“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
― Mary Anne Radmacher
My greatest inspiration comes from the three strongest, most beautiful and influential women in my life: my mother and both of my grandmothers.
My mother's first experience with travel was a 40 day trip to Italy that she took (by herself!!) at just 9 years old to visit and live with family. She recalls the midday naps as culture shock and I remember sitting on her lap before going to bed asking for more details about an adventure she took when she was my age. It seemed so exciting to me, a girl who wasn't even allowed to walk the few blocks to my grandmother's house at nine years old. It was her stories that made me want to travel to Italy so badly. Now, she lets me practice my Italian on her, takes impromptu mini road trips with me and listens as I list the seemingly endless places I want to go.
By the age of 20 (my age now) my maternal grandmother had married, given birth to two children, and emigrated to America with my grandfather despite knowing essentially no English. She returned home multiple times to visit family and took my mother with her. She tried to teach me bits and pieces of Portuguese but often I was just happy to listen to her and my mom go back and forth in a language I didn't know but somehow understood.
My grandmother has taught me that travel does not only have to entail jet setting. It can be discovering a new store, restaurant or place to feed the birds (one of our favorite activities while I was growing up).
It is through her that I have my Brazilian heritage and a large extended families of aunts, uncles and cousins who have been able to share pieces of their world and culture with me.
My paternal grandmother grew up Sicilian American in Harlem in the tumultuous time of the Great Depression. I have listened to her numerous stories of being one of the only children in her building with a working mother and how her family struggled with financial hardship and eviction over the course of her childhood.
Despite this, she worked hard, finished high school early and went on to have a successful career that allowed her and my grandfather to travel extensively when they got married. Some of my fondest memories are of visiting her in their house in the Bronx and making my way to her "magic closet," a child's dream of endless toys and knick knacks, many from her travels. We would sit in her kitchen and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and she would talk to me about growing up in Manhattan.
I believe these stories are what inspired me to attend school in New York City and explore the place that she so fondly refers to as "home" despite moving to the suburbs more than 15 years ago. While she never got to travel to Italy (a longtime dream of hers) she pushed for me to go and paid for part of the trip without even telling me.
It was that important to her that I go. After my trip we poured over details and photos together and I presented her with an "I love Sicily" mug which she uses to drink coffee in whenever I come over. Family ties such as the ones I have to my mother and grandmothers are what make traveling so wonderful and at times difficult.
When I first left for a 9 day school trip to Italy in April 2012, I was nervous. I had not been on a plane since I was a baby and had never been away from my family for more than a day or two at a time. I was scared, homesick and once I landed, jet lagged! After a day or two, this subsided and I was in awe of the places in front of me.
I saw the Coliseum in person, met up with my great Aunt and Uncle in Rome, haggled at an outdoor market in Sorrento, cruised along the Amalfi Coast, ordered gelato in Naples and lounged on a beach in Sicily while eating some of the best seafood I have ever tasted.
It was on this trip that I had a love affair with gelato, piazzas (and of course pizza) and the magic that I believe Italy provides just by inviting you in. I walked along places that I had only read about in school and was fortunate to do it with my best friends and my Italian teachers who instilled in me a love of all things Italy.
As much as I appreciate the culture and new experiences that this trip brought me, even more so, I feel it made me stronger. I gained a sense of independence when I hopped on the Roman subway or when I spoke entirely in Italian to a waiter when there was a problem with my table's bill.
I made friends from multiple countries, heard various languages, tried new foods and embraced new experiences that seemed a world away before the trip. The girl who once was scared to be away from home for 9 days, began planning future trips within weeks of returning home!
I encourage everybody (especially women) to travel if given the opportunity and embrace any new and beautiful places that they come across, whether it be the Roman Forum or a new coffee shop a town over.
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