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The International Writers Magazine: Jenna on Wanderlust

Jenna Simsen

The first time I got on an airplane I was 13 months old. I don’t remember it of course; I only remember hearing about it later. Now, I’m a little over 21 years old, with more hundred flights under my belt and numerous other trips by car on my list, and enough memories to fill a lifetime.

At this moment, I can name about ten of my personal acquaintances who have never once even been on a plane, or out of their home state. I think to myself, how could this even be possible? How is it possible for an adult, living here in American, to never have experienced something as magical as Disneyworld as a child?
Image Jen at 21

I say to these aquaintances, "You’ve never been to Disneyworld? I’ve been like six or seven times."
I then start naming off the particular trips. Okay, once when I was a baby, once when I was 11, and once when I was 16. Then I remember, well, there was that one other time and oh yeah that other time. By the time I finish counting, I’ve recollected seven separate trips I had taken to Disneyworld before graduating high school.

As of this current day, I have been to Greece, Italy, Germany, Canada, and Mexico, about 30 states, and countless cities. A great deal of this I owe to my parents. They taught me that Texas will always be my home, but I should never feel like it’s my only set of boundaries.

Jenna at the beach
Ever since I was little, we have taken vacations to your typical historical American landmark, your typical family fun destination, and your typical, not-so-secret hotspot that was ‘off the beaten path’. And whether or not I thought that walking to see all seven Smithsonian Institute museums on what I still think was the hottest day ever recorded for Washington D.C. seemed fun, I can definitely appreciate it now that I’m older, and can see what it has taught me.

Although we always aimed to see the generic vacation spots, my parents tried to teach me to acknowledge that sometimes you don’t have to go far to see something new. Besides our big out-of-state vacations, we would take several day trips each month to different places within Texas. We would get up early on a Saturday morning to take a drive to San Angelo to see the college campus, or to Brehnam to lay in the bluebonnets or even to San Antonio to take a walk down the Riverwalk at night.

It wasn’t typical to take large vacations every month, but we still tried to take small trips to get out of our everyday environment. A taste of something new or different seemed do a bit of good, and waking up in another city was sometimes just what you needed to relax.

Thanks to my parents influencing me to have a great sense of adventure, I have seen Cats on Broadway in Times Square, a fireworks illuminated sky beside the Washington Monument on Independence Day, and my name in the sand in Santa Cruz with the cool, constant, California breeze blowing through my hair.

These are all things that I’m proud to say I have experienced. It seems almost a cliché, but I would never take back any of it. I love that I’ve been able to experience so many different places, the way they were intended to be experienced.

While still in high school I took my first trip overseas, to Italy and Greece. I spent 12 days in the most uncommon, yet breathtaking, places I had ever seen. I think a bit of ancient history can do a bit of good to your intellectual self. Ruins of ancient Roman societies and Athenian remains have a way of making you feel humbled in the fact that you aren’t the only ones to have lived, and that so many people came before you. Places like that can have a power over you, making you feel proud to have even walked there so many years later. Today, when I see the Parthenon or Coliseum on television, or in movies, I see that it can never be done justice through a screen, but I still say to myself, "Yep. Been there."

It was after I came back from Europe that it really hit me. There is so much that I hadn’t seen. From then I began to change the way I thought about vacations. Taking trips wasn’t so much about getting great pictures or souvenirs, but rather the experiences you go through while you’re there and how you feel when you leave. It is easy to feel like home is where the heart is when you never take the time to visit any other places. I feel that visiting other destinations can do a great deal of work on your character. It can show you that not everyone lives like you do.

What I like most about traveling is the feeling of waking up in another city. I’d wake up, turn over and look out of my hotel room to the city below and the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, or sound the whitecaps of the Atlantic washing up against the rocks on the Jersey shore. For some, it’s an everyday backdrop to their lives, but it’s only with an outsiders perspective do you get a chance to appreciate what isn’t the norm for you. It made me appreciate what I wake up to everyday. The sunset, the beach, the downtown skyscrapers are all things I had never taken the time to just stop and stare at.

Image Jenna at 17

We put a pause on our extravagant family vacations when my sister and I got older and my parents knew that long trips filled with nothing but "grip and grin" photos seemed a little too ‘kid-dish’ for us. But it hasn’t stopped me. I still have the desire my parents instilled at a young age. I had inside to see as much of the world as I could. Since then, I’ve continued to venture out on my own, and am thrilled every time I get to check off a new place from my ongoing list: Take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard; Check. Ride the Elevated Train into downtown Chicago; Check. Lounge in the VIP nightclub in Caesar’s Palace; Check.

Whether it’s a weekend in Austin to walk down 6th street at night, or an overnight drive to Memphis just for some genuine soul food, I’m always enthusiastic for a trip. The destination doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, but at the very least, you’ll see something that you hadn’t ever seen before, and that in itself is something. You’re only limited to what you want to do. Taking a chance on something new is the only way to discover a lifestyle that might influence you to live your life a certain way or look to others with sense of acceptance in the way they live theirs. No matter how many places I visit, the list I have just keeps growing longer. I’m not too sure where I’m going next, but I know I’m going soon.

© Jenna Simsen November 2008
Dickinson, Texas

jennasimsen at

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