Five years ago today, I boarded a plane for the very first time to Shanghai, China for the most memorable summer I’ve ever had.

That summer in Shanghai was magical, full of adventure, and my first taste of real independence. I’m gonna reminisce a little here.

To prepare for the flight, I developed a playlist for that flight. And then while I was there, I found myself crafting a real movie musical soundtrack.

My music taste at the end of freshman year was kinda all over the place. I was really into Lindsey Buckingham (of Fleetwood Mac) and was listening to random pop and rock songs I had heard while hanging out with my friends.

Like my music taste, I was feeling all over the place at that point too. I was realizing I wasn’t gonna be around for my junior friends’ last year, looking to change my major, dealing with lingering self-esteem issues from a fallout with a high school friend, and still didn’t know how to handle the family trauma I discovered.

By the time it came to leave my family at LAX, I was eager and ready to run away from everything. Honestly, it didn’t really hit how far I far away until my summer group got to the university housing, I parked my belongings, and lay my head down. There was a shred of homesickness but also a total disorientation of the fact that I was not in a familiar place anymore.

As the summer went on and I interned at a city guide magazine, I really found myself thriving. I walked to places with purpose, traveled like a real adventurer, and stayed open to possibilities.

I scaled the Great Wall twice, partied at clubs in Shanghai, ate a tiny fried scorpion with foreigners I met at a night market in Beijing, and even climbed a mountain for 8 hours. And that’s just a tip of the iceberg.

At the end of it, I knew it wasn’t going to be the same when I would come back to spend the academic year in Shanghai. I was going to see the city in all its seasons and I was going to miss someone I spent time kinda falling for. And I was going to be really homesick.

But looking back on that summer, it really showed me how travel opens your mind and how when you’re the most lost, you find your way.

I look back on that summer with the most fondness. I’m convinced that my little summer escapade left me with a bit of a wandering heart, always wanting to run away when things get tough. I’ve always said that I’d return to Shanghai someway, somehow. It’s sad that the time is not now, but hopefully it won’t be long.

Here’s a mix of the songs on my travel playlist and some songs that continue to remind me of that summer.

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