I met Elena in Genoa for the first time – we were in the same high school there. This year she decided not to continue her university and to take a gap year instead. “I want to slow down and finally see the world in its brightest colors,” she said and continued: “I want to slow down because I always run somewhere, and then I forget to enjoy all the small things, if you understand me. I also want to think about what I would really like to do one day.”
She started to travel when she was very young, so this decision was influenced by a lot of other journeys. I was really curious about her experience!
When did you leave Europe for the first time?
I left for New Zealand when I was 16. My friend always talked about a journey to America and I realised I wanted to experience such an adventure as well. I found some agency online and I went to a meeting there. I was a little bit scared, it was an impulsive decision. But I really wanted to leave because I was not very happy in Genoa and I had some problems at home. So I left for 6 months.
Did this journey change you somehow?
Yes it did. A lot. I was a city girl before, I loved to party and meet with friends all the time, while in New Zealand I lived at a farm in the middle of nowhere. It was so cold there, no hot water… I found it quite hard in the beginning.
I think one important part of who I am today is influenced by the people I met there. They lived in a simple way and it was really unusual for me. I thus, for the first time, discovered other ways of living. I started to think about all the possibilities everybody have. The possibility to choose what we want to do in our lives for example.
I had some problems with reintegration when I returned home, but after some time I realised a lot of important things and it helped me to change myself.
Did you start to travel more because of this experience?
I’ve always been a curious person, but my New Zealand experience made me more hungry to know other countries and cultures. Now I know this was one of the reasons why I left Italy again. I missed the way I used to be.
When I a think about the past I know I was more spontaneous, not so afraid of doing crazy things… I simply had more fun in my life. When I speak with other people about it, they always tell me this is the way one becomes and adult.
Before New Zealand I didn’t think about the problems our societies have so much. But while travelling I understood the complexity of unhealthy mentality in developed countries and I saw how people can be happy even with nothing. And I am trying to find the right way – my own way between these two extremes.
Ok, I know you were in New Zealand, Thailand, Nepal… and you also lived in London where you finished your bachelor´s degree. But what was your deepest travel experience?
India. I was there with my friend from London and the most emotional moment came when we slept in the middle of some valley in the Himalayas. It was during our journey trought the world’s second most dangerous road, the Manali-Leh Highway. All the stars were so near and there was nobody around there, just me and my friend. We were just watching the scenery and couldn’t even breathe. I have tears in my eyes every time I talk about it. I want to return there but I am a little bit afraid it won’t be the same again…
I also met beautiful people on my way and I lived with them sometimes. One of our couchsurfing host was really special for me. We spent some days with him and just before leaving I decided to stay because I fell in love with him. So my friend left alone and I travelled around with the couchsurfer for one more month.
It was so hard for me when I had to leave, but we agreed to meet in London again in one year. We were in touch all the time and then he finally came to London. I was really so nervous! Just before meeting him I drank one entire bottle of beer. But he came with his new girlfriend… He didn’t even tell me about her before!
Wow, crazy… What did you do after that?
Nothing, I never saw him again. But if I could, I would repeat the whole experience again. It would be different a think. When you expect something you are usually disappointed…
In Italy there is a church called San Nicoló and there is a famous sentence saying: “My heart will always be here, but always in new interior sceneries.” Something can always remain the same but our points of view change. If you then live with expectations, you can be so easily disappointed… I always try to live in the moment – you know, the famous “Carpe diem”.
Did you couchsurf even after this experience? Are other experiences better than this one?
Yeah, once I fell in love… But other times I always met nice people, some of them also came to my home in Italy. It is also a way how to find new friends for me and how to travel without spending money for a hotel. When you stay in a hotel you stay there alone. You cannot meet local people because you are kind of isolated from them.
What are your plans for the next few months?
I have a year off so I want to slow down because I always run somewhere, and then I forget to enjoy all the small things, if you understand me. I want to stay in my hometown a bit more and think about what I would really like to do one day. Maybe live in a village, grow my own vegetables in the garden and write a book… or not? We’ll see.