Two weeks ago, I was very fortunate to receive a generous gift from my host family here in The Netherlands. I won’t go into details of how and why, but I was given some money to take a last minute trip in Europe! Words cannot explain how excited I felt.. however, the word to be paying attention to here is a LAST MINUTE trip. Mind you, my host mother gave me the opportunity on a Thursday, and the next day Friday, I was already leaving to go to London on a short vacation with my boyfriend. When I got back from London on Monday night, I started freaking out– basically I had two days to unpack, repack and start booking tickets!!
Seeing as I would be traveling alone, I was very nervous, and opted to visit a city close to Amsterdam, whose streets I was familiar with.. Paris! Additionally, one of my close friends from a former job would be there, so I would not be completely alone. However, because it’s me, I needed to start making things more complicated for my 4 day trip.
First I would take the train from Amsterdam to Brussels, where I would spend the day. Then I would go from Brussels to Paris that evening and check into my hostel. The next day would be a free day in Paris. On Saturday I would take a day trip to visit the Chateau de Chenonceau in the Loire River Valley, and Sunday I would take the train back to Amsterdam. You might think I’m crazy, and for a minute I did to.
When I entered Amsterdam Centraal at 7 am on that Thursday morning, a wave of fear went over my body. It was a tremor that left my stomache churning and my hands dripping with sweat. Should I turn back now? Maybe I should just take a nice day trip outside of Amsterdam? Noooooo! A determined voice in my head told me to move my feet forwards towards my train platform.
And by listening to myself, I was given so much in return. My trip was a complete success, the biggest confidence builder I’ve ever had in my entire life. Traveling alone, you are responsible for everything. Every train ticket, hostel reservation, metro direction and meal, has to be planned and executed by YOU. Now, most of my friends know I am extremely forgetful and a bit absent minded at times (cue 4 wallets and 5 cellphones lost/ stolen in the past 6 years). I’ll be honest, my past history terrified me. Not to mention that when Simon and I went to Paris in December, he lost our return tickets to Amsterdam, and we had to buy new ones .. 200+ euros down the drain.
Now comes the best part of the story. I DIDN’T LOSE ANYTHING, NOR WAS I PICK POCKETED! I believe this was due to my severe neurosis’s on the trip. I slept with my purse under my pillow at the hostel, and checked to make sure I still had my train tickets about every 2 hours. My camera stayed in my coat pocket next to my hand, and my phone in a special zippered compartment of my purse. Whooo! It was worth it though. I got on every single train on time (I took around 8 trains total), and was able to navigate the metro with ease. When I got to the street with my map (and I am a horrible map reader- just ask anyone), I found where I was, then found where I was going, and traced my finger alone the path I should follow.
You really learn on such a trip as this one, that you can do things you were previously afraid of, and do them well! I never thought I could hold onto 8 train tickets, get on all the correct metros, and furthermore read a map correctly! In the past I have always planned where to stay and what to see, and relied on the person with me to do the map reading, and metro planning. Now I can happily claim that I can do it all.
An additional high you get from traveling alone, is doing only the things you want to do. There is no boyfriend or mother or best friend putting in their opinion every two minutes. It’s just you and your map, the foods you want to eat, and places you want to see. The liberation of that feeling at that moment- the moment when you know you can do anything, is unforgettable.