Hey guys! So I’ve been travelling for almost 3 weeks now and I want to tell you about my first impressions with traveling solo – before I become desensitized to everything and forget how I felt at first.
So before the trip, I felt like this. Now? Well, I have a lot to say.
Many people have asked me: why solo?
There are many reasons! Of course there are perks to travelling with people – splitting commute and living costs, having companionship and more brains to solve problems such as getting lost, etc. But it’s also exhausting to accommodate others’ needs, and I don’t know that there is anyone I can be with 24/7 for 10 weeks (or, rather, anyone who can be with me haha 😛 ). So there are also perks to travelling alone – I have the freedom to do what I want, when I want. I can meet up with my friends when we happen to be in the same cities – if I want. I don’t have to worry about the potential awkwardness associated with mixing two groups or offending someone by choosing to do something on my own for a day.
Still, the main reason and the primary motivator for this solo trip was (and is) personal growth. At the end of this trip, I’d like to return to Canada a stronger person. My entire life, I’ve been told that I’m independent (sometimes too independent). Probably because I grew up with few friends and mostly single. I trust people easily, yes, but it takes a lot for me to rely on someone (and really know that I can count on them). Not a lot of time per se, but a solid level of honesty and clicking. So I guess I wanted to test my independence and learn more about myself. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and force myself to reach out to people.
Fact: my friends think I’m extroverted but I didn’t start meeting people/couldn’t bring myself to say hi to a stranger until 2 weeks into my journey… and when I met people and spent a few days with them, I really just wanted to be alone.
Each day has been a struggle, an adventure, and filled with uncertainty and opportunity.
… And pigeons that don’t get out of the way.
I’ve encountered so many new people/experiences, both good and bad. I’ve tried new things like going topless at a beach (it was liberating and weird), been robbed, and been chased by a drunken man (upcoming entry – stay tuned 😀 ). But with every bad experience came even more good experiences. People that I didn’t know would be there for me unexpectedly reached out to tell me that they’re there if I need them. I’ve met the kindest store owners who went out of their way to lend a hand, friends I see only once a year messaging me the most supportive messages, policemen that knew exactly how to cheer me up, and some really generous Irish people (as funny as that may sound 😛 ).
WHAT I LEARNED
In the last 20 days, I’ve learned:
- To say hi to people the first time I see them in hostels (like when they enter a room I’m already in), or they will likely never speak to me. It took me 3 hostels to start making friends and it’s because I’m too shy to acknowledge their presence (lol).
- To wear sunscreen because there’s a first for everything: I have mild sunburn haha… As if I need more unfamiliarity in my life right now!
- European men really like legs. The shorts/skirts people wear in North America are not normal here even if they almost reach your knees. It’s like they’ve never seen legs before! They actually turn to keep staring as I walk by. This isn’t a boost for my legs (my legs are my least favourite part of my body), it’s a fact that applies to anyone. Don’t walk around with bare legs. It attracts attention and tells people you’re a tourist, and you’re more likely to get approached by weirdos/potentially dangerous people.
- That I don’t really care about museums: I’d rather spend a day doing “nothing”, i.e. walk around and live like I see this shit every day.
- To separate my liquids into two cabin bags/baskets at airports. Security doesn’t know that both bags belong to you, so if you have more than 10 bottles of 100ml capacity, put them in 2 plastic bags and put those bags in 2 separate cabin bags (if you’re allowed to bring two cabin bags) :D. Only if absolutely necessary.
- Always bring a portable charger. Google maps drains your battery.
- Always bring toilet paper. Public bathrooms suck and it’s hard to call for toilet paper when people don’t speak your language.
- Early flights suck. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND other means of transportation. Yes they’re cheap if you book early with discount airlines, but they take a hit on your immune system (sleep deprivation) and you pay for it with the time/$$$ you spend getting there, waiting there, and getting out of your arrival airport. You’re giving up time that you could spend seeing the city to have your ears pop and your feet swell up (or is my body just weird?). Trains may cost more but they can take up less time (*total travel time*) than flying. Trains are also more comfortable (to me), and don’t limit the liquids you bring.
- Bird poop splashes. We don’t know where it landed but we definitely got some of it (yuck)!
