment at the grandiosity of that monument, that historical heritage of humanity. In my head there played a movie of my childhood, living in a house with no fridge, no table, with its roof full of holes. We did not have much. If you had told my 9-year-old self that one day would be standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, she would have laughed at you. But when you desire something strongly and you put all your thoughts and energies towards it, the incredible can happen.
We had some amazing moments during this trip, but we also had some bad ones. We missed a flight from London to Lisbon. I was detained by the security of the airport in London because my skirt had a metal tag… My friend and I also had a few fights, disagreements and adversities during this trip that left a rather bitter taste in my mouth from what I had hoped would be a dreamy first trip. For a long time, I felt a bit disappointed, a bit frustrated; I wished it to be a perfect journey and it was not. Just years later, I realised that it did not have to be perfect. Humanity tends to worship perfection and we forget that perfection can be a utopic thought that makes us blind and stops us from seeing how life is precious, and how many beautiful things happen around us. There is beauty in imperfection too. Today, I acknowledge that that trip opened my eyes to a new world. It was my first glimpse of other cultures, other flavours, other architectures, and other histories. I have so much gratitude for having been able to go on that journey. Many people do not have the same opportunity. I am grateful for visiting many astonishing places and making life-long friends. I am so thankful for all the moments of that trip, for it was the start of my journey around the world. A journey that I have now started sharing with you. I hope I can show you that travelling does not have to be something impossible. May my experiences awaken the explorer that lives inside of you and may we encounter this vast world together!