In the middle of Budapest, looking toward the Széchenyi Chain Bridge over the River Danube between Buda and Pest, I found myself thinking of Bryan, Texas. It felt as though I was a world away from my small-town roots.
At 18 years old, thanks to my skills as wide receiver, I had my choice of an athletic scholarship at five NCAA Division 1 schools. I knew the University of Arizona would provide me with opportunities, but I never thought it would give me the world.
After four years of college, more than 130 receptions with the Wildcats, one degree in Human Development and Family Studies, a stint with the Cleveland Browns and a few years with my own restaurant franchise, I wound up back in Tucson working with the University of Arizona Alumni Association.
There, I got the opportunity to represent the UA on a 15-day Alumni Travel trip — partially on a riverboat cruise — through nine European countries. On the trip, I’d be the main contact for the seven other UA alumni traveling the globe — a small slice of the 150 or so alumni from other universities.
While most would have jumped at the chance to take this trip, I was hesitant. I felt prepared to represent the Alumni Association’s travel program, but I’d never taken an international trip before! My mind reeled with logistics. How would I exchange money? Were you supposed to tip in some countries but not others? How many outfits should I pack?
By day 15, I’d learned some serious lessons. The first? I should’ve packed less.
Our Alumni Travel group began in Prague with many options for fun things to do. Typically, mornings included an optional organized group activity. Afternoons were for exploring on your own — or, in my case, with my wife, Tori. As representative, I needed to make sure that things were going smoothly, and I was glad to hear our group enjoyed the balance of organized and free time.
One of my favorite days in Prague started with a tour of Old Town Square and the Charles Bridge. Our Arizona Alumni Travel group was joined by a group of about 15 from Georgia Tech. The astronomical clock was amazing, and I would have never known about its history — including damage from the Prague Uprising, when citizens revolted against German occupation during World War II — if we hadn’t signed up for the tour.
Later that evening, Tori and I went to an upscale restaurant on the 27th floor of the Czech Republic's tallest building, the City Tower. We spied parts of the city we’d explored earlier that day, with twinkling lights popping on across the landscape. It was the first of many times on our trip that I thought how important it is to get away and see what’s waiting to be explored.
Over 15 days, you’re bound to get close to the people you’re traveling with. On one of our first nights, we were treated to a University of Arizona-exclusive reception, where the conversation quickly became about our experiences at the UA.
Beyond that, Tori and I chatted with people from Kansas State, Duke and even schools I used to play against in football: the University of Southern California and the University of Washington. We loved meeting a couple from Atlanta, who texted us recently because their son is looking into colleges in Arizona.
Tori and I were some of the youngest travelers in the group, but we definitely weren’t the travelers to keep up with. We talked to so many world travelers who blew us away with their knowledge and experiences. One gentleman in our group celebrated his 70th birthday with us in Sofia, Bulgaria, where we all sang happy birthday to him over cake. Another woman was battling Alzheimer’s and took this trip to cross it off her bucket list. Tori and I realized, “Why wait to travel?”
Before our trip, my mind filled with panic about exchanging currency (which, by the way, basically everywhere accepts credit cards), I talked to tons of friends and coworkers about their experiences in Europe. People who’ve traveled can tell you where to eat and can’t-miss sites, but they’re never going to be able to tell you how you’ll feel.
I couldn’t have anticipated the heartbreak of seeing the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial in Budapest, created to honor the Jews who were killed during World War II.
I never imagined that I’d be thankful for the rain in Vienna, Austria. It led my wife and I to duck into St. Stephen's Cathedral and climb 343 stairs up a spiral staircase that was so narrow, traffic was either going up or down — but not both.
I didn’t think of myself as someone who would eat bacon-wrapped liver in Belgrade, Serbia, but I tried absolutely everything everywhere.
Traveling with the Arizona Alumni Association’s travel program opened my eyes, and the biggest thing I took away from the trip was an understanding of different cultures’ perspectives and experiences. When I returned to Tucson, I found myself more appreciative of things I had taken for granted, like speedy restaurant service, for example.
Most of all, I was grateful for the opportunities that led me to that experience — from running yards years ago to the thousands of miles Tori and I will travel in the years ahead.Explore Alumni Association travel opportunities.