From the journal:
This trip is so many things. Its part Euro-adventure and part Eat-Pray-Love-esk (which, trust me, I hated writing). It’s a dream and fantasy I have had for over 10 years, to backpack through Europe (or anywhere). It is a challenge, a step out of my comfort zone both mentally and emotionally to see if I can handle being on my own.
The trip was so many things. I still remember exactly how I felt when I landed in Brussels. I could feel my heart beating quicker, my palms sweating and my face getting hot. I was almost 30 years old and I was going on a 20-year olds Euro-trip. I hadn't traveled on my own since studying abroad in London 10 years ago. Who the F**k did I think I was?
I worried that maybe I was too old. Maybe I had hyped this trip up to be some movie-like adventure and I was going to be horribly disappointed. I was afraid to find out that I couldn't do this anymore. That I couldn't handle hostels. That I couldn't handle the pace of travel and the lack of comforts I had become accustomed to.
I was afraid that somehow after 10 years of life experience and living in a major city that I had lost all ability to use basic intelligence and some deductive reasoning to figure out problems. Yes, pretty much everyone speaks English, but could I still figure out directions? Could I still navigate a foreign city? Would I still find that thrilling and exciting and a rush like I had so many years ago?
Thinking back to the amount of fear I had that first day kind of cracks me up now. I travel for work all the time and am constantly navigating new places, towns, cities etc. I am almost always on my own. It has become so much a part of me and my routine that I don't think twice about it.
But, remembering how afraid I was is also kind of humbling. I read blogs all the time where people (women especially) talk about how afraid they are to travel on their own and I can't relate. I have done it so much that I am so used to the uncomfortableness of the new. But clearly, I forgot how scary it can be to travel on your own. I forgot how intimidating it can be to have to rely on yourself. To trust that you are capable of getting through whatever comes your way.
A trip like this takes a lot of trust; not just in the world, but in yourself. And if you don't think highly enough of yourself, you're not going to survive.
From the journal:
The “being on my own” I think is the most interesting part. Almost every time I tell someone about this trip the first question or statement I get isn’t “that’s awesome" or "that's so cool" it's always "who are you going with?" followed by "oh...by yourself?" or "is that safe?" or "did you want to go by yourself?"
Ok- this shit seriously bothers me. Both before I left and throughout the entirety of my trip, EVERY. SINGLE. FUCKING. TIME. I told someone I was traveling by myself it was NEVER met with some excited congratulatory response. It was almost* ALWAYS met with a look of shock and confusion followed by clarifying questions to make sure I REALLLLLYYYY thought this through. Why would I travel alone? Why would I WANT to travel alone? Was it safe? Was I afraid? (*I say almost because out of everyone I met only 2 people did not ask me these dumb questions)
Allow me to set the record straight:
A GIRL TRAVELING BY HERSELF IS NOT FUCKING WEIRD.
I had a (male) friend recently do a little backpacking trip for almost 3 weeks. When telling his friends and family he was going alone, not once (NOT ONCE!!) was he questioned for going alone, asked about his safety, or made to feel that something was wrong with him for traveling alone. No, all his friends responded with "that's awesome! Have so much fun!"
And that's exactly how you should respond to a solo female traveler.
So, if you have a female in your life who wants to or will be traveling alone, or you meet a solo female traveler on your own expeditions, I beg of you, please do not insult her independence and diminish her bravery by questioning her decisions. Simply congratulate her and be happy for her.
Brussels was a great starting point for my trip. I didn't have a list of things I wanted to see. I wasn't putting pressure on myself to do a lot. I just wanted to get acclimated and get my head on straight and mentally prepare for the next five weeks. It was perfect for that.
That being said - I wish I had more time there and got to explore more.