My first solo travel was also my first move abroad. The day after I finished my Bachelor of Arts degree, at the relatively tender age of twenty, I moved abroad to Barcelona, Spain. I didn’t speak Spanish. I didn’t really understand that people there didn’t speak it either. I didn’t know anyone in the city, but I was enrolled in a TEFL course that started a few days after my arrival.
On my first night in the city I met my homestay “mom” and dropped off my bags in her apartment. In my home country, streets are numbered by blocks. There is the 100-block, the 200-block and the 300-block. If you’re at 325 Main Street, you know you’re only about three blocks from the end of the road. Looking at my new apartment number I assumed I was only a few blocks away from Plaza Catalunya, so I set off to explore my new city. I quickly realized that the Spanish (and most of the world, from what I can gather) simply number the buildings one after the other, regardless of when they intersect other streets. My short walk to Plaza Catalunya turned into a half-marathon (after I’d just come off a marathon flight). By the time I arrived at the heart of Barcelona I was tired, jet-lagged, angry at the illogical Spanish building number system, hungry, thirsty and alone. I found a pay phone, called my parents, burst into tears and cried, “What have I done? I’m all alooooooone…”
I was miserable for my first few days. But then the TEFL course started and I met a whole bunch of other people who were also alone in a strange land. We bonded immediately and the next month was amazing. Warm weather! Good food! Cute boys! Learning new things! Gaudi! Single-serving juice boxes of wine! A functioning public transit system! Really cute boys! The first time I ever ate a salad!
And then everyone left. Including the cutest boy. Most of them were from the UK, and they returned home for the holidays. Suddenly, I was alone again. And I cried, and I phoned my mom, and I couldn’t find a job, and I had to vacate my apartment because the course was over, and I moved into a youth hostel, and I visited my friend in Sweden where there was only four hours of sunlight every day, then I moved back to my Spanish youth hostel, then I got a job offer in Moscow and I came thisclose to taking it…
… when I happened to be on a bus that passed by this statue in a park. She was all alone! Like me! And I realized I would much rather be all alone in Barcelona, even if I was unemployed and living in a youth hostel, than in Moscow, where I might have a great job but I’d be facing a linguistic and cultural barrier unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. The lack of sunlight in Sweden had turned me into a human rutabaga after only two weeks- what would I become in Moscow? So I phoned my mom and cried some more. And then I got an email back from one of the six million language schools I’d blindly emailed, saying they had a job for me. It was Wednesday. Could I fly to their country and start on Monday? I had to Wikipedia the city where the school was located as I’d never even heard of it. Discovering that the sun seemed to shine there for more than four hours a day, I wrote back.
Yes, ma’am, I could.
The subsequent move involved even more tears, especially in the early months. I will surely write about them shortly. But the moral of this post is that when you’re traveling alone it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel lonely. Consider it catharsis and rest assured that soon you will be happier than ever before!