Probably the thing I’m asked most about, whether by people at home or from people I’ve met while traveling, is if I’m lonely. I’m nearly half a world away from almost everything and everyone I’ve ever known and cared about. It is completely reasonable to ask that question or be concerned about me. The truth, like most things, is not black and white.
First, let me talk about traveling alone for a bit. It is extremely difficult. I don’t want to mince words because anyone who is thinking about doing the same thing needs to be prepared. If you can speak the language, that will give you a leg up. However, if you have almost no grasp on the local tongue, like my knowledge of French, just going to the market can be quite the intimidating experience. If you’re not ready to feel out of place and uncomfortable in certain situations, you probably won’t be able to take the chances you need to take in order to have some great experiences.
It can be hard to convince yourself to just get out of the apartment and walk around at first. Personally, I stand out here… let’s just say that there aren’t too many people in Europe wearing North Face and flannel. Just having a backpack doesn’t leave lots of room for nice clothes, only a few different outfits that are mostly about making sure I’m able to stay warm during the cold months here. Be prepared to be looked at like you’re different, especially if you’re 6’1” and kind of awkward. You just have to smile and embrace it. You can’t be afraid to talk to someone. The worst thing that can happen is they won’t talk to you, which has not happened to me once. Always be willing to take that chance, you never know who you’ll meet or what will happen.
This has been an experience unlike any other. I have been extremely fortunate to have met amazing people who have been kind enough to chat with me and even invite me out with them. It’s only been a few weeks and already I’ve stockpiled enough memories and stories to tell for a long time to come. I’m learning so much about who I am and what I’m capable of doing. I wouldn’t trade what I’m doing now for anything else, so please don’t feel bad for me for one second. This next thought is just a realization, not something I want any pity over.
While this has been the experience of a lifetime, I can’t help but notice something lacking. There is something about sharing a moment with someone that makes you feel connected to them. When I think about going to the Sagrada Familia, I won’t just remember seeing one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen. I’ll remember randomly meeting the people staying next door to me in line and the looks on all our faces when we walked into that beautiful church. When I think about Avignon, I won’t just remember this old city lined by walls where popes once lived. I’ll remember walking into a small wine shop and being treated like a friend by the owners and their friends when I could have been easily dismissed. I really haven’t been lonely at all thanks to all the wonderful people I’ve met. Still, when I come home alone at the end of the day something feels lacking, like I want to share more…