My sister Debbie recently visited me at home in Berlin. She had just finished high school and was about to embark on a summer (and perhaps a life) of adventuring and solo travel. Now she’s off to Nairobi, Kenya for three months, followed by an Interrail trip through Eastern Europe. She has always been my little girl and it’s so, so, so strange to see her grow up, become a wise woman and make up her own mind on stuff. Or choose to wait with the whole decision business for a while because boy, we’re still so young. Anyway, as we sat on my sofa with a strong G&T and talked about her newly gained freedom, the new life it brings and all that’s still to come I realised this chick has quite a lot to say. So I asked her to tell me about what traveling means to her for Travelettes; this is her response.

Holidays always started the same: My three siblings and I were woken up in the morning; we grabbed our bags and stumbled into our parents’ van. Our dog Charly could always decide on whose lap he wanted to sit, he usually chose mine. While Dad was driving, my Mum looked after directions and tried coordinate our bathroom and McDonald’s needs (quite the challenge if you’re six!). I’ve always loved getting round by car especially when they played my favourite CD. Remember when people still made CDs!? At 16, I took my first solo trip and went to England. I remember the night before so well. What if I don’t catch the flight? What if I don’t make the train to the airport? Or what if I get on the wrong one and end up in the middle of nowhere?

Of course none of that ever happened. For some reason I was never scared of the traveling itself. Finding my way around became the most important and fun priority. Suddenly there was no older brother to blindly follow or friends who had a better sense of direction and would guide me along; I was all by myself. That state of mind is perhaps the best teacher of them all. Meeting strangers who aren’t strangers anymore by the end of the day, having random encounters at the most random of places and finding myself in that whirlwind of excitement and adrenaline, that was when I fell in love with traveling. It’s not just that, I’ve also realised how strong I feel whilst traveling and how privileged I am to be so independent. If I wanted, I go could go anywhere. Literally anywhere. I’m free. My freedom has no borders. It’s about finding the balance between being in absolute control and losing it again. I love getting lost during the daytime and then falling asleep somewhere beautiful at night, constantly moving between the familiar and unfamiliar. I know I’ll get there at some point, it’s almost like a deep inner conviction that there’ll always be someone to help me out just like I’m there to help others out. And if worse comes to worst, there’s Google Maps… but please still make sure to take a different route.

Over the years I went on many trips, my family, my sister, my friends, myself. Now I’m 19. I finished high school and have no clue what I want to study or if I want to study at all. What I do know – and I don’t care about how clichéd it is – is that I need to travel somewhere to come across myself by accident. Traveling does something to me, something more meaningful than emptying my purse and filling my camera’s memory card. I think the road doesn’t just change the way we see ourselves, it also changes the way we see the world. But the often tedious process of traveling has the biggest impact of them all. Being on a car, plane, train or bus – that’s when you know something’s about to happen and you make space for something new. When I leave the town I grew up in, I also leave the thoughts and situations I grew up in behind.

But going back is the same. When I come back home, fully inspired by the place I just left, I can’t wait to merge all these inspirations and insight with my old life. I love the moment of entering my room and dropping my bags, especially if it’s tidy! The candle is right where I left it, the pictures on the wall are still there and my bed is covered in fresh linen. The to-do list I did for the trip with all the ticks and notes is still on my desk. Nothing’s changed while I discovered a different part of this world, nothing’s changed apart from everything.

That’s traveling for me. Leaving and then coming back. Coming back with a bigger picture of the things that have always been so close, perhaps too close. We miss our siblings, our parents, our friends, our favourite place, we miss everything. And when we come back we realise what we have. What we really have I mean, and these mostly aren’t things. Traveling makes us more grateful. Coming back makes us more grateful.

Equally though, the outdoors give us a sense of home too. At least that’s what I hope to find. You know that feeling when you know you’re at the exact place at the exact right time, perhaps even with the exact right person? Even if it’s a fleeting moment? You know that bus stop that gets you to places or the bakery that served you your first breakfast, or the post box where you dropped your postcards, or the beach you were every night, and that room with a view, that room. Everyone you meet will shape that experience. Everybody’s way of living and talking, talking to you. That’s what I’m looking forward to most. And suddenly it becomes so much more than the odd journey towards finding myself.

Am I scared? Do I know that I’ll get lonely at some point? Do I have doubts? Yeah, sometimes, and sometimes all the time. But I know that none of the questions and certainly no answer will keep me from still doing it. So traveling is also about feeling the fear, the loneliness, the doubts and then doing it nonetheless. I’ll only ever get somewhere I want to stay if I give up the familiar. That’s the same for any physical place and everything else, my mind, my heart, my dreams – they’ll only get bigger the further I leave my fears behind.

All photographs taken by Caroline Schmitt