Prior to 2011, my time spent alone consisted of going downtown Toronto for the day to run errands, meet friends or conduct job interviews. I had never traveled anywhere alone. I still lived at home. I didn’t know the first thing about cooking or doing the laundry. I had no idea what to expect. When I got the call announcing my acceptance to an internship program in Strasbourg, France, I was thrilled. There’s so much excitement in the world of the unknown.
As the countdown entered the single digits, my heart began to race. Faster and faster until I couldn’t breathe. I was afraid. What was I getting myself into? “This might be the dumbest idea I have ever had,” I thought. I’m not sure how but somehow I boarded that plane and on the other side of the world was Belgium.
Vous Parles Francaise?
Getting to Strasbourg by train from Brussels is probably a piece of cake to many people but I do not fall into that category. I didn’t speak a word of French. I wasn’t sure if I was even on the right train and I spent the entire train ride fighting off my intense stomach growls. They didn’t serve food on this train. Everyone knew this of course. People pulled out their sandwiches and I sat watching them eat. “ugh, I’m so stupid.” An hour later, the speaker said something in French and I caught the one word I needed to hear: Strasbourg. I jumped up. It took about 10 minutes for the train to reach its platform and I spent all of that time trying to get my luggage down. They were so heavy – three months worth of clothing – DUH!
I was lucky enough to meet my friends on my first day of work. We arrived at the same time to get our orientation on. A tall French looking girl with a lovely accent explained the process to me. She was also interning at the Council of Europe and offered to walk with me to get our photos taken. We got our passes and off to our offices we went. She became one of my closest friends. A lunch buddy, an adventure seeker and my own French translator. Thank god for her.
The Marche (market)
Going grocery shopping also proved to be a challenge. I bought fabric softener instead of detergent. My landlord had a blast laughing at that. I didn’t know you had to weigh your fruits and print out their weight prior to going to the cashier. That was yet another lesson learned. I underestimated the walk to work and walked in late the first time I tried to walk to work. I got too drunk on an empty stomach at the beach and threw up on the bus – yep, rookie move. I even had a hard time re-filling my phone minutes. The messages kept coming in French and I didn’t understand them. The girl at the phone store told me I didn’t have to go all the way downtown every time i wanted to re-fill my minutes but of course I did.
I got comfortable after a month and kept my new-found routine. I knew the buses I had to take to get across the border to Germany and the buses I had to take to get to downtown Strasbourg. I had some colleagues I went drinking with and mastered a few edible dishes. I even got the hang of laundry mid-trip. I kind of enjoyed my loneliness. My apartment was in an old home. It actually resembled a doll house. I had windows all around which was awesome since there was no AC! I’d leave all the windows open and still found myself having to jump in the shower in the middle of the night to cool down. Thankfully my hair was short so getting ready was a short affair. I was mastering the art of solo-living.
Leaving it all behind
I think I was happy to leave simply because my accommodation was uncomfortable and I couldn’t stand it anymore. My bed was falling apart. I’d literally drown in the mattress every night. Money was running out and I literally had the deposit my land lord gave me to get out with. I was over my internship as my boss was a jerk. A short-lived love affair had run its course with a colleague and I was missing Toronto.
I caught the train back to Brussels. This time though, I was prepared. When I got to Brussels, I caught a cab and thanked my lucky stars that the Belgians spoke more English than the French.
I had reserved a room at the NH Hotel in Brussels. When I walked in and saw my bed for the night, I screamed for joy! I jumped into bed with all my pillows and had the biggest smile on my face. This was happiness: a simple thing.
That night, I went out to meet some friends who were interning in Belgium. We were supposed to meet at a busy intersection. I waited for an hour. No sign…Where could they be? Are they coming? What now? I walked into a cafe, grabbed a coffee and sat down. I was hoping they’d walk by the window and I’d see them but deep down I was sad. I wanted to hang out with familiar faces and have a conversation. That’s probably the worst part about solo travels.
A night out
I think god heard my prayers. There they were. Walking right past the cafe. I jumped out and chased them down. We went for dinner and drinks. By the end of the night I had offended a Frenchie, met some Harvard students and spent all my money. Literally…I had nothing left. How does that happen? I couldn’t afford a cab so my friend kindly paid the cab driver. If only he had a brain. I said NH Hotel. He heard something else. Dropped me off at the wrong hotel. “This isn’t my hotel.” “I don’t know the NH Hotel.” At this point I was too drunk and tired to care. I’m not sure where I got my courage from but I shut the cab door and said goodbye to the only safe way I knew to get back.
I decided it was a nice night for a walk. WHAT WAS I THINKING? I’m not sure. I was on a pretty decent street and I knew the area so maybe that’s why I got brave?
I somehow made it to the hotel in one piece. It was probably a half hour walk though. I went straight to bed. Got up and caught a cab to the airport. I seriously can’t believe I did all that. Honestly, it’s beyond me how I managed to be so brave and confident.
That memorable experience took place exactly four years ago. Since then, I’ve grown even more. I’m not sure if i’m more courageous now. I feel like the older I get, the less brave I feel. I know that trip was a life-changing experience. It changed who I was to who I am. Sometimes we need a little stress, some pressure to put us on the right track:
- I got more fashionable when I returned
- I was capable of doing my own laundry and managed to cook some meals for the family
- I had these awesome stories to tell
- I had friends around the world
- I knew what I was capable of and that’s what mattered the most.
I’m planning a trip all alone to Berlin.
Because solo-travel is cocaine and baby i’m addicted….no but really traveling alone is not something to be afraid of. It’s something to embrace. It’s an experience you’ve got to live through.
Can’t wait to share the new experience i’m about to have in a month!!!!