- When I see abandoned houses and no people, it means a drunken man will run after me. My friend and I literally ran away from him as he ran after us for several minutes IN AN AREA WITH NOBODY ELSE. Read about this in my upcoming Porto entry!
- To put a lock on my backpack/wear a purse that I can see at all times. Because Lisbon. Every city has pickpocketers and it’s common in Europe, but I’ve heard the most stories about Lisbon, so be extra cautious there.
- A walk in the park solves everything. I love the sound of water fountains, birds, and leaves blowing in the wind.
- Don’t ever let my guard down! I thought I was safe because I was walking on the side of the street that had kids, but one kid blocked my path and said stuff (I don’t understand Spanish) and followed me when I tried to walk around him! The other kids just watched (girls and boys). I glared at him to make him stop… but why do I have to do that to a kid? I don’t even know what his goal was – money? Harassment?
- How to pack so that everything fits into my backpacks.
- European men are really aggressive. More on this later.
- Not to give people the benefit of the doubt if they haven’t earned it. This does not make you unkind; it makes you proactive about your physical/mental safety. Maybe you don’t have to do this when you’re in your natural habitat – but definitely be cautious when traveling… Especially if you’re alone!
- I miss Canada 😦
HOW I’M TAKING IT
I wish I could say that it’s been easy/that I’ve always had my shit together, but I can’t. There are times when I feel like hiding from the world. Sometimes, I don’t want to go out at all. I just want to sleep and take a nice bath. Every other day, I feel violated and objectified whether it is because of strangers’ comments on the street or locals that I’ve shared time with and began to trust. I’ve had a guy aggressively grab my butt even after repeatedly being told no to his requests for a kiss (despite my very obvious body language of NO – putting more clothes on, sitting further away from him… SAYING NO…). I’m getting the feeling that men here are not only straightforward, but they’re also extremely aggressive. Yes I get catcalls and honks on the streets of Toronto back home, but it has never been like this. I’m not exaggerating and I’m not victimizing myself. I am well aware and capable of being assertive in these situations. Regardless of those of you who are rolling your eyes, I’m writing this to let you know what’s coming if you’re travelling solo across Europe – at least if you’re female in Portugal or Spain (I didn’t have these issues in the UK/Ireland and I’ve yet to go to the other countries).
I’ve never felt loneliness the way I felt in these situations, especially when my wallet/passport were stolen or when I was stopped by a group of kids on an otherwise empty road. It’s a different kind of loneliness than wanting someone with whom to share my experiences. It’s the kind of loneliness where all I want following that encounter is a hug. I already know that I’ll be fine/that I got through it, I already know it’s over, but I don’t FEEL it in myself in that moment. You know? A hug is like the person is channeling their hakuna matata to you! There’s nothing that can really replace that (at least for me).
Naturally, I’ve wondered if I’m just overreacting. Am I being weak or is this just part of the process of becoming stronger? Am I being too paranoid by avoiding this person? Is it actually a scary situation or is it in my head? It’s been difficult to find a happy balance between having faith in the world and being extremely paranoid. Am I not trusting someone who could help me? Or am I walking into another dangerous situation?
I’ve realized that there are so many things that I take for granted in Canada. And I don’t just mean the tap water! 😛 Traveling with friends not only adds fun to a trip; it also adds a sense of security that allows me to take risks & experience adventures that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve also realized that there is a level of comfort that people feel in their own cities just because they grew up there. Common sense, right? But you really don’t know to what extent your comfort is taken for granted until you experience a scary situation in a foreign country. Every city has sketchy areas and poverty – Toronto included. Yet, Toronto has never scared me the way Portugal and Spain have. And because I’m not in a familiar place, these encounters are even more frustrating, exasperating, and exhausting than they might be in Toronto.
Still, like I said: for each setback, there have been good experiences. I’ve really learned that help is in the least expected places (or people) – I just need to recognize it and have the faith and (ironically) both the confidence and the humility to reach out. So, even though I’m traveling alone, I know that I am not actually alone and that everyone is with me in spirit (sounds cheesy, I know…).
Overall, there are moments when I miss home. I have a newfound appreciation for familiarity. But this is all part of culture shock and traveling. And I’m having loads of fun and eating lots of deliciousness.
I’m excited to know what lessons the next 50 something days will bring 🙂 .