It was my fourth day in Ibiza. I woke up and glanced at my phone — it was noon. My head hurt, a stinging reminder of the pulsing beats and shots of vodka from the night before. The cheap two-bed hotel room that we managed to squeeze six girls into was strewn with swimsuits and high heels and there was a very conspicuous bra hanging off the door handle.

When had we stumbled back through that door last night? Or was it this morning?

My head throbbed trying to remember, so I scrolled through my camera roll to try and patch together the happenings of my first weekend studying abroad.

woman standing on rocky beach in ibiza spain

This is what I’d post to Instagram

As I write this, the memories are fogged over with the rosy caress of nostalgia — the pictures that I’m tagged in on Facebook with glazed-over eyes have turned into the stuff of collegiate folklore, our brushes with danger are now laughable mishaps, our excessive drinking waved off as naive pre-21 shenanigans.

So why was I there? Two reasons: fear of the unknown and FOMO.

But the truth is, I hate nights that cause glazed-over eyes and all of the thumping clubs, brushes with danger, and excessive drinking that goes into them. I hate them now and I hated them then.

So why was I there? Two reasons: fear of the unknown and FOMO.

At 20 years old, I had left the comfort of my town and country for the cobblestoned streets of Florence. A wild, romantic adventure would surely ensue: I’d come back to the States with the sensual sounds of Italy rolling off my tongue, dozens of unbelievably glamorous stories under my belt, and the foundation for my next novel. But… What if that didn’t happen at all? Suddenly, the phrase running through my mind when the plane touched down wasn’t an adventurous Bring it on! but a very dubious What if?

girl in ibiza spain pool party

…But this is how I actually felt. Look at that RBF.

It’s understandable, then, that when the couple of people that I actually knew in this strange new world asked me to join them on most of their weekend trips, the floundering college kid in me excitedly accepted — eager to latch on to a plan that didn’t make me think those dreaded words: What if?

There are no What ifs in a trip that’s been booked and planned by others, right?

So I went with them on their planned trips. I fist-pumped in clubs and took shots of uncertain liqueurs and climbed Mt. Vesuvius with a raging hangover and drank too much limoncello (and wine and prosecco) and somehow also managed to, you know, actually attend the university I’d flown to Florence to study at in the first place.

the river arno in florence italy

Just a casual Florence sunset.

And of course I look back with nostalgia and laughter, but when I truly think about the summer of 2013, I don’t think of the late nights or stumbling into classes with sunglasses on or always getting a gelato on the walk home after dinner. I think of the moment in June when I flew from Florence to Bucharest — completely alone and plan-free. 

I knew that in a group, I let my voice go unheard, willing to go along with a louder voice in order to avoid any and all conflict.

Most of the students were planning to stay abroad after the semester ended and as they flocked off in familiar groups to trot around Europe together, something made me politely decline the offers to travel with my newfound friends. Though I’d like to say that I declined because I’m a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need a group to complete me, it’s actually because I knew something about myself — I knew that in a group, I let my voice go unheard, willing to go along with a louder voice in order to avoid any and all conflict.

(My coworkers would like to assure you that this is no longer the case).

Traveling solo was liberating. My wishes to see a famous museum weren’t nixed in favor of the group’s desire to sleep all day and chug vodka all night. I could wake up at 7:00 in the morning and take a leisurely stroll in solitude to find a nearby bakery without having a FOMO-laden companion ask to join as I tried to silently escape the packed hostel room. Reading Hemingway in a park for hours was a daily activity. Chatting with friendly locals became one, too. Meeting friends on the train seemed like something that — of course! — should happen, as well as the idea of reconnecting with them a couple cities down on my itinerary.

girl reading book in bucharest romania

Pls don’t judge me for this selfie.

I arrived back on US soil with a much clearer idea of what, for me, makes a trip a good one. Of course, some people absolutely love clubbing and sleeping in and fist-pumping from sunset to sunrise.

I’m just not one of those folks.

And it was that — being honest about who I am and what I want — that transformed my future group trips into memories that sparkle with spontaneity, a laid-back nature, and lots of strolls through parks.

Ended our 10-mile hike/walk/crawl of Sydney in her beautiful Royal Botanic Garden.

A video posted by Mary Zakheim (@marylouisezak) on

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About The Author

Content Writer

When she is not figuring out what the middle button on her headphones is for, explaining the difference between Washington State and Washington D.C., arriving to the airport too early or refusing to use the Oxford comma, you can usually find Mary in the mountains, at a show or on her couch. Mary is a content writer at Fareportal and likes annoying her coworkers with weird GIFs throughout the day.