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  • Writer's pictureLena Jennings


Two years ago I had never left the country. It wasn't until August 20, 2018 that I embarked on this journey of seeing the world when I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain. I left the country after I experienced one of the lowest points of my life and I was desperately in need of a change in scenery. [Shameless Plug: Want to know more about that low point in my life? Listen to Episode 1 of my podcast.] My 5 months abroad were some of the most transformative months of my life where I got to fully understand who I was at a time where I was stripped down of everything that I once knew. I saw the world with fresh eyes and I was forever changed by that experience. A host mom in our program had what she called her magic wall that had some of the most inspirational quotes on them that resonate with me to this day. It's a constant reminder as to why I love to travel and how much traveling has impacted my life.

Today, I have traveled to 29 countries and counting. I spent the first few months of 2018 traveling all over Asia and stepped foot in my very first South and Central American countries. I traveled solo, met new friends, and dared just enough to take myself out of my own comfort zone giving me the audacity to believe that the world is my oyster. Each and every one of my trips were fully funded by my savings over my lifetime and I wouldn't have wanted to spend my life savings on anything else. Here's an email that I sent to my family after I embarked on my first long solo trip experience:

"I did it. After 6 flights, 2 boat rides, 60 miles walked, and 6 weeks in Asia I have completed my first solo trip (& it probably won’t be the last). The night before I left I texted Michelle in tears, I was completely and utterly afraid. I didn’t think that I could do it and I believed in the fear that was instilled in me. I internalized the opinions of “you should cancel the trip” or “you’re not prepared” and believed them so much so that I didn’t want to go. As I boarded the plane everything seemed to go wrong and just feel wrong. It was like things worked against me but once I got to the airport there was no turning back. I started this and I knew that I had to finish it. 
I embarked on this journey for me out of a want to see the world. I didn’t want to wait on others and didn’t really have a basis for going alone. No one in my SJES, SJND, or LMU community has traveled alone outside of a study abroad program. I was the first one to do something like this, so it’s not like I saw Bonquisha go and I got inspired. I went because I have 8 months (well now 6 months) of uninterrupted free time with minimal responsibilities and commitments. I did this for me because why not? My friends are so proud of me and probably notice the change more in me than I do myself because this trip has been filled with “never in a million years would I have ______” moments. I would have never ever thought that I would be brave enough to take myself out of my own comfort zone and travel solo experiencing all that I experienced. 
Before this trip I would not have called myself independent, courageous, or bold. But this trip made me realize that I was already all of those things before, I just never tapped into them. Maya Angelou says “I come as one but I stand on the shoulders of 10,000” and I carried that with me on this journey. I went as one but I stood on the shoulders of my tribe — you guys. I had the inspiration to be brave from Michelle who took a risk and moved across the world. I was informed like Ashley to be well researched to know the customs, safety information, and history of that city. I was organized like Auntie to have a system in place and a plan set out before me with all of my documents in order. I was daring like Lauren to be fine with being alone and experiencing things for myself. I adopted the forward thinking and sharp mind of my Father to get me out of any unexpected situation. I became like mom when I stopped to appreciate the moment I was in and discern my surroundings. I was independent, daring, brave, courageous, quick thinking, and self-aware all because you guys have taught me how to be the best possible version of myself. You guys have been models for how life is meant to be lived and I’m standing on some pretty impressive shoulders. So thank you for being brave enough to be yourself and allowing me to learn from you. 
I wanted to accomplish 3 things on this trip as stated in my first email:
1. Learn how to take risks and dream big 
2. Be dependable 
3. Develop self-awareness 
And without even thinking about them until now, I have learned all three of those. On this trip I realized that I’ve been complacent. I don’t feel as though I’ve accomplished much nor lived up to my full potential. Yes I graduated early and landed a full-time job at Google, but so what? Is that really living according to my purpose? As I was in Malaysia, I rented the penthouse suite and it had a beautiful skyline view that I stared out of for about an hour reflecting over my life. I want to live in a fancy high rise, own nice things, and have a big family but what I really want is to walk into my truth. I want to be challenged and pour my blood/sweat/tears into something. I haven’t been challenged much in life because all things social, school and work have come easy to me. Of course I’ve had the hiccups and growing pains along the road but I looked at them as something that had to get done and simply did it. But in that moment looking out to the view I asked God to challenge me. I submitted my dreams/plans to Him and said sincerely said yes to His will. I know that I am meant for so much more in this world and I’m not willing to settle for anything less than what He has created me to be. In this next chapter in my life I am on a quest for my truth. A quest where I spend time developing my God given gifts and talents, deepening my relationship with God, and doing something to work towards that truth. I’m not going through a midlife crisis, nor is this a cause for concern lol; it’s a moment of self-awareness to know that I can do more, I can do better, and I can be better. 
Thank you for allowing me to go on this trip and experience all that it has to offer. I didn’t know what was going to come from it, but I have gained so much; more confidence, I’m okay with the unknown, and I realize that I can do anything. I understand Shirley Chisholm when she said “if you don’t have a seat at the table, bring your own chair” (something like that, right Ash?). I have the confidence to dare greatly and make opportunities happen for myself and no one can tell me otherwise. I have the desire to be something in this world and I’m happy to have shared in this experience with you all because this is only the beginning. 

So yes, I strived for 22 countries before my 22nd birthday and I've found myself at 29 countries but a lifetime of experiences later with the confidence that I would not trade for the world.



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