You leave home, you move on, you do the best you can
I got lost in this whole world and forgot who I am…
–Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me“
My dear friend Trevor gave me some very interesting advice after his last trip to Thailand: “It’s very difficult to go home again.” On my Oktoberfest trip (that I will detail more in the near future), I wanted to put this advice to the test by, very literally, going home again. Much like Miranda Lambert (in the song quoted above), I had to try one last time.
A Quick Background on The Purpose of This Adventure
13 years ago, just months before 9/11, I was introduced to the joy of travel. At 17, I became an exchange student on a trip chartered by the American Association of Teachers of German. By doing so, I was the first member of my family who willingly ended up in Europe – my mother was stationed in Germany during her service in the Army, but her auspices were much different than mine.
For one month, I was an exchange student at the Langraf-Leuchtenberg-Gymnasium in Grafenau, and stayed with a host family in Schönberg, just outside of town. During my month there, I learned a lot about myself and my passions for learning about other cultures. For the first time ever, I didn’t feel like I was alone in the world. I felt like I finally found a group of people who were just like me, and placed value on the same things that I did.
One month as an exchange student was just enough to open my eyes to how big this world truly is, and how much I have left to see. I vowed to myself that I’d come back to the little town of Schönberg, on the edge of the Bavarian forest. And my return would be sooner rather than later.
But at 17, you have no idea what troubles and trials lie ahead. I soon found myself thrown into a number of tribulations that would demand my attention. Attending college half a nation away, finding and navigating my first real jobs, and learning life’s lessons the hard way all soon took precedence over my dreams of traveling the world.
Thirteen Years Later
Anyone who has been close to me knows that this past year has been full of personal struggles and challenges. But one of the points of light amongst the fog was the fact that I was going back to Germany after 13 years of being away.
Remember the whole Wideroe mistake fare event last year? During that sale, Trevor planted the idea that I could, in fact, go back to Germany. For about half-price of a full-fare ticket (fuel and all), I made my booking. The hotel stays were all on points, meaning this was going to be a frugal trip. This allowed me to book a car at an unreasonably high fare, and make my plans to drive back to the little town I was an exchange student in.
It was a two-hour drive from Munich to Grafenau, the city I was a student in. During this time, I had no idea what to expect. Would everything have changed? Would the city have grown at all? Would the people be any different? Would there be any other students I’d run into? I think “nervous” would be the polite way to describe the way I was feeling. The fact that high-powered cars were passing me on the Autobahn at over 100 miles per hour wasn’t helping.
Two hours, a drive through the Bavarian Forest, and a couple of roundabouts later, I came back to my German home. And much to my surprise…nothing had changed. Thirteen years later, and very little had changed, if at all. The Marktplatz was exactly as I left it. My favorite cafe was still standing – and, for the most part, was serving the same exact menu. And the high school, with some alteration, was exactly as it was 13 years ago.
After a spot of lunch, it was time for me to go home again – albeit a little reluctantly. I made the 10-minute drive from Grafenau to Schönberg, where I physically rested my head at every night. There, I sat at the ice cream cafe around the corner from my guest family’s house, sipping on a cappuccino and debating my options. After 13 years – about 10 of which I’d lost touch with my guest family – would I really have the audacity to knock on their door? If I did, I had no idea what to expect. And whatever I got, I figured I was pretty lucky to have.
What really ended up happening truly surprised me.
I walked up to their house, and knocked on the door. It took my guest mother a moment to realize who I was…but once she did, my greeting was warm and immediate. You would never have known that 13 years had passed between us. In fact, once her husband (my guest father) came down, we spent the rest of the day catching up on everything that had passed in thirteen years.
They told me about their children, whom were near the same age as myself, and what they’re doing now. I told them about my career as a travel writer. We exchanged photos, stories, and other anecdotes of our time together thirteen years ago. I broke bread at the same table I ate with them at when I was a teenager. And, as our conversations grew later and later into the night, I ended up staying as their guest in their home once again.
Laying in bed that night, I came to an epiphany. We talk about miles and points as if they are an accomplishment: the first one to a million points wins. When in fact, it is my opinion that points and miles are merely a tool that get us to the next destination. It doesn’t matter how many times you fly first class – what matters is the experience that you took with you. What matters is the people you meet, and the stories you gain as a result. And for me, that night? The most important thing was the perspective that I regained.
It’s been said that you can’t go home again. I beg to differ – because I achieved it. And this time, with a little help from the points and miles I plan on accumulating, it will be a lot sooner than 13 years that I’ll be coming back to the house that built me.