My fiancé looked up at me with apologetic eyes before returning his gaze to the map screen on his phone. Our train had arrived in Venice on a hot but beautiful afternoon, and we decided to walk to our hotel near Piazza San Marco. Two hours later, there we were — suitcases in tow and still no idea where we were going.
I was always dubbed high strung growing up, and nothing prodded my anxiety more than getting lost in an unfamiliar place. As a kid, it was a fear of misplacing my parents at a crowded event, and the uneasiness continued into my adult years. As my love for travel grew, I would spend hours detailing routes and printing maps to ensure I always knew exactly how to find my way. Three years ago, if you asked me how I would react to walking in circles for hours in a city where I only barely spoke the language, I would've replied: straight-up panic mode.
But I wasn't panicking. Instead, I was seeing flashes from experiences past. I thought about the time I was, as a junior in college, meeting my mom in New York City and her flight was delayed three hours. I had never been in an airport that large by myself. Everyone seemed to know where they were going and flew past me in haze of dark colors and designer luggage. Never having actually taken a taxi and knowing nothing about airport taxi protocol, I tried to step into the street and hail one outside airport pickup (after all, I had seen how people do it on TV). He swerved, honked, and barreled past me. Defeated, I went back inside and waited. (There might have been tears. It's all a blur.)
I thought about the time my then-boyfriend and I got stuck in a massive rainstorm in a tiny Thai village about a 30-minute walk from our hotel. I was over my taxi naivety at this point, but here, they were not a thing. The only way back was our own two feet. I also remembered the time our train dropped us off in the pitch black night at the foot of a mountain, with nothing but a winding road to lead us up to the coastal Italian town where we were staying. I could barely see my hands in front of me, and that old familiar feeling of panic began to creep in.
But here's the thing. All these experiences, as debilitating as they seemed at the time, didn't squash my fervor for exploration. In fact, they shaped it. On my New York visit, I would go on to fall so in love with the city that in five years' time, I would move there. In Thailand, an incredibly kind bar owner would take pity on us sopping wet traveler, and open his doors early to take us in. He opened a few beers and we sat for hours exchanging stories and learning more about each other's cultures. And in that sleepy Italian town, where the journey to find our Airbnb literally made my hair stand on end, I would get engaged to the love of my life.
I learned that some of my greatest memories stemmed from uncomfortable beginnings. Flights get delayed, weather forecasts can be horribly incorrect, and trains will drop you off in some pretty questionable places. Sometimes, regardless of how hard you study a map, you just get lost. After hours of dead ends, we finally made it to our Venetian hotel. But I never got upset; I just enjoyed the ride.