It was four in the morning when my distant Italian cousin finally cut his wedding cake with his new bride. I know this because I actually got to attend, which never would have happened without a little bit of luck and a lot of spontaneity. Fortunately, his wedding happened to take place during my solo adventure in Italy and I somehow found the courage to fly from Rome to Napoli to attend, despite not knowing him or his family well. The event was so surreal that it left me with a happiness that was as foreign to me at that point in my life as Italy itself.

Before heading off to Europe, I was feeling confused and lonely; emotions all too common to many 20-somethings. I had transferred colleges three times, changed my major a bunch, and still found myself with no sense of direction or purpose. Within the sea of confusion, however, there was one thing I knew: I had a desire to live a creative and adventurous life. It was that desire that led me to embark on my solo five-week trip; I wanted to go off on my own, meet new people and create unforgettable memories. And so, when I heard that my cousin would be getting married in Napoli, I accepted the invitation to attend without any hesitation.

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Immediately, I was thankful that I did; Italians really know how to throw a party! What started in a beautifully ornate Catholic church ended in an extravagant mansion overlooking the sea with Mount Vesuvius looming in the background. We feasted on a delicious six-course meal, danced for hours, talked, laughed, and threw our worries to the wind. I couldn’t believe that I was standing in a blissfully crowded room, wearing a dress I borrowed from a French girl, my curls matted to my forehead and my skin a little too loved by the sun. If Vesuvius had decided to erupt at that very moment, it wouldn’t have even mattered. My happiness was even more explosive.

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Soon after my cousin’s wedding, I decided to visit a beach two hours away from Milan. There, I met Luca, a native Italian, and we agreed to go snorkeling together. Side by side, we paddled our way deeper into the water, catching glimpses of the diverse sea life as we glided around effortlessly. As time went on, I realized how grateful I was for opening myself up to meeting him. So often in my daily life, I would turn down opportunities to get to know new people because I was so focused on myself and my worries. My time with Luca reminded me that opening up to new experiences is both refreshing and vital to personal growth.

“Learning how to be by myself finally led me to feeling okay as myself.”

Of course, there were moments when I was on my own; sometimes those were desired, other times they were more challenging and bred loneliness. Regardless, they forced me to learn how to become comfortable with my  own company. Even the simple act of eating dinner alone at a corner café taught me to be more content in solitude. I didn’t have a smartphone or the Internet to distract me; it was just me and my thoughts.

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It was an incredible experience, really: learning how to be by myself finally led me to feeling okay as myself.  I slowly began rebuilding the confidence that was so worn down by the whirlwind of confusion that had inflicted the past couple years of my life. I started to think that maybe it was okay that I couldn’t pinpoint a direction or a specific purpose. The confusion I was feeling was a part of me, a stage of my life. It was something I had to embrace and work through. It was okay.

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At one point while snorkeling, when Luca and I reached a cove, he asked me a question that was, for the longest time, the root of my confusion: “Where to now?”

Whereas in the past that question had left me feeling so lost, I finally felt like I had the answer: “Does it matter?”  Maybe it’s not about the destination? Maybe it’s about the journey – the experience. At home and at college, I was floating aimlessly through classes and activities that didn’t awaken even the smallest of spark in me; looking out into the glassy green water of the Ligurian Sea, I felt a million sparks go off all at once. It suddenly occurred to me that not knowing where the destination lies forces you to appreciate the journey. It’s not about the “what next” but about the “now.”

My time in Italy didn’t eliminate all of my confusion about my direction or purpose, but that moment in the sea let me take home an invaluable moment of clarity.

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Stephanie is 22 years old and resides in Austin, Texas. She is currently a student studying business and communications at the University of Texas. Her passions lie in traveling, art, songwriting, and working with animals. Her main goals in life at the moment are to have many adventures, live creatively, and to pet as many dogs as possible. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @stefrobalino.