Walking side by side in the school hallway, you and him, you allow your swinging arms to touch lightly, quickly, and ever so tentatively. Shyly smiling across your schoolbooks, he grins back at you, and asks, quietly, “is it alright if I hold your hand?”
There is nothing like that first, initial rush of adolescent affection. Remember when holding hands was positively electric? I do, and sometimes I wish I could go back to those days. Not to the awkward, bumbling phase of spin the bottle kisses and sweaty middle school slow dances, but back to the time when everything lay ahead of me. When the very anticipation of the thing was more thrilling than the thing itself.
This is your first love.
At whatever age you experience it, it sticks with you, and very likely influences (perhaps subtly) many of your future relationship choices. First love is beautiful, and memorable, and only happens once.
You know what else fits that description? Your first travel experience.
Not necessarily the time you were loaded into a station wagon and drove cross country for a crowded Disney World vacation (although perhaps that’s what did it for you), but the experience you had when you first felt like the travel bug bit you, and that passion for adventure went searing through your veins.
For me, this was my first trip abroad, backpacking through Europe. It wasn’t even that long ago, 2011. But ever since then (and maybe even sooner), I’ve known that travel is a part of me. I cannot stop journeying and exploring the world and though my travels today may be better, smoother, and ultimately more fulfilling, there will never be anything quite like that first travel experience. And in countless ways, that travel experience is exactly like my first love.
You’re a little bit afraid
The first time you click that “Purchase” button and book your flight, you might scream a little bit. What did I just do?!? It’s kind of like when you sent that first flirty message to your crush, or said yes to your first date. The nervous excitement is palpable and you’re both floored to find out what is in store, and tummy-twistingly nervous about how it’s going to go.
But the excitement trumps the fear
You keep having dreams of getting immediately lost on your trip, or showing up to your date with a massive pimple, but no matter how intense your nerves, the desire to go through with it all keeps driving you forward. Such is your first travel experience and your first love.
You’ve dreamed about what to expect
Alongside the typical nightmares are vivid daydreams about your destination. You expect London to be straight out of Love Actually, as you’ve always imagined it, or old and charactered like a Dickens novel. If you’re heading to the USA for the first time, you might envision nothing but wide open spaces and long, dusty roads heading towards vibrant sunsets.
This is quite like your anticipation of your first love. Movies and books have given us lofty expectations of both romance and adventure, haven’t they? Every place seems like paradise and every relationship is bound to be dramatic, epic, and passionate. When it comes to both these big firsts, you have been imagining and sighing over them for as long as you can remember.
And find you were a little bit right
It’s a surge of delight when you discover that what you’ve been waiting for is just as you planned. It’s incredible when places and people live up to our expectations. Perhaps New York City is as shining and full of life as you hoped. Maybe your boyfriend said the sweetest, most perfect words before your first kiss, something you’ll always remember.
And a little bit wrong
But you aren’t ready for everything. There’s inevitably some disappointment wrapped up in all that joy. The city is dirty, crowded, and you decided to visit in the heat of summer. Your well-spoken boyfriend is not as well-rehearsed in the art of the smooch. But, you’ll take the good with the bad. This is, after all, life, and you sensibly understand the balance needed to make something genuinely great.
You consult a lot of “guide books”
When you’re in the throes of your first romance or planning your first big travel adventure, you look for help and guidance wherever you can get it. In the days of yore, hefty guidebooks were all you had. Now, you can plan your trip with the vast, endless resources of the Internet. You spend hours scouring travel blogs and forums to make sure you’re 100% prepared for every aspect of that trip.
As you navigate the waters of love, you ask your more experienced friends questions, whispering and confiding about who, how, what, and when. You feel, in the beginning, as if others know a great deal more than you, and only with their assistance can you make it through.
You laugh about it later
Your first love has ended, and it’s been years since your first trip. Now you’re a seasoned pro, having withstood heartbreak, missed flights, bad dates, and lost luggage. You’ve been around the block.
And now, you can laugh about the early days. How naive and clueless you were, how you are lucky you made it out alive, and how you will never forget the way it was. It’s something special to look back and chuckle appreciatively at your younger self, a vessel of hope, wonder, and earnestness.
And, for a while compare every future travel experience to it
Despite your laughter, you also look back with fondness and with the shrewd eye of the older, wiser you. You may have known little, but that was a beautiful time. Never again will you have the luxury of true anticipation. Now you’ve traveled. Now you’ve loved. Never again will you be able to do that first time over. And because of that knowledge, that first trip or that first love stands out as a pinnacle, the rubric by which every future trip and every future relationship is measured. At least for awhile…
It hurts to say goodbye
Most of all, your first travel experience is like your first love because it is so hard to say goodbye. The end really hurts that initial time; you’ve never had to deal with the parting before. When you have your first breakup, or you get ruthlessly dumped, it stings like hell. You think you’ll never love again. But, eventually you do. And it only gets better and better.
And when you must head home after that first big trip, you fear you’ll never board a plane again. What if all your adventures are over?
But they are not. There are plane tickets to be bought, reservations to be made, and new loves to be uncovered throughout your days.
But, you must admit…
There’s nothing quite like that first time.