Traveling solo

I am sitting by Gate 15 at the Hamburg Airport. I’ve got a nice spot by the window where I can see airplanes, small cars, trucks and men wearing bright green vests passing next to the planes.

It is amazing that every time I am at an airport I get the feeling that I am at a neutral area. As if I am in no specific country but at the same time I feel it could be anywhere. While waiting at the airport I love to sit and watch. I always end up wondering where everyone comes from and what has taken them to this airport.

Mostly when I fly I feel happy and excited but sometimes it can be a little sad and nostalgic to say bye to people and memories.

If there is one thing I remember well is that I always wanted to fly. To travel and discover the world sounded fascinating to me. I believe my dad has a lot to do with this. He would always describe in detail how airplanes look like. He would also make me picture how other countries were and also how magical Disney World was. He even had saved brochures from the attraction parks from the time he went with his parents before he got married to my mom. I would go through the pages and picture myself in a ride, imagining I was one of those kids. My father would have loved showing me all those places by himself. But the truth is, that back when I was a child we did not have the means to travel. My mother used to tell him that it was no good to make me dream about something we couldn’t afford.

The truth also was that since kindergarten I was surrounded by kids whose parents were able to take them to Disney at least twice a year. Every year, I would hope it would be THE year for me to start traveling.

Finally, in 2002, my oldest cousin was thinking of going by herself to Florida. My aunt and parents suggested it could be a great opportunity for me to join since they could afford it. I had never spent over 24 hours with my cousin. Still, I did not care. I wanted to get in a plane. I wanted to travel, I wanted to see Mickey and all the magic things that kids and adults expect when they go there.

It was absolutely amazing!

Disney World was better than in my dreams and exactly as my dad had described it to me. The time with my cousin was not as it would have been with my parents. Yet, that first trip abroad had proven me that traveling was bigger than being scared of getting in a plane or being physically far from your family. Of course, I had always wished my parents and sister could have come with me but circumstances could not allow us. So I decided to continue dreaming of traveling with or without company.

My next dream was Paris. My gut feeling told me that I had to go there. And my supportive parents wanted to take me to Europe for my sweet 15s. We applied for the Schengen Visa and we all got denied. I was heartbroken that such a “simple” denial could crash my dreams of visiting the city of lights. We just wanted to visit and travel, for once, as a family. My mom (who is btw the strongest woman that I know and to whom I owe an article about her) did not give up my dream either. My mother contacted my French teacher from school who told her about summer camps in France. That’s how we decided that I would to France alone for five weeks.

So, bonjour Paris!

In June 2007 I landed in Charles de Gaulle Airport. My excitement was extreme and my two luggage exceeded 20 kg each. I waited a long time to claim my luggage and after a long waiting I realized they did not arrive…

I went out of the airport with just one handbag and a grumpy driver waiting for me by the exit. We drove for around two hours until we got to this fancy, yet medieval, boarding school campus in the middle of Normandy. The house where I was staying was the ugliest of them all. It was small and we had to share it with the teachers and organizers. Most of the kids got the big cool houses.

So there I was, 15 year-old me, 10 000 kms away from home, no luggage and staying in a creepy old house in a huge campus. The next day, I was wearing clothes that I bought from the supermarket. I did not like the food and I had a headache at the end of the day for trying to speak English with my mates and learning French at summer school.

Although this last description might sound as if I was a stubborn teenage girl, the truth is I was just scared to be out of my comfort zone. Every night, for the first five nights, I would cry until falling asleep. I was asking myself “what were you thinking when you decided to come to another continent alone?”. I would beg my mom – on the phone – to buy me a plane ticket back home. She refused, she argued we could not afford it. That was true. However, she also cheered by saying that I was stronger than the situation and that if I would give up now, I would then give up later in life. She was right.

For almost one week my mom would call me each day to give me the strength that I needed. Saying that if others in worst circumstances can do it, I can as well. She made me realize that I was actually lucky to be where I was, that things get better and all those motivational words moms just know how to say to keep one going.

By the end of the first week, my luggage finally arrived (apparently it had ended up in another country). That same day, the directors allowed us all to pick new roomates and choose our own houses and rooms. By then, I had amazing friends with whom I shared a cool house, I loved my French lessons and I even felt my English was improving at a fast pace. It was exactly as I had imagined it. Five weeks passed by in a second. What started as an awful experience turned out to be an unforgettable summer.

I went back to Ecuador (my country of origin) convinced that I had to keep on traveling, learning French and planning to move in the future to Paris. I continued three more years of high school. I got lucky to have more chances to travel around the world and to go back to France during the summer of 2009. That is the moment when traveling became a drug.

Eight years have passed since I landed in France to live.  Of course I did not wait another second to meet more people and travel. Ever since I have been here I got to visit countries that my 15 year old self never even imagined. I have been to places like India, Bulgaria, Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, just to mention some. Each trip has been amazing, surreal, a cliché, a unique experience. Some of them I have done it with friends, my ex, to visit friends, reunite with family or even alone.

Yes, alone.

I have been asked often if I am not scared to travel alone or if I get to feel lonely. You must know first, that being alone does not mean feeling lonely. Others just call me brave. I must admit, Europe is a rather safe continent for a girl (or even a guy) to travel alone. As I would tell to anyone, always take care of yourself when traveling. Watch out where you go and who do you talk but do not become paranoid, I suppose this you already know. Other than that, I would not stop myself from going alone just because I have no one to share the trip with. I highly believe that the best company is yourself.

Plus, it is during those moments that amazing things end up happening. Just picture yourself in your dream destination, seeing the landscapes, eating the local food and drinks and trying to read a different language from yours. That is what I called magical moments. To be more specific, I used to day dream of myself in France drinking wine and listening to an accordion somewhere nearby, or in New York seeing Hollywood stars, or a at wedding in India, or drinking liters of beer with Germans. I have done all of them. These so-called clichés – or magical moments, as we call them with my sister – are something that pushes me to travel. I am obsessed to experience by myself up to what extent the culture in a place is as how I imagine.

When the first magical moments happened to me I had no family or special someone to share them with. I must admit in the beginning I got a bit sad, but now I realize it is a gift from life to me. With time, I understood the importance of traveling solo as a way to find peace with myself when things go bad. Now, I do it as well even if things go right. Traveling – like writing, reading or running – is a precious present I try to give to myself from time to time as a way to connect with me and disconnect from my routine.

The key is to dare.

Now, I am back at home in Paris. I spent four days in Germany visiting an amazing friend that used to live in France. (She is exactly one of those women who inspire me and cheer me to write). It took me longer to finish this article than expected, but I must admit the plane helped me putting my ideas into place. Also, apologies if the articles are getting longer but I am trying to be as sincere as I can so my journey makes sense to you.

If I may just say a last thing, it would be that this article is for all those women dreaming about traveling (doesn’t matter how old you are or how much you have visited). If your dream is to travel just do it (I know it sounds like a Nike ad). Go to the closest town in your country or buy a ticket to the other side of the world. Do not wait for someone to join, do not wait for the right time or to  feel confident enough. It is actually the action of buying that ticket and jumping into a plane that will challenge your fears and make you stronger. Trust me, you will meet amazing people along the way, live magical moments, learn, and know how important it is to give yourself the gift of traveling solo. <3

This article is, as well, for all those women being away from their countries of origin, for whatever reason that is. I know it is not always easy but be proud of yourself because it takes some ovaries to be away from home. <3

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