It has been eight months since I embarked on the trip of a lifetime. Although I was only in Europe for a single semester, I had the chance to experience places that I could never have dreamt I would see. Whether I was in a bustling city or a quirky countryside village, I was in constant awe of each cobblestone street, narrow alleyway and vibrant storefront that I stumbled upon. It seemed as though the charm of Europe's towns and cities was an unparalleled existence, and the more I saw, the more I was frequented by a growing anxiety of returning to the 'charmless' and uninspiring United States.
Sure, America is rich in history, but it doesn't compare to the ancient Roman ruins or gothic medieval structures, right? Yeah yeah, we have world-class cities. But they don't have UNESCO World Heritage Sites woven between their modern buildings. And our main streets and sidewalks aren't nearly as romantic as the roadways and canals that make up places like Antwerp, Venice or Bruges.
Or are they?
I left Europe feeling like I had to say goodbye to all storybook countrysides and elegant, clean and historically-rich urban centers. However, upon returning to America, I began to notice a quirk or charm in the main streets and back roads that I had never thought twice about before. I found similar architecture in Boston as I had in Amsterdam, and I really started to dig the different 'hipster' neighborhoods that surround my college campus. I realized that I didn't need Florentine cafés; I could find coffee shops that are just as whimsical and filled with character in places throughout Massachusetts. And while America doesn't have a history of, say, thousand-year-old crusades, its historical sites and lavish museums rival many of those 'across the pond.'
I went to Europe to fulfill a wanderlust that I never had the chance to pursue before, and I came back with an even greater thirst for travel and adventure. That being said, if I hadn't explored a foreign world, I never would have appreciated my immediate surroundings. Even the rolling hills and hike-able mountains that make up the valley that I currently live in can hold their own against many landscapes I saw while abroad; I'd even argue that a few beaches within Cape Cod's National Seashore are nicer than the beaches that I went to overseas. I don't need a European vacation to visit a culturally-rich urban hub; I can drive two hours north and find a brand new city that is equally as fulfilling.
Our towns and landscapes are often underappreciated, especially when backpacking or 'Eurotrips' are the topics of conversation among many people our age. But in a realistic world, we can't just jump on a plane when we feel a hint of wanderlust creeping up on us. Take advantage of your own surroundings; find the charm in places that are accessible to you, or take a drive and experience a foreign city in your not-so-foreign country. It took me four months and far too much money to find beauty and culture in familiar places, but America does have it, and it could be where you least expect it.