Put Down the Guide Book

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Our adventure started early in the morning. Myself and two friends had rented a car and were making our way up to the northernmost part of Lebanon. But we were having trouble getting out of Beirut. It’s a confusing city, with a severe lack of road signs (or any rules of the road for that matter). But we had a sense that we should head north, and we did, eventually ending up through no conscious decision of our own on the right highway.

But this was only the start of the journey. Our destination: The Assi River, on the border of Syria and Lebanon, known for its superb white water rafting. We passed by quaint country towns next to bombed out highways, signs paying homage to martyrs and warriors. One can see signs of war anywhere in this country, often hidden within stunning scenery. The rafting itself was amazing, and four waterfalls later our thrill seeking was duly satiated. After a gargantuan Lebanese lunch, we made our way home.

Yet on the road back to Beirut, I learned an important lesson about adventures: the greatest are the kind you cannot find in a guidebook. They cannot be easily planned, or organized, or paid for in advance, or arranged through the guiding hands of a personal driver. Great adventures begin with a car, an open road, and a decent map. On this trip home we glanced at the map, which happened to mark a few archeology sites nearby. Figuring we had nothing to lose, we checked them out. One ancient Phoenician tower, a 3,000-year-old cave dwelling, one natural spring, and three amazingly preserved Roman temples later we managed to make it back home. It had been an incredible day and we had seen incredible things.

That was our trip by the numbers, yet the lesson is what’s most important. Great adventures are often off the beaten track. They cannot be found in travel guides or through hotel concierges. The most amazing sites are the ones that tourists have not found and managed yet to destroy. Lebanon is a place for sites like that, and I’m nearly certain every other country offers the same possibilities. So no matter where you study abroad, keep this in mind: you can follow the trail or you can find adventure, but rarely can you do both.

Junior > International Studies > Johns Hopkins University

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