Like many college students, I wanted the experience of traveling abroad this summer. I had heard all about the benefits of travel — how mind-opening and life altering it can be — and as someone who was born and raised in Tucson, I had only ever traveled within the U.S. and Mexico.
I began to realize the world is so much bigger and, while I love the Southwest, I wanted to expand my understanding of the world.
I decided to take a risk. I called a travel tour agency specializing in tours for young people ages 18-35, and I spent roughly $3,200 on a round-trip plane ticket, hotel stay and a guided tour experience.
RELATED: OPINION: Improving your social skills, one concert at a time
I settled on a trip to Paris and London, two cities that possess a lot of old world charm and culture and are full of sight-seeing options, exotic food and beverages, beautiful architecture and plenty of history. I was thrilled.
My experience ultimately taught me many things about the reality of travel — something a lot of the travel blogs casually gloss over. Yes, travel is amazing. I cannot describe how beautiful the Eiffel Tower is at midnight, when the lights begin to flash and it sparkles on a warm summer night. But the reality is that travel is more nuanced than what Instagram blogs portray.
In London, I visited Westminster Abbey, a church in which many monarchs and historical figures in British history are buried. It is the resting place of brilliant minds such as Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens and Chaucer — and it even contains the ashes of the late Stephen Hawking.
I also got to take a boat cruise down the Seine river in Paris. It is the same river Joan of Arc’s ashes were thrown in.
Standing on the top of the boat, I could see the bustling city of Paris, alive and well. Tourists held their maps, trying to find their destinations. Locals sat at both sides of the river, drinking wine and eating cheese with bread while looking over the water. Couples kissed and held hands.
While there, I also experienced a three-course meal with foods that are considered somewhat exotic back home. I tried escargot — snails — for the first time and frog’s legs (which taste like chicken, by the way).
I also visited a French Cabaret. Although many people would understand that there would be some nudity, I was still not expecting it. So, when the dancers came onstage topless, I was a little shocked. But the French are comfortable with nudity and human sexuality.
RELATED: Don't let new developments destroy local vibe
There was also a trapeze artist who swung around right above our table. His act was so daring that I worried he would slip and fall.
Finally, a singer belted out “La Vie En Rose,” one of my favorite songs which could actually sum up my trip.
I learned quickly that travel is something that is often romanticized on social media. It’s depicted as a completely carefree activity.
Let me just say this: International travel is not for the faint of heart. It is both physically and mentally exhausting. Jet lag is not a made-up condition. Being on a plane for what can be as long as 10-plus hours takes a toll on your body and experiencing some degree of sickness is to be expected.
I also did not know that public restrooms are rare in many European countries. Water is also not readily available for free the way it is in the U.S.
The tourist attractions and museums are extremely packed. The Louvre was so busy it was hard to walk around in. When I tried to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa, it was shrouded by a crowd of people all trying to get closer.
Besides the physical aspects, traveling so far away from home and loved ones is also emotionally taxing. This is something the travel blogs do not discuss openly: There is a lonely side to traveling.
You spend all day among people who speak a different language and don’t understand you as clearly as you wish they did.
It was a humbling experience. I encourage all students to take on this challenge because the experiences you get, the friendships you make and the revelations you have teach you a great deal about the world outside your door.
Follow Daily Wildcat on Twitter