An Amazing Journey: How I Almost Lost Myself (and My Way) in Travel

By Britta Floyd

I’m writing this post from Switzerland. Upon arrival, my hotel had champagne waiting for us in the lobby and my crew did a toast with me to celebrate such a surreal journey. I spent the day boating and wandering around Zurich, one of many European cities that I’ve had to the pleasure to experience. I sit in my room at the end of the day with tired feet and my things sprawled all over my ultra trendy room with blackout curtains; these are the things I’ve learned to appreciate. I sit there alone having just spent the day walking around with a complete stranger that I may never see again. I relive the view of the Alps from a Zurich river, window shopping on Bahnhofstrasse and searching for the perfect shot to post on my Instagram.

It’s a rarity for a girl from my neighborhood to have accomplished something like this. I grew up in the relatively affluent city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, but my neighborhood was one where my white friends couldn’t come for play dates, where government assistance was a way of life, where it’s possible you may not ever leave the block. Most girls I know have a few babies and only dream of attending the community college down the road. Being poor in a town where most people are wealthy reminds you every day of what you don’t have and what most won’t ever afford. I’ve had so many need-based scholarships, handouts, free food and clothes that at times it felt like it was all I was worth. The one saving grace is that I’ve always been curious and brave enough to try new things. My mother lived by the motto “find a way to make a way.” I adopted this too and my whole life changed. In a world that says that Black women don’t matter, I achieved one of my grandest dreams.

I feel sharp pangs of survivor’s guilt. I question whether I deserve it. I’m afraid even if I follow this path of upward mobility that somehow everyone will still treat me like the poe’ little girl from Arrowwood. It used to take me a long time to tell new friends about my early life because I was embarrassed. In my head, I see the scene in Mad Men when Don Draper, with his kids in tow, rides by his childhood home and the kids stand there bewildered; I don’t want that to happen to me.

It all started with going to Italy with my high school choir at 15. I studied classical voice from age 9 and excelled in the advanced choirs. One year we went to Verona. I got a partial scholarship and worked at the PTSO thrift shop. My mom also used the money from her income taxes and I was on my way. We came in third place out of 100 choirs of different ages from around the world. We took a day trip to Venice and rode gondolas, had a 12-course meal at an old estate in the countryside, and sang at the Colosseum in Verona. It was all so incredible. I cried when I landed at the Detroit airport. I knew I could never go back to life as it was; I wanted more.

I searched youth programs that went abroad but they were all too expensive. I remember going to a People to People informational session with my mom and once they said it was $5,000 and there weren’t any scholarships available, my mother looked at me and said, “Welp, honey, not this time.” My junior year in high school during third hour, I went to a college visit from Eastern Michigan University, mostly to talk with my friends, but the recruiter mentioned that the study abroad program was around the same cost as tuition and that financial aid could be used; I had found my solution. It took four years from my first trip to Italy, but I went to England. I used my financial aid and my mother went without many things to help finance my studies in one of the most expensive countries in the world.

While I was there, I met Riikka from Finland and she told me about Ryanair and other discount airlines. She told me stories of her faraway travels and we became instant friends. That year, I bought cheap flights all over Europe. I spent my 20th birthday walking along the Mediterranean Sea barefoot after spending the night clubbing at a beach bar in Barcelona. I trekked two weeks in Morocco riding camels and bargaining at 12th century markets. I celebrated New Years with Riikka in her village skiing and eating moose that her father hunted and her mother cooked. I visited Paris and Berlin and embarked on one of the most epic backpacking trips through Italy, Monaco, France, Greece and Turkey. I skipped meals and ate ramen. I didn’t buy new clothes often and when I partied I bought beer on tap or went early to get coupons. I couchsurfed with strangers and stayed in hostels. I sacrificed so many comforts. Honestly, I think the reason it wasn’t so hard for me to give up these luxuries in order to save was because I never had much anyway; it was more natural than having things.

