Almost exactly one year ago I set out on a 17 day adventure to Europe and the United Kingdom. At that time I had only experienced a small taste of travelling solo – a trip to Nova Scotia the summer before where I stayed with friends and visited the university in Halifax.
For years I’ve dreamt of traveling further throughout the world, of feeling the atmosphere of the cities and landscapes I’ve only read about in books, seen portrayed on film and heard described by others. I imagined myself standing in the places where history has been made, taking in the sights, sounds and smells while wondering ‘what was it like..?’. It’s an ethnocentric tale as old as time.
More than anything – I yearned to embark on this journey on my own terms. I was ecstatic at the prospect of mapping out my own course, even if that included joining a 12 day coach tour, because.. baby steps. I was tired of waiting. Waiting for the right time. Waiting for other people to go with me. Waiting until I felt more confident to set off on my own. I was ready to take a chance and hopefully prove to others and more importantly, to myself, that I could do this.
I will never forget the moment I emerged on the other side of security screening at Pearson International Airport searching for my departure gate number. I took a few steps through the bustling hallway and noticed pairs upon pairs of people, either joining larger groups or preparing for their flight together. Not a solitary person came into my sight. I stared at the signs overhead and had to move closer to read them. That’s when I had an “Oh-my-God-what-am-I-doing” moment of panic. Right there, next to the Starbucks.
My spiraling thoughts went something like this:
I am all alone. No one else here is alone. Why did I think *I* could do this on my own?
If I get on that plane I can’t just turn around. I will be hurtling farther and farther away from home.
What if I need help? What if I cannot see something? What if I have a medical emergency?
There will be no one I know to rescue me.
It’s not too late. I could still turn around and go back. I wonder how far away my sister (who dropped me off) is from the airport right now? Could she turn around to get me?
As you may have guessed, I did not turn around. Instead I took a deep breath, bought myself a hot cup of tea (because tea makes every situation better) and sat down to weigh my options. I thought about the talk I gave myself when I initially booked my trip.
It went something like this:
Sarah. Remember, there are going to be difficult moments. There are going to be those moments where you will feel homesick, frustrated, exhausted, sore, scared, hungry, lonely or sad. You may even experience some or all of those feelings at the same time! But that’s okay because you have already experienced all of those moments and more and you MADE IT THROUGH THEM. If you need help, you will ask someone. If you are fatigued, you will take a break. You know yourself well and you know what you will need to do. Just trust in yourself.
Yes there will be difficult moments, you are certain of that, but there will also be amazing moments too. Moments that will take your breath away, moments where you will find yourself laughing until you cry and smiling so wide your cheeks will hurt. Moments of triumph and empowerment both big and small – and moments you will cherish for the rest of your life. You know this to be true because 26 years of experience has taught you this. Fear of the difficult moments is not enough to stop you from seeking out those amazing moments. You are ready.
On September 11th, 2014 I boarded my overnight flight to London, England. So began my whirlwind trip through 10 countries: England, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, the Vatican, Switzerland, France and Ireland where I did experience all of those moments and more.