• jmellinger1

One Mile at a Time

Why do people fantasize traveling? Why do people want to waste their money, just to sit by the ocean? Why do people put up with the stress of traveling just to drink some juice mixed with liquor?


If you've ever traveled outside of your home town, I'm sure these questions annoy the heck out of you. Of course there's always gonna be people that go to Florida to kick back and enjoy the beach, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I believe everyone deserves a vacation, some place they desire to be, to just kick back, relax and be happy.


However, I don't like to just vacation, I like to actually travel. I think there's a big difference between vacationing, and traveling. Vacation for me, is when I relax and stay away from stress and work. Travel, is when I go somewhere new with the intention of exploring and learning new things.


In less than two months, I will be 20 years old. With that in mind, of course I haven't traveled on my own, I haven't had the money to do that. I've either been to young or too broke from paying tuition to do that. So yes, I have clearly have an advantage when it comes to traveling, considering my family has taken trips here and there.


I'd hate to come across as some rich spoiled kid that gets babied by their rich mommy and daddy, because believe me, that's not the case at all. Like I mentioned, we travel, not vacation. Everywhere we go, we learn about the culture, we explore their historical ruins, we hike miles just to get different points of views, etc. We don't do all the touristy and beachy stuff (maybe a little for fun), we do the cultural and historical stuff instead.


For example, my sister once lived in Barcelona during the summer of 2016, due to an internship she had the chance to take part in. My parents and I took that as an opportunity to go to Spain for a week. Even though she did have to work during the day, we visited many museums, historical buildings, etc. I remember spending a few hours at La Sagrada Familia, the biggest church in the world, and it's still being built. The construction actually started over 100 years ago and I remember being so fascinated by everything we saw inside. Learning about the history and architecture was so amazing, much better than I ever could have learned in a textbook in school. There are so many things I learned from that trip, that I have never forgotten.


As cool as learning history is hand on, my favorite part about traveling, is experiencing the culture. In the winter of 2011-2012, my family went to Costa Rica for my sisters senior year. As I said before, my family didn't sign up to take tours or go to the beach even once. Instead, we tried to do as many things culturally as we could. As a matter of fact, one of the scariest and best moments of my life, started with a spontaneous idea.


The reason we visited a country with Spanish being it's first language, is because my sister had been taking Spanish for years, and since this trip was to celebrate her essentially, she wanted to be able to put it to use in the real world. She was kind of like our translator on the trip, she was the one talking to locals to figure out where we needed to go or what we needed to do.


One day, we were in town, ready to take on an adventure. We found a local who didn't speak a word of English, and he seemed old and weak. He told us about a "waterfall pool" off in the jungle some ways. Of course this could have been a horrible idea, but it was the four of us, in shape, following one old man. What's the worse that could've happened? Well to put it simply, I almost died.


Yes, you read it right, I would have died if my sister hadn't been there to save my life.


Obviously we didn't know my life was going to be put at risk, so we followed this man away from town, away from civilization. We soon realized that he was not in fact weak at all. With all of the changes in terrain and elevation, we could barely keep up with him. After about 15-20 minutes later, we saw the waterfall pool as he described. The top of the waterfall was even to the elevation we were on, so we had to climb down some rocks to reach the pool. Jumping in would've been unsafe because there were a ton of ginormous rocks all over the place. As soon as my family made it down to the water, it took us all of 2 seconds, to realize that the water felt about 1 degree away from being ice. My dad was a bit heavier at the time and not so athletic, so he didn't climb down with my mom, my sister and myself. I was 11 years old at this time, so I was being a huge wimp to the cold. My dad made me get into the middle of the pool for a cool picture before I was allowed to get out. After that, I happily sat on one of the rocks while I watched my mom and sister swim over to the waterfall. I have such a vivid memory of my sister yelling "I've been in the water for 5 minutes and I'm numb but I don't care!".


Then the part where I thought I was going to lose my life.


It was eventually time to get out of the pool, and climb up the rocks to get back to ground level. My mom climbed out first, she was freezing and was dying to get a towel to warm herself back up. It was an easy climb for her and she got up in no time. I went next. I had small hands and a small body.


Keep in mind that there wasn't dirt, grass, sand, etc. but only big rocks and water. I did my best attempt to climb up the rocks. I got about halfway up when i lost my grip on a wet rock, and fell.


My life flashed before my eyes. Instant terror flooded through my body.


My sister saved my life. she was directly below me and caught me before I hit the rocks. I only remember the fear and the tears, for all I know I could've sprained something or scraped a knee, and that would've been the worst of it. All I knew, was that my sister saved me, and I felt that I owed her my life.


I was bawling like there was no tomorrow, and I vowed to do whatever she wanted for the rest of my life.


I know 11 year old me was just terrified and over dramatizing the whole situation, but to this day, my sister and I became significantly closer. Since that trip to Costa Rica, my sister and I began to tell each other everything, we did everything together, even with her being 6 years older than me, she was my best friend. She still is my best friend.


There's a saying in Costa Rica, "Pura Vida", which you may or may not have heard of before. But because that trip was the beginning of our closeness, we got "Pura Vida" tattooed on our ribs in each others handwriting when I turned 18 years old.


My family has been to other places as well, cruises, Hawaii, Mexico a few times, and other trips all over the place. I have so many stories, so many experiences, and so many memories. I've learned so much culturally and historically. With each trip, it feeds my desire more and more to go new places and learn new things.


My advice for anyone who has never left their home state, is to get out and try new things. It doesn't matter how small, or how big. Don't just take a vacation and relax on the beach, experience something new and make a story to share.

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