How My Perspective Changed at 6,000 Feet
The summer before my senior year of college, I had the opportunity to go on a two week trip to Europe as part of the International Marketing course I'd taken the semester before.
Two weeks traveling across five countries with a bunch of other adventurous 21-year-olds? Yup, sign me up.
It was my first big trip overseas with limited supervision from parents or teachers (#adulting) and I was unbelievably excited because we were hitting up all the big Western European countries I'd always heard about, but never visited: France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy...oh, and Austria.
So here's the funny thing about Austria: I didn't really know all that much about it at the time. Actually, I knew nothing about it.
I basically viewed Austria as the country we were going to stop in for a couple days in between Germany (beer!) and Switzerland (chocolate!).
Looking back on that trip though, I can easily say that Austria was hands-down my favorite stop.
It turns out, the city we were staying in (Innsbruck) was well-known for their extreme sport tourism. Who knew!
Within hours of arriving, I found myself signing up for a white-water rafting excursion that afternoon, and a paragliding expedition in the Alps the next day. (Although to be honest, signing up for that second outing required a fair bit of encouragement from my classmates and the tiniest bit of liquid courage from the local beer garden.)
The white water rafting was a great way to dip my toe in Austria's extreme sports scene. I got to navigate a raging river with one guide and six of my fellow classmates. Let's face it, nothing says "team bonding" more than having to completely rely on each other to stay afloat and stay alive. (Ok, maybe a bit dramatic...)
Floating at 6,000 feet
The paragliding, though – that was a different story.
I remember going to an internet cafe in Innsbruck the night before (remember when internet cafes were a thing? Ha!), and emailing my sister about what I was going to do the next day. I told her not to tell our parents until she heard from me again, just in case I didn't survive.
The next morning, three classmates and I met with the paragliding company before the sun was even up. We were driven to a ski resort in the Alps where we hopped on multiple cable cars to take us even higher up into the mountains.
The small mercy was that once we got to the top and matched up with our paragliding guides, they didn't give us any time to overthink the situation. Within minutes of arriving at the take-off spot, I was attached to my guide, given brief instructions, and then encouraged to sprint down a gentle slope that had been cleared of rocks and brush until our parachute filled with air.
Before I knew it, we were flying 6,000 feet above the ground.
My perspective changed
As the saying goes, "a picture's worth a thousand words", so I'll let my photos from the experience do most of the talking.
But suffice to say, floating thousands of feet above the ground with nothing but a single parachute supporting me completely changed my perspective on the true value of travel: it allows you to find things you never even knew you were looking for.
Overall, those 48 hours I spent in Austria were the most outrageous, terrifying, and exhilarating ones of my trip (and possibly my life!)
I entered Austria with no real expectations, and left it with experiences and travel anecdotes I recite with the same level of enthusiasm as I did all those years ago.
Austria taught me something at 21 that I've held with me ever since:
Don't just travel to the places you know, or the places you think you know. Expand your horizons.
Throw a dart at a map and figure out what that place has to offer. Do a little research, and then go there.
Be open to the idea that it has so much more to offer than you realized. Because experience has taught me, it always does.
I'm not saying you shouldn't travel to the Germany and Switzerlands of the world. You should!
Visit those iconic places you've seen on TV and dreamed bout for years.
Drink the beer. Eat the chocolate.
Experience those places for yourself, in your own way.
But once in a while, visit the Austrias of the world too – wherever that place is for you. Trust me, you won't regret it.
(And for what it's worth, the beer and chocolate in Austria was pretty damn good too ☺)