I landed my first pen pal when I was 9 years old. I had some help; I like to think it was celestially organized. As it went, my little church somehow managed to wrangle connections outside of the ones I could see each Sunday, which consisted of about 20 people on a happening weekend. I’m pretty sure the pastor’s daughter pushed me in the direction because she was sick of me. For the record, I wasn’t a trouble maker. I did, however, love more than anything to be engaged and she sadly couldn’t pull that off. Thankfully, our somewhat volatile relationship spurred my love of travel. The pen pal game was easy; I picked Australia and began writing immediately. I was utterly thrilled. I had my first taste of life outside of my sheltered world and I loved it. My universe was expanding one hand written letter at a time.
At 12 years old, I began working a summer job for one of the many blueberry farms in West Michigan. It was common to work agricultural jobs at the time and I had goals. I was saving for a trip to visit my aunt near Baltimore, Maryland. With the exception of my older brother, the entire employee base was migrant workers. I made friends with most of the girls on my line and, subsequently, entire families while packaging berries the next 4 summers. My new friends traveled every year following the seasons and the produce harvested during those seasons. I was in love with the concept. What an adventure. At the end of that first summer I had my plane ticket and new ideas. I was totally stoked.
It’s a little difficult to explain the complex emotions I felt upon arrival at the Baltimore/Washington International airport. Dorothy said it best. She captured the sentiments of all travelers on their first venture into the great unknown, making her something of a universal spokeswoman. I was not in rural West Olive anymore. That trip was the first of many visits to the city. My first time in Washington D.C. changed me. The Smithsonian Institutes were too awesome to be real. I knew I wanted to see more. I wanted to hear more stories and make my own.
Fast-forward six or seven years. These were the years I had the most awesome adventures: Parenthood. The years I spent raising my kids, I did my best to travel with them. We had some really great experiences throughout Michigan on road trips. We did a music festival here and there and road tripped it south as far as Florida, east to Maryland, and everywhere in between. When my two oldest were teenagers, I had them drive us to Kentucky. They got the driving hours they needed and we got to share the time traveling together. My goal was to travel wherever we could on as little money as possible. That often consisted of trips to a new beach or park along Lake Michigan. I just wanted to expand their minds beyond what we lived day after day. I wanted to share my love with them in the best way I knew how.
At 30, I took my first trip outside of the US. Blame it on Sheryl. I met Sheryl at the school our kids went to. We hadn’t known each other long, but she was a doer and a great planner and I was a willing tag along. Our relationship over the years was perfect. She would reach out to me with any off the wall adventures with no pressure. I made it easy on her, too, and did whatever I could to accompany her. I stayed in my first European and American hostels with her. Neither of us had a lot of money, but we loved to travel. Sheryl and travel helped me get through a couple of decades.
Fast forward some more years. For the first time in my adult life I found myself responsible for only me. It was foreign. I was a little lost. I was prompted by my sister to go online and start connecting. Uncharted territory for me, but I was open to it. I talked for days with guys from all over the world. It was over those intensive days that I came to see that much like my pen pal days, internet writing opened up my world. It happened about a week or 2 in that I met a cool guy. He held the same job I held for years and he liked talking about food and culture. He basically had me at hello. We spoke the same language. That’s funny because we actually didn’t. He spoke Shqip, or Albanian, and was using Google translate for a big portion of our conversations. I didn’t even know where Albania was until we started writing each other.
Our story goes like this. We kept writing for weeks and I flew to visit within 2 months. I fell in love with the country and him. I say it was a modern day romance. He made me a part of his family immediately. I stayed for 2 weeks. Two months after that first trip I said my goodbyes to my family and moved to Albania. I’ve been here 6 months now. I’m a licensed massage therapist; naturally I wanted to continue my work. With the help of friends and family, we opened a massage center in September. I am learning a new language and new culture, but even more about myself. Every day my mind is open to new possibilities. Life is truly an adventure. Make the most of it. There’s no telling where you might end up if you stay open. Travel wherever and whenever. It’s not too late.
About Tara: Tara is an earth lover and sun chaser. She is a mother of four and a grandmother of two. Tara is doing her best to live a meaningful life. You can follow Tara on Instagram.