Ken in Rome: Surrender to spontaneity

Stop and linger in the moments between

Kennedy Bustos, Staff Writer

Kennedy Bustos is participating in UTSA’s “COLFA Semester in Urbino” program. She’ll be spending the semester in Urbino, Italy. She is thrilled to document her adventures in an exclusive column for The Paisano — her home away from home. Follow her journey @keninrome on Instagram.


I ache to see the world. I always have, I always will. 

I spent my youth fantasizing about my future travel experiences, forming a list in my mind: a carefully balanced hierarchy of varied cultures and landscapes I desperately desired to see with my own eyes. The countries on the list fluctuated as the years passed and life shaped and reshaped my wants and needs. Yet, Italy always remained triumphant at the top, beckoning, begging to be experienced. 

Of course, I dreamed about seeing the tourist destinations entrenched in history: the Colosseum, Vatican Museums, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica. I’ll do my best to articulate the feeling of at last seeing these beautiful antiquities in person, but it truly is something you must experience yourself to fully understand. It’s a peculiar, indescribable, out-of-body phenomenon to be in the presence of the historical sites that painted the pages of your history textbooks — to have your senses heightened to the highest degree. To have the luxury of seeing, feeling, tasting Italy in all its glory is to experience complete, irrevocable immersion. 

I will never, ever forget the moment I first laid eyes on the Colosseum. As we exited the darkness of the train station and emerged into the radiant light, déjà vu flooded my veins. 

Briefly, I’ll elaborate; years ago, when I arrived in Paris, France after my sister Jessica surprised our mother and me — a tale for another time — we stepped outside the train station and the Eiffel Tower was immediately in view. None of us were expecting the Eiffel to be patiently waiting to greet us. Tears of gratitude sprung to the surface as I reflected on how fortunate I was to be alive, to be in Paris. 

Those tears of gratitude returned upon seeing the Colosseum. Again, upon blissfully staring at Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Again, whilst wandering St. Peter’s Basilica. Again, while strolling through the Pantheon. Believe me, as I say this without an ounce of pretension: again and again, I was overcome with emotion as I bore witness to the historic beauty of Rome. I had never experienced tears of gratitude with intensity like this … like within the spectrum of emotion, something new had been unlocked, unleashed, resisting the urge to reside on a shelf.

Yet, as awe-inspiring as the aforementioned activities were, the moments that followed — the serendipitous moments when we surrendered to spontaneity — were equally as extravagant. 

There have been an assortment of defining moments in my life where my intuition has demanded to be listened to, seizing the soundscape like a deafening drum. After spending the day reveling in Rome, I was set to depart for an evening with friends outside the historical hub. Inexplicably, no rhyme or reason, something within my soul said, “Stay in Rome tonight. Explore.” Any time I’ve strayed from my intuition, regret has consumed me. This time, I listened, and I’m beyond grateful I did — staying in Rome that night was, hands down, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I surrendered to spontaneity, and fate rewarded me. 

That fateful night in Rome was characterized by moments you couldn’t possibly purchase in any souvenir shop. We spent hours savoring lunch, masquerading as locals, sipping wine and sharing stories whilst watching people stream past. We stumbled upon a street performer in front of the Pantheon and listened intently with ‘nostalgia for the now’ as the music floated around us. We strolled through Rome as the sky cloaked itself in darkness; somehow, Rome is even more breathtaking at night.

Isn’t it fascinating how only one letter separates wandering and wondering? Wandering is a physical manifestation of letting fate direct you; wondering is a metaphysical manifestation of letting fate direct you. There’s inherent freedom in shedding expectations — in dismantling the notion of sightseeing for the sake of it, in allowing fate to take the reins, in swapping maps with memories.

Ultimately, the concept of an ideal travel experience varies from person to person. Some travelers relish an itinerary with each hour dedicated to a different excursion. They arrive at their destination planned and prepped, eager to adhere to a schedule as packed as the streets they’ll traverse. These travelers typically wish to tick the “must-see” boxes as quickly as possible, squeezing in as many places as they can into any given day — even if it means exhaustion will grip them with unabashed vigor. 

Then, there are the travelers who surrender to spontaneity — the travelers who ditch the itineraries in favor of exploration without manufactured intention. The travelers who wander the streets with no expectations, the travelers who wistfully crave the unknown, leaving the touristic sites behind and instead channeling their inner Jack Kerouac: letting destiny lead them from the beaten path. These travelers visualize the vacation as a blank canvas, ready to be painted with vibrancy. 

To my fellow travelers: grant your intuition permission to be your compass. Abandon your cynicism and accept the romance between you — the traveler — and the place traveled. Do not fear the darkness of the unknown. Absorb your atmosphere, capturing it with the care it deserves. Don’t be inclined to rush your way through the days; stop and linger in the moments between. There is magic in the mundane, waiting to be discovered. Be brave enough to find it.