School vs Travel – Rome, Italy, Europe

"What shall it avail a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul? It is beneath human dignity to lose one’s individuality and become a mere cog in the machine." – Gandhi

A friend of mine asked me the other day what she should do: travel or finish school. There’s no way to answer this question other than offer your own opinion and in many cases, your own experiences. My friend is in her second year of college, excelling in all her classes, and seems to be heading towards a  promising future. The only problem is, she hates it. She would rather "see the world," and not follow the pressures her family is placing on her. If she leaves school, even temporarily, her parents will cut off her funds – no rent, will not pay for school if she chooses to go back, and most definitely will not support any of her ambitions to travel.

Now the larger point is why do some parents pressure their children to follow the path they think is best for them, rather than letting them choose for themselves – live and learn, trial by error – key components that build one’s character. I am not here to discuss this issue, instead I’ll pose the question: should I travel.

We live in an age where we are taught that the only logical thing to do is get an education, so we can start a career, then have a family. I do not protest this neccessarily, but ask if it would be fullfilling for one to do something they are not certain they want to do. Or, should they grab life by the reigns and steer it in the direction where they feel the most purpose.

I have lived in New York my entire life, in a small town called Tivoli. When I graduated high school, I faced pressure from all directions – attend college and pursue a career. My mother (a single woman who paid her way through college while my brother and I were in middle school), was relentless in this pursuit. I was working for a construction company, making $16.00 an hour, not bad for a 19-year-old. I began to look around though, and I realized my friends were either working right out of high school, or going to a college 10 minutes away.

A boring pattern was beginning to take shape in my life, and it terrified me. I was tired of drinking with friends every Friday night, sick of only finding excitement in receiving my paycheck at the end of the week. What to do? Travel, but "that" frightened me. I could only think of reasons why I couldn’t travel. I started realizing I was being my own worst enemy.

I grabbed all my money, had a passport sent to me – expedited delivery – and as fast as I could, I went to Rome. It was one of the top places I had always wanted to see. It was also my first time on my own, in another country, another continent no less. I was full of anxiety. Had I made this decision too quickly? Had I researched enough? I even stood in the wrong side of the line for passport check-in, I was with the nationals and when I got to the top, the guard did not find my idiocy as funny as I did.


After reaching my hostel, and taking a few deep breaths, I realized I was at ground zero for one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known. I made my first stop to St. Peter’s Church which was amazing beyond description, the Latin Hymns, the beautiful sculptures, the gold plating. There’s a certain feeling you get when you come to the realization you’re accomplishing your dreams. It hit me full force when I stepped through the large pillars of the Vatican to enter the courtyard of this colossal church.


Exiting the church some hours later, I made my way to the Sistine Chapel where Michaelangelo sacrificed nearly his entire body to make this masterpiece the whole world would desire to see. Before this, the nicest painting I’d seen was one my 4-year-old cousin made for me – stick figures of myself hitting my brother with a shovel! (still think it was a work of art).

After a few more days of sight seeing in Rome, I made my way to Venice. Looking back there are some things that I probably should have done differently before going to Italy – researching more hostels, booking some, at least copying phone numbers, in advance. Upon arriving in Venice, I was so taken back by the reflection of the lit buildings in the water, that this thought had completely slipped my mind. Luckily, fate would throw me a bone. I was sitting on a bridge not too far from St. Marks when I heard two people speaking English.

I introduced myself and within an hour, we found ourselves at an absinthe bar – pitchers of absinthe for only 15 euro. This was either a sign from God or the work of the Devil, either one, we were happy to answer the call. We talked about our travels while putting the melting sugar into our merciless drinks. One of the best aspects you will experience when traveling are the many different people you meet, and their stories as to why they are traveling.

Scott and Clay were in a predicament; they couldn’t decide whether or not they wanted to go to Sicily or Venice. During their discussion, a dog came along, layed down in view of them, and started licking itself. Scott said: ok, if the dog licks itself for more than 30 seconds, we go to Venice, if less, we go to Sicily. A minute and a half later, the dog was still not bored. Scott and Clay took this as a sign that Venice was their next destination. After drinking a ridiculous amount, later hanging out in a Rastafarian club, we managed to find some more absinthe at 4:00 am before Scott and Clay kindly allowed my to crash on the floor of their hotel room. Problem solved for sleeping arrangements, definitely not for my head though, the next day.

There’s far too much to say to try and sum up my experience in Italy, but what I will say is that if I had not gone, who knows what kind of person I would be today. Italy taught me about myself, my passions, what I want now, and what was never really that important to me to begin with. It gave me the courage to follow my goals even if I don’t know what they are entirely.

Three years later, I’m still traveling, still having new and amazing experiences, still feeling more fullfillment making $7.00 a day in Mexico, or $400.00 for 6 months work in Egypt than at a cubical making $60.00 an hour or a dungeon room with fluorescent lights. I still have not felt the calling for college, maybe I never will. We all have our own paths and we need to discover them for ourselves.

So when my friend asked me: Should I travel, my reply was "DO what YOU want, what feels right, for YOU." Different events help define who we are so we can discover what we can/want to be. To not take chances because you’re afraid of the consequences is silly; life is full of consequences, the worst one being the realization that you never took a risk because you were afraid of what would happen. You have one life, and you can spend it however you’d like. Just remember that time is what you can never get back. Make the most with all that you have, all that you want to accomplish.  

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