Editor reflects on lonely travels to Budapest


McDonald’s was the last place I wanted to be when I went to study abroad in Italy. But there I was.

It was fall break, and I was in the midst of traveling on my own to Budapest, Hungary. Being the nervous traveler I was, I arrived at the Milan airport three hours early.

That’s how I found myself in McDonald’s. After I had brushed the unidentified crumbs off the seat, I sat in a booth that smelled like fries next to the screaming kids in the play area.

While I waited for my flight, I called my sister and talked with her for a while. I left McDonald’s briefly to walk around the airport as we talked.

I stared out the window and watched the sun set on Milan as I listened to my sister’s voice back in Pennsylvania.

I stared at my food. I wanted my sister to be sitting across from me. I didn’t know where I was nor when I could board my flight, and I still had so far to go to reach my destination. All of my anchors had been lost, and I drifted alone somewhere, away from every comfort that I knew.

This discomfort, I learned, is a part of travel. One of my professors in Italy, an artist and teacher named Nicoletta who thrived on her students discovering this discomfort, once told our travel writing class that travel is not always about happiness. In fact, most of the time, it’s full of frustrations, anxiety and confusion.

So I had thought, at the time, why travel? Why do any of it?

I asked myself this as I traveled to Budapest that lonely night. Sitting in McDonald’s by myself, I wondered why anyone traveled at the risk of being even more confused than before.

Later that night, when I had gone through check-in and security, I stood in line behind a mother and her young son. They both giggled and joked about something in Hungarian. They made me smile even though I didn’t know what they said.

Those moments of observance, I realized, were one of the reasons I personally travel. That realization encouraged me to keep thinking about why I, Jess Mitchell, travel. They might not be the reasons others do, but if I found my own reasons, I could understand myself more. So I kept thinking.

I still ponder why I travel, why any of us travel, and I think I’ve come to some possible conclusions. It might be to see little moments amidst the frustrations that encourage us and pique our curiosity, like my experience in the airport with the little boy and his mother.

But it might also be because we know we’re on the verge of a new discovery in our lives. Even when I felt like I teetered on a high cliff as I traveled, so sure I was pushing myself too far, I wanted to keep going. I wanted to continue my travels to Budapest despite all the nervous aspects about it.

I think it’s because when we feel that way, sometimes it’s due to the realization that we are on the brink of something new, something unlearned, something dangerously wonderful. We know we’re venturing into new waters, and it takes some discomfort and a little bit of fear to dive into the deep end.
But when we’re there, that’s when amazing things occur.