I backpacked through Europe after graduating high school, but little did I know how much I would grow over the next four years. That summer I worked three jobs and by the end of August, with a backpack full of gear and a simple camera, I was headed toward the unknown.
After five months marked by a whirlwind of cities, villages, trains and subways not to mention cuisines, cultures, languages and ethnicities, my view of the world and of myself changed. From the daily challenges of deciphering my surroundings, I became stronger and more confident. I actually met countless people from all over the world who shared their travel stories with me from Africa and Asia to South America and Australia. I was inspired to work harder, save more money, and continue my travels.
So after returning to Texas, I moved out of my parent's house and exchanged my backpack for an apron. The next 18 months were divided between three jobs as well as researching and planning for the next journey. I knew that I wanted to break through the barriers of being a backpacker and be closer to the people. I decided that I would work as a volunteer for different organizations throughout Europe where I would be able to live with locals, practice languages, and gain insight into their daily lives. After a year and a half, I was ready to head out again.
With a far lighter backpack, I began 14 months of travel as a volunteer on a small, organic farm in Portugal called Vishuddha. For six weeks, I dug my hands in the mud, picked a ton of olives (literally), gathered pounds of sun-dried figs (my newfound favorite fruit), awoke with the rising sun, spent quiet evenings eating home-cooked meals and reading from a small lamp next to an electric heater. After leaving Vishuddha, I took the train to northern Spain where I spent two weeks on LibÃ©lula Huerta, a family-owned farm where we ate only fresh food picked from the earth that day.
Although I only spent two weeks there, my time with Susanna and her family remains a highlight of my time in Europe. She not only taught me about concepts like sustainability, organic versus conventional, veganism and permaculture farming, but also about life in general. On our days off we would visit the beaches and mountains of Spain, cook fabulous meals, take adventures by bike, paint, laugh, and talk about our future hopes and dreams. After two weeks, I was so sad to wave goodbye to Susanna, but I felt refreshed and rejuvenated.
I then slowly made my way to Greece where I spent six weeks beneath snow-capped mountains outside of Athens. There I rebuilt fences, picked oranges, stomped on piles of compost, refinished a tree house and helped build a greenhouse. Oh, and in my free time, voraciously read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, two books by Ayn Rand I found on the bookshelves.
After weeks of farming, I ended my time in Europe as a volunteer at the Sea Turtle Rescue Centre in Glyfada on the other side of Athens. Throughout my time atÂ ARCHELON I made friends from all over the world, helped rehabilitate injured sea turtles, gallivanted around the Grecian coastline, and learned yoga from one of the volunteers.
Over the course of my travels, I managed to build friendships, learn languages, soothe sore muscles and photograph the world around me.