The year I came home was probably one of the hardest periods in my life. I romanticized being away and I had exceeded even my own imagination. What they don’t tell you is that when you come home you are likely to experience Reverse Culture Shock, readapting to one’s own home culture, which is often accompanied by depression. I’ve had bouts in the past but this time I hated everyone and everything. I cried all the time. The guy I liked before I left I didn’t like anymore. I just wanted to travel — couldn’t think of anything else. I made poor decisions like not paying rent on time in order to go places, anywhere. I fractured relationships with my friends and family. I had to move home and lived in my mother’s basement and was struggling to keep up academically.

Traveling was my antidepressant and my drug of choice. Traveling was the only thing that made me happy and get out of bed. It was where I was able to use all my talents effortlessly, constantly challenged without feeling pressure. I navigated language and foreign cities; I learned more about history and politics and culture than I ever did in school. I started feeling fuller. There is no failing; you just learn at your own pace. If you don’t get something right, you wake up and try again the next day. You can’t be late because you are on your own timetable. It started out innocently, but it turned into escapism. I couldn’t figure out where I belonged anymore. My whole life was crumbling and the only thing I could muster the energy to do was plan the next trip.

I started seeing a counselor and I realized that I didn’t need to be trapped in my life. I had the power to make a life for myself that made sense. I skipped class for a week and went to Brazil. I continued to make poor choices. For instance, I was in love with a guy who was in love with someone else. I decided I needed a break, a chance to step back and figure out what I really wanted in my life. I dropped all my classes, my friend loaned me money and I got a ticket to South Africa. I spent three weeks with Riikka exploring and plotting my next move. I continued working my hotel job until I applied to be a flight attendant and got the job. I left without knowing what city I would live in or what was in store for me.

By the time I became a flight attendant, I had already visited 18 countries. I was inspired by a friend, Courtney, who had a list of things she wanted to accomplish by her 25th birthday. I decided right then that I would only set one goal and that was to travel to 25 countries by my 25th birthday. That was almost a year and a half ago now. I passed 25 in January of this year, and my birthday isn’t until October, so I changed it to 30 by 25. It became a lot easier once I was a flight attendant, but it was still relatively challenging. We make less than teachers and jetset around like rock stars in different cities and countries every night. Also, as a new flight attendant, we don’t get international trips that often, and most of the destinations my company flies to I’ve already been. I had to take it into my own hands and really explore. I traveled to see my friend serving in Peace Corp Philippines. I took weekend trips to Dublin with my roommate and embarked on my dream trip to Southeast Asia.

As I escaped the physical classroom, I entered the world’s classroom. I walked through history books and learned firsthand from locals. I’ve learned how to better prioritize my finances. I’ve met people from every corner of the world, some whom I call my friends. I learned you have to nurture the friendships you hold the dearest; finding your tribe is the most important no matter if they are near or far. Some sacrifices are worth it.

Every experience I had, every failure, every bit of light was worth it. The final and most important things are coming to terms with that fact that I deserve it, every trip, every experience. Without my mother I wouldn’t be who I am. She thinks because she doesn’t have a degree that she can’t offer as much, but what she doesn’t realize is that because she is so giving, kind to everyone, selfless, resilient, protective and brave in her own ways, I can be too. Every day it’s like pushing against a stone and just by living she has taught me to keep trying every friggin’ day. Recently, a woman, after hearing about my life, says to me, “You are already great. Even through the process. Even your failures are a part of the process and it means you are reaching higher.” It was so comforting and so incredibly accurate.

What’s next? I would love to one day go into foreign service, but first I’ll start by finishing my degree in anthropology. Try to do my laundry more than once a month. Write a collection of travel stories called ‘Be Brave.’ Learn how to love myself a little more each day by choosing the right food to put into my body, the right people in my life and riding my bike every chance I get. Thirty isn’t the end for me. If I could grace every corner of this earth, I would still want to see the moon. I’m planning to study French in Senegal for a month in the winter, travel to Cambodia with a good friend of mine and find my way to India and Australia. I’m starting a study abroad prep program, World Institute, for underrepresented high school students around the country. I’ve sacrificed a lot. I’ve lost a lot and failed at things often, but like Leon J. Suenens says, “Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.”

Photo: Shutterstock

Britta Floyd is a flight attendant, blogger and author of Amongst Werewolves [Red Beard Press, 2014]. You can find her people watching on a train or binge watching HGTV in Philadelphia. You can follow her on IG @BrittaUrban or her website

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