22 October 2015
It’s two weeks in on my Europe 2015 adventure, and it feels like a good time to reflect on where I’m at. I feel very fortunate to be able to do this – to get out and see some of my favourite places in the world, and have the freedom to wake up each morning and decide what I want to do on that day. It’s a very liberating feeling, possibly one of the best aspects of travelling.
I’ve tried to remain free of any expectations on this trip, but one thought that has occurred to me a few times is that of loneliness. I wondered before the trip commenced whether I would feel alone at times, not having someone familiar with me to share in the experiences each day. Sure enough, it has been evident that this is indeed an issue thus far – particularly when something reminds me of friends or family. Taking photos and writing a journal is one way of sharing these moments, but it’s certainly not the same as having someone there to actually experience it with. Social media helps, but it doesn’t fill the void either.
This is not to say that there is no benefit to travelling solo – absolutely not. There have been some moments of personal growth and character building, especially when first arriving in unfamiliar places and not knowing where to go and not having anyone there to help. Venice and Prague come to mind here.
Venice was particularly challenging. I was told that I would surely get lost, but nothing quite prepares you for that feeling of helplessness. Your thoughts become clouded with doubt, and a mild panic sets in. You question yourself where you normally wouldn’t. I can read a map, but why can’t I now find this street? It undoubtedly gets frustrating and you just have to take a moment, stop, collect yourself with some deep breaths and remind yourself that you’re capable of figuring this out and that you’ll be fine. Eventually. A little tip for Venice too – don’t bother with Google Map walking directions, they are close to useless! It really comes down to intuition and asking for help.
Prague was a similar experience initially, although I think the weather played a significant role in my uneasy feelings here. It was getting dark (an added layer of complexity when you don’t know where you are), it was quite cold and it was raining steadily. By this stage of the trip, I’d figured out that the GPS function on my phone still works without a phone signal as long as you preload your walking directions when you have wifi, but for some reason, it didn’t seem to be helping once I’d left the main train station in Prague. I wandered the streets until I finally came across a hotel, where I went in and asked for help. Turns out I was heading in the right direction, but I still felt a little anxious. I continued on my way in the rain, past crowded alleys and beautiful sights (no time to enjoy them just yet though) until I made it to the Old Town Square. This made me a feel a little better as I knew I was close to finding my hotel, and sure enough, I made it shortly after this.
However, I didn’t feel comfortable in Prague until the next day, when I took the advice of friends and joined a free walking tour. As a social person that enjoys engaging with others, I really enjoyed being able to interact with other travellers after two weeks of almost no contact with familiar faces. I picked up the distinct Aussie twang of one of the girls on the tour, and it turned out she was also from Melbourne. We had a quick chat, but I wanted to interact with travellers from other countries. I next started chatting with a guy from Dubai, who had decided at the last minute that he was going to have a weekend in Prague (as you can do when you live in this part of the world). He was a Palestinian, so we started chatting about the current situation there and what might solve the crisis. He was very interesting to chat with, and even bought me a coffee when we had a quick break from the tour. I’d given him some small change for the toilet earlier (you always need change in your pocket in Europe if you want to use a toilet!), and he felt he had to repay the favour. We also discussed the sad state of affairs in Australian politics – I was somewhat surprised he knew a bit about what’s going on in Australia (in particular about our treatment of asylum seekers), but it just shows that we’re making headlines for the wrong reasons. I also had a chat with a lady from San Diego, who was on a three-month tour of Europe with her two brothers. They were winging it, and just going wherever they were enjoying the most. Part of me wished I’d done the same, instead of planning each stop and pre-booking all of my train trips. Each method has its pros and cons, but I feel like my next European adventure will be an unstructured one. I’ll buy one of those train passes and just go with the flow. I would have stayed longer in some places if I hadn’t organised each step – Verona for example, was utterly charming and 24 hours there simply wasn’t enough. Another thought I had while on this walking tour was how amazing it would be to do the same back in Melbourne, as a tour guide. Why not share the love I have for my home town with those that decide to travel there? Something for me to follow up, that’s for sure.
Inevitably though, when I go back to my room, or when I go out for dinner, the loneliness factor kicks back in. I wonder whether this might be a result of being in a long term relationship that’s recently ended. You get used to having your partner there to share experiences with, or even them simply just being there when you’re having a good or a bad moment. I was single for all of my twenties (another by-product of not coming out fully until I was 28), so I developed a pretty steady state of independence, but it feels different now. There’s no magic bullet and there’s no script on how these things are supposed to go, but maybe I’m not feeling all that comfortable in my own space right now. It’s been nearly three months since our break-up, but it can still be a presence in these times when I’m on my own, or after I’ve just had a positive experience followed by alone time in my room again. I know I’ll be OK and that I’ll come through the other side, but I think it’s important to acknowledge these feelings and deal with them as and when it feels right to. Things will be different when I return home, and that’s exactly what I need.
While it’s obviously a matter of personal preference of whether you travel solo, or with others, I think my next trip will be with at least one other person. It’ll probably be more spontaneous too. More time to live the moment, less time to follow a script – sort of sounds like how life in general should be. Plus, I’m a bit over asking for a table for one at dinner each night.