Meet Rachael. Mother, portrait photographer, avid runner, reader, coffee snob and travel lover. An everyday woman determined to live a life of adventure. In 2017, Rachel completed the Expat Explore Europe Taster Tour with a friend. She shared the beauty of her experience of travel with us.
It seems that I was born to travel; it just took me some time to get out and see the world. I spent a lot of my childhood travelling almost the entire United States with my parents, brother and sister in our converted van/camper. My father was a professional french horn player in the Army Field Band, having travelled much of the world before I was born. Because he travelled away from home so much before my birth, we didn’t leave the USA, though we grew to appreciate travel. Aside from Canada, I did not leave US soil until I was 27 years old, starting with Ireland. My father passed away 10 years ago, but the travel bug has officially passed from him to me, connecting us in a way I never foresaw.
At home in New England (USA), I have a toddler, a husband, an office job, a photography job and many many ways to forget about myself or my passions as an individual. But, in the past decade, travelling through Europe has become a passion of mine. I have visited other parts of the world since (the Caribbean, Europe & Africa mostly) and am always stretched and enlightened by how big this world is; how we are all so unique and yet so alike. Travel is something that I feel so many people regret not doing. I didn’t want to be that person – someone who pigeon-holed myself in a position or lifestyle that allowed me to close so many doors. I also hope to inspire my friends, my daughter, my family; who have busy lives and obligations. I want see that the world is bigger than the town we live in, and prove that we have so much space to grow outward. These experiences make us more balanced, more loving and more aware of how beautiful life is.
[In 2017], I invited one of my best friends to make her dreams of visiting Europe come true. We travelled on the Europe Taster Tour with Expat Explore. The main reason I chose this tour was that it was a great way for her and me to see several places which we might not have spent a designated week in.
We couldn’t decide on just one place to visit, and I usually spend a lot of time planning my trips. We decided going on a tour would relieve me of much of the planning process, but also allow us both to “sample” many places that we’d hope to choose to go back to in the future. I had been to Paris before, so we chose to fly and meet up with the tour there. Switzerland was high on my list, and I knew seeing several places would be a good taste and inspire me to return to the ones I enjoyed.
Our tour was a week-long – we visited Paris, Burgundy, the Swiss Alps, Rhine Valley, Amsterdam, Bruges and ended in London. While it was fast-paced, we were incredibly impressed with the authenticity of the trip. You miss the “getting lost in culture” aspect on some of these tours, but Expat still tried to create and educate you despite that. We were really impressed that we felt that the experience did not lack much for us, and was so easy, budget-friendly and a great way to meet people. We appreciated how informed, friendly and kind our tour leader was (shoutout to Mark!) – we felt we still got a good sampling of local foods and sites, even if it was fast-paced. Even the bus rides were a good break to give us time to relax, chat and laugh together.
What I enjoy most about Europe is how dramatically the culture changes from country to country. I have travelled all of the UK, parts of France, Greece and Italy, and I am always wanting more. The language, the people, the food, the landscapes, there is always so much to immerse yourself in, that is both new and educational. Because I have spent so much of my life in America, being in places with such a different connection to history and tradition/culture is something very enriching. I don’t speak any other languages, but always love being stretched to both study and attempt to respect the culture adequately.
While I love Paris to pieces, visiting Jungfraujoch in Switzerland was beyond breathtaking on this trip. Standing atop the gorgeous mountain range of the Swiss Alps, one side spanning the valleys of the region, the other side spanning miles of a massive glacier, you just have no choice but to stop and take it all in. We had a group up there with us, who had travelled together and were singing in another language (perhaps of Scandinavian descent), and everyone was so moved and so still. It was truly a mountaintop experience. Even the train ride up and down was incredible; quaint mountain villages nestled deep in the valleys, waterfalls free falling off cliffs, snowy peaks and greener than green grass all in one view… Wow. In that moment we both felt like there was nowhere else we were meant to be.
Travel has been something that I have been raised and grown to love so much that I’m willing to take risks and make sacrifices for it. I tend to be a fun-loving, friendly person, but I also have a fearful, controlled side of me that I could easily let take over my life. Travel is something that really has never let me down, it teaches me over and over that life and adventure are worth seeking. Three years ago I almost lost my life and my baby in childbirth. Taking that first trip away from my daughter two years ago was scary, but it also taught me that I’m still strong and the world still has the power to move, change and grow me. I am so looking forward to sharing a future of adventures with my little girl. The friend that I travelled with on this Expat Explore adventure recently lost her sister, very unexpectedly. She has lived the past year in pain and hesitation. She had always planned to visit, and still never had. When I asked her to go, I think she knew she couldn’t say no. She needed this. The end of this trip left us both in tears. Happy tears of healing, of friendship and of such a fulfilling adventure together. It was such a gift to share this with her.
My advice to others: Don’t wait. Don’t look back on your life and wonder what you were missing. What was happening while you focused on your job, while you were too tied up or afraid to leave your doorstep or your comfort zone. There are SO many things we spend money on that we won’t remember, but travel is an experience that will be a part of you forever. Travel with friends, travel with your partner, travel with your children. You will all remember those times for the rest of your life, they will create memories you will hold onto. Travelling America with my parents is some of my best childhood memories, and I still have them now that they are gone.
Discover culture, discover history, discover people. Laugh, lose a little sleep, take leaps, heal. You are not too old, too young, too busy, too broke, too unprepared- there are no excuses not to get out. There was a couple celebrating their 50th anniversary on a 3-week European adventure! GET OUT! See the Eiffel Tower at night, experience the Northern Lights, go on a safari, breathe in the mountain air, visit castles, eat crazy food, stand on centuries of history, meet new people that you can laugh with and relate to no matter where you are from.
As for my future adventures, Scotland has my heart. I would love to continue exploring there, to share Scotland with my husband and daughter (who have both never been) and to see the Isle of Skye myself for the first time. I also would LOVE to go back to Switzerland, as well as see Scandinavia, Spain/Portugal, Czech Republic, Austria and the Greek Isles, as far as Europe goes. New Zealand and Alaska are very high on my list as well. I could go on… The adventure never ends!