Only an hour into our drive from Banff to Golden and already we have seen a fiery sunset streaking across the sky, filling the valley and beaming an orange beacon on the mountainside. Was I in the Lord of the Rings? And just before that, a black bear graced us with his presence on the side of the road, meandering about on a green hill. He was in no rush. This was his home, his sanctuary, and we were mere visitors to his kingdom. I wanted give him a high five and perhaps engage in a pillow fight with tickles and giggles. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t participate in a cuddle battle with the bear; getting mauled this early into the trip would have been a bummer.

We kept driving.

Hours later, we arrived in Golden, a small town in a sleepy valley surrounded by imposing mountains. But the GPS lady in all her wisdom told us to keep going. I swore I booked a cabin in Golden. Were we to appear on the local news the next day as one of those hilarious and sad tragedies involving cars driving off the cliffs by GPS command?

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Reading time: 6 min

I feel like most people who travel have mixed feelings about “returning home”, or at least back to some sort of normalcy compared to the exciting adventures offered while away. There’s the I’m so excited to see my family and friends and sleep in my own bed!, the I never want to leave this place; how will I survive?!, and I don’t even know how to go back to normal life…, as well as many others I’m sure I missed. These were some feelings I experienced after moving back to the U.S. after five months in Spain. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

But how are you practically supposed to readjust to a life that used to be familiar but now seems foreign? The foreign has become your familiar, and the world just feels upside-down. A foreign coin falls out of the washer, the people in the street actually speak your native language (this still freaks me out sometimes), and going to the grocery store is a lot more expensive than you remembered. Me? I didn’t want to adjust. Readjusting means going back to how things were before, and I didn’t want that. Travel changes you. The people you met, the places you went, the ways your perspective and priorities changed… Reverting back to my former self wasn’t really an option.

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Reading time: 5 min

For my first month living in Madrid, I stayed with a host family who was incredibly kind, open, and welcoming. I had a very positive experience staying in their home and receiving my first taste of Spanish culture. When I was moving out of the house and into my apartment in the city, they invited me for a “goodbye lunch” in their home, so I was nothing short of grateful and excited. (Also, free food!) It was a bittersweet affair that turned into quite the fiesta.

Spaniards love their extensive lunches with multiple courses and a certain amount of tradition. (Kayleigh, too, loves the multi-course lunches.) Their quaint dining room with the formally-set table served to be a happy atmosphere for me, my host mother and father, their thirty-something daughter, and her husband. As we sat down for the first course, the apertivo, they served me vermuth to be paired with the cheese platter and meatball-type appetizer in front of me. (Kayleigh’s Drink Tally: 1) It was a bitter beverage, not my favorite when compared to other lighter and fruitier forms of traditional Spanish alcohol such as sangria or tinto de verano. But I drank my glass and kept the grimace off my face in an effort to obey the most basic rule of etiquette when having lived with and been hosted by someone: you eat and drink what’s in front of you.

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Reading time: 7 min
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