A very opinionated person in my life recently told me my blog had become devoid of storytelling. That it felt like I was writing the same types of posts every week.
What is this person talking about, I immediately thought in defense. I tell stories all the time!
But then I told my defensive side to hush and gave it some more thought. And, of course, I realized this person was right. I was so focused on sharing tips and resources and things to do in various cities that I stopped focusing on the stories of my travels — simple tales without a top five fill-in-the-blank. I also realized I wanted to get back to that place of storytelling because I believe it's beneficial both for me and those who read this site. The Globe Getter isn't just about how to travel more but why you should want to travel more.
One of the stories that came to mind when I thought about where to start is my first solo travel experience. I've touched on it briefly in the past but never went into the full details, until now.
As with many things in life, it all started with a conversation. At the time I was a 21-year-old study abroad student in Paris. Our group had taken a field trip to the French town of Avignon, where we stayed at the YMCA and spent several days exploring the area. One day, I was hanging out in the room with a friend I had been bunking with when she told me she was leaving the trip early to travel around the south of France.
"By yourself?" I asked.
"Yes," said my friend.
And so began our discussion about solo travel. I had not traveled anywhere by myself — not in the way my friend was about to. I found the idea brave, intriguing, slightly foolish and incredibly nerve wracking. The idea of going off on your own for days without anyone there greatly intimidated me, though there was a part of the concept that appealed to me as well.
I thought of the many days I had spent exploring New York City by myself as a student, not because I didn't have anyone to explore with, but because I loved (and still love) wandering around a new place with all of my senses attuned to my surroundings. I wondered if solo travel would give me that same sense of pleasurable solitude and discovery. I also knew solo travel was something many people, young and old, did, but for some reason the idea had never crossed my mind until that conversation with my friend.
A day later, my friend left to continue her travels around the French Riviera, and I soon returned to Paris with my classmates, albeit with a new seed firmly planted.
Over the next few days, I thought about it, circled it around in my head and, as is my nature, tried to approach the idea as practically as I could, taking into account my finances (limited student budget) and the fact that I had an existing flight departing from Paris to Miami a few days after the end of my study abroad term. To change the flight would cost a few hundred dollars, so I knew if I wanted to do this, I had to go and then make it back in time to catch my flight to Miami.
I also thought about where I would potentially travel and soon realized the obvious answer would be to visit my former roommates who were doing a similar study abroad program in London. This seemed like the perfect time to pop over, see them for a day or two and then spend a few days by myself exploring London, a city I had never been to but was somewhat curiosity about. It seemed like a great way to ease into solo travel, catch up with friends I hadn't seen in almost a year and save a few dollars (or pounds) by spending the first night at my friends' place.
The only chance for this excursion presented itself during my last full weekend in Paris. Immediately, I rejected the idea because I knew it meant I would be missing out on all the fun and craziness that came from celebrating those last few days with my newfound study abroad friends, but then I thought about when I would be able to see London and that pushed me to book the flight and go. The thought of when else I would be able to see a place became a recurring theme for me over the years and almost always resulted in me booking the flight.
After days of finishing up my classes and enjoying the end of my time in Paris, I headed off to London. My first vivid memory of the city was looking out the window and thinking that London felt so different from everywhere else I had been in Europe. Admittedly I had not been to many places at that time, but even now, many years and countries later, I still find London to be very distinct from the rest of the continent.
The first day and night were a blur of hug-filled catch ups with my former roommates, a visit to my very first English pub with my friends and their friends and a taste of what their lives had been like that summer. Fast forward a few hours, and before I knew it, their time had ended. Off they went to the airport, leaving me alone in London.
I moved over to my accommodation for the rest of my stay at the University of Westminster dorm in Marylebone, dropped off my things and hit the road for some solo exploration.
Fortunately, I encountered very little of the typical London weather during those days by myself. What I do remember is walking as much as my feet would allow, admiring the flowers of Regent's Park in the slightly chilly sunshine, climbing to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral to look out at London and experiencing my first show in the West End: Les Miserables.
I also met several nice people in the University of Westminster dorm and had an overall amazing time in London by myself, despite one sketchy incident that involved me getting on the wrong night bus and ending up in an unknown part of London. I eventually had to take a very expensive black cab back to my dorm (not student budget friendly!), but the experience taught me some very important rules for solo travel: 1. Spend the money when it comes to your safety and 2. Night buses are probably not recommended in a city you know nothing about.
That first solo adventure in London confirmed for me my love of exploring new places, getting out of my comfort zone and seeing what happens when I book the ticket and go. I also learned the importance of doing what's best for you. For me, easing into solo travel gave me the confidence to push ahead and do it, which ultimately led me to travel solo to more than nine countries across three continents over the course of 10 years. And to think it all began with one conversation.