TRAVEL WITH ME | Rome to Venice

With Spring Break almost upon us college students, I finally got around to editing the footage from my Easter Break trip last spring.  It only took me - what - a little over a year to edit?

All jokes aside, this is the fourth vlog I've released onto my Youtube channel from the analogs of footage I shot over my semester abroad.  I had pretty high hopes of producing a travel vlog series onto my channel when I originally signed up for the program.  I've always wanted to do something with my channel, and study abroad seemed like the perfect excuse to produce content without completely boring an audience.

A lot of things got in my way.  Bad WiFi.  Corrupted graphics cards.  Editing programs which I couldn't translate from Italian.  But for the first time since I've begun uploading these vlog segments onto my channel, I want to be upfront with you about the main reason why it took me a year to edit any of my trips.

I needed the distance.

It's difficult to own up to.  It was an incredible privilege to be able to study abroad, one that a lot of people don't get.  But after five months of living in Rome, and weeks of travelling across Europe on my own, I quickly began to realize that there is an enormous difference that arises from visiting a place versus living in a place.

And after returning to the States, facing the barrage of ecstatic questions about how my trip was, it was difficult to explain to people why I couldn't match their level of excitement.  But the truth was, and is, that I wasn't excited most of the time I spent abroad.  That fervor and thrill that overwhelms a traveler upon first arriving to a new place quickly reveals itself to be only a honeymoon phase after the first two weeks.  The truth is, most of the time I spent abroad I was uncomfortable.  I was stressed.  I was confused and fatigued.

I felt pretty bad about that - not just when I got back to the States - but while I was abroad too.  I knew that I should be enjoying myself more, and I felt irrepressibly guilty that I wasn't happier.  I bore that guilt for a while, really.  That didn't start to change until I came across this quote from Anthony Bourdain:

"Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind."

Now, I'm not a big Bourdain fan.  He's funny, though a bit of an asshole.  But when you've been wading through a flood of cutesy Pinterest quotes about travel with loopy fonts and faded pastel sunsets in the background for the past several months, the bluntness of this quote is incredibly appealing.  It's nice and all to motivate yourself with quotes about adventure, or how "you only live once" so you should get out there because you'll regret it later.  But that's only one side to travel.  And I suppose that's the fundamental difference between "travel" and "journey".

When you travel to a place - for the first time, or the millionth - you don't necessarily experience the set backs, pitfalls, or obstacles intrinsic to that place.  You don't have an arc.  There's no suffering, so there's no change.  It's just an experience.  When you live in a place - when you embark on a journey across a part of this world - your travels become life.  And life is messy.  It's stressful, uncomfortable, and often devastating and miserable.

It's those small, sparse moments, in between the struggles, that give life meaning.  The book you read on your train ride.  The smell of the sea as you sit on the edge of a cliff.  The children that stand around, watching you paint, calling out compliments in their native language.

Those memories wouldn't mean as much to me if I hadn't suffered through the miserable ones.

So, if you have to ask about how my time abroad went, this vlog is only a snapshot of that journey, and to be honest it better resembles a pastel Pinterest quote than an Anthony Bourdain snippet, because at the time I was filming it, I thought that was what people wanted to see.

But there is a whole journey laying beneath the visuals of this video diary, and in the interest of transparency, I'd like to share that with you now, bit by bit.

Stay tuned for next week, when I'll post the second part of the TRAVEL WITH ME vlog series, accompanied by a blog post telling the full story of my first solo trip: pastel sunsets, broken hearts and all.

Shai Cotten