Last week I had the incredible opportunity to travel to two amazing cities alone. The only other time I had traveled alone was a day trip to Cambridge. I booked the trip on a whim, realizing later that I was probably unprepared to take that step.
The days I spent in Paris and Milan were overwhelming and intense. This trip has re-energized me, broadened my perspective, and made me reevaluate my life.
“I believe that travel is a teacher, one that wakes up your senses when you’re out of your comfort zone…it allows you to see the world with fresher eyes and realize that life doesn’t have to be a certain way. We could and can be better. ”
— JEDIDAH JENKINS FOR GREAT DISCONTENT
FEAR WILL NOT DRIVE
Travelling alone takes a lot of courage. It’s okay to be afraid of wandering alone but fear should not be the main driver of decision making. I always find myself going back to this idea from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, although Gilbert acknowledges that fear is helpful and can contribute, she demands that fear stays in the back seat and never touches the steering wheel.
“Basically, your fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL: He hasn’t slept in days, he’s all hopped up on Red Bull, and he’s liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everyone “safe.””
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
The decision I made to not allow fear to drive allowed me to welcome new experiences and truly make the most of my trip.
After going to Gallery Lafayette, I decided to wander back towards the Louvre hoping to find a metro station along the way to take me back to my hostel so I could eat near there. I was in awe of my surroundings and kept walking. Caught by Paris’ beauty, I soon forgot that I hadn’t eaten anything in a few hours. I found myself lost and hungry, surrounded by no quick food places- only designer clothing stores. As beautiful as the shops were, you can’t eat Louboutins. I flipped on my google maps and walked directly to the Louvre. I could feel myself getting hasty, angry, and having trouble making basic decisions because I was worried.
It’s not hard to get caught up in the beauty of Paris.
It’s awesome to want to go to every sight possible but I figured out the hard way that travelers need to prioritize making sure our basic needs are met. Travelling alone is amazing and exhilarating but it also makes you entirely responsible for your own health and safety.
I ended up finding a little bakery and getting an avocado, cheese, and chicken baguette.
YOUR WORRIES ARE INSIGNIFICANT, SOMETIMES
“and Paris in the spring
I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world
To be wonderful and youthful after all”
— T.S. ELIOT
I think it’s pretty evident in my travel posts that being nervous or fearful is common for me. I expected this trip to be filled with worry because it was my first time travelling alone but that expectation was not met at all. Although there were definitely stressful moments, I felt more relaxed then I have been in months and I’m so grateful that this trip gave me that.
I was reminded of something my aunt Liz shared with me.
“Our ideas are constantly moving, changing, shaping us, shifting us to a different place and understanding than our initial ideas and ideals gave us at the beginning. Our ever changing life wave… varies in shape, size, form and duration and where it moves us to.”
Being from the Canadian prairies, I’ve never become accustomed to seeing lakes and oceans. Just watching the waves ebb and flow, I felt so relaxed. Lake Como reminded me that my worries are so insignificant and I am just one little part of something much bigger.
FOLLOW YOUR INTUITION AND MAP
I landed in Bergamo, looked at google maps, and cancelled all my day plans. Instead of hopping on the airport shuttle to go to Milan, I took the city bus into Bergamo town. My day in Bergamo was one of the highlights of my trip, I actually enjoyed it more than Milan. Sometimes, it pays off to just go with your gut.
Side note travel trip-When booking on discount airlines, check what airport you are actually flying into. In Paris, I had to wake up way earlier than I expected and take a 30 euro taxi and 20 euro shuttle out to the airport because the airport was actually in a small town an hour out of Paris.
On my second day in Milan, I missed my alarm and my train for my planned day trip to Lake Como. I slipped on my runners to go have a shower at my hostel (an amazing hostel by the way-Ostello Bello Grande) and immediately left to go for a run. I brought my google maps along but I went without a set route. I ended up running (with frequent stops for pictures) for a good 2 hours and stumbling upon some incredible sights.
I don’t advise travelling without any map. However, sometimes it’s good to put the map away and just follow what looks like a nice street and explore. When I was exploring Bergamo and Milan, I knew what general direction I needed to take to get to my next destination. There were streets that made me turn around right away and there were streets that amazed me with incredible monuments. I’m not saying get lost, I’m just saying don’t be afraid trust your gut and wander a bit.
When travelling, you are foreign. Although people are generally welcoming and kind, we should not take that for granted. I put in an extra effort while travelling to be kind and courteous to the people and culture I encountered and it made life easier for everyone.
I think of this like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumb path. I like to think that the birds who picked up Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs enjoyed them. As cheesy and childish as this metaphor may be, the message is important. Kindness is like bread crumbs, leave a little bit of it everywhere you go even if there is no benefit to you. It may not make the trip any easier or better for you but leaving breadcrumbs is the least we can do to thank the people for welcoming us into their space.
SEEK THE GOOD IN EVERY SITUATION
My trip was not just gallivanting around and eating croissants. Travelling alone can be difficult, lonely and filled with uncertainties. Some wisdom shared with me from my friend and travel blogger, Brooke, is that true happiness is just being. Happiness is not just a pretty view but it is the constant travel to a better, more positive state of mind and being.
The feeling of eating pizza and looking out onto Bergamo was euphoric and it reminded me of how happy I am to just be alone with some good food and nature. It shouldn’t take flights and adventure to make us happy, that’s not real happiness but pleasure. To avoid post-travel sadness, it’s important to know the difference.
My trip didn’t make me happy on the deepest level but it reminded me that I have the power to make choices for my own happiness in my life. When I was leaving Milan on the last day of my trip, I was at the airport at 4am reading news on my phone that said there was a worker’s strike for airline workers in Italy and a storm cancelling some flights throughout the UK. I landed in London and checked the news again to find out that the storm was going to be at it’s worse during the time I was scheduled to fly out from London to Ireland. My flight to Ireland was delayed by three hours. ( I ended up meeting my friend Brooke in Galway, Ireland at 6pm, 14 hours after I had left my hostel in Milan. ) Once we finally landed in Dublin, everyone in the customs line looked stressed and tired. Then I saw a little girl, wearing the most colorful outfit ever, skipping through the line. Sometimes I think adults have happiness seriously mixed up because we make happiness contingent on so many things outside of us.
I’m so thankful for the opportunity to go on this trip, it was some of the best few days of my life. I met incredible and wonderful people, ate amazing food, and saw sights I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams. Never forget how blessed you are.