My first one-month anniversary on my first ever long-term solo trip was spent in Stockholm. I decided to treat myself to dinner at a fancy place opposite my terrible hostel and it was delicious. I remember sitting at the bar with two women next to me, looking fabulous and stylish while I was in my sneaker-leather-jacket-hoodie combo. I remember taking my Kindle out at the bar, reading while having dinner with a glass of white wine.
What I remember the most about that night was feeling so proud of myself having survived a month on my own, but also feeling tired and spent and almost bored. Despite being in a new place almost twice a week, sometimes more, I was getting bored because I had fallen into a routine. I felt like an ungrateful brat but I was getting tired of walking tours, churches, walking tours, parks, walking tours, stunning lookout points, markets, rewind.
That’s when I spoke to my parents and they obviously gave me the right advice – do something different. Duh! Looking back, it’s funny and strange how despite my every effort to experience new things, heck even travelling solo to find these experiences, I found myself doing the same old thing, just in a different place.
That felt like a long time ago.
One month travel anniversary: 17th November 2016
Not everyone gets to travel long-term, fall in love with it and do it again, for the second time round. For this incredible opportunity, I’m grateful to everyone that has helped me along the way and to the ones who have given me this opportunity.
Doing something for the second time has allowed me to reflect on my past-travelling-self, compare it to today’s and learn a lot more about myself, what I value, what my standards are, how I approach the world and how I can always do things better.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learnt and some observations I’ve made one month (and a few days) on.
- I’m a lot more come-what-may/let-it-go/whatever-will-be-will-be
I’m trying to say that I’m a lot more open to uncertainty. This time last year, I had planned my entire trip down to a tee. It was exhausting to do so but I wanted to squeeze out every second of my travels at the lowest possible cost so a lot of planning was required.
Before arriving at a new destination, I had printed out the relevant bus tickets, I had a map to the hostel, exact change for 3 days, I knew which bus to take and what time to get on it. I was so incredibly prepared, looking back on it I don’t even know what possessed me to do it.
Since then, I’ve gained skills to find my way around – mostly Googling and learning how to read a metro/tram/tube/train map. It’s gotten a lot less stressful to prepare for a trip knowing that I can find my way around at a new destination, regardless of the language they speak.
To be honest, part of it also has to do with the fact that I have a lot more money than I did the last time, plus a steady stream of income so it makes last-minute plans and changes seem a lot more feasible. Cost is no longer the only factor I think about when planning a trip. Last year, I was bound to my bank account and at times, it got tough.
- I can feel relationships and friendships slipping away
Let me preface this by saying that this is no one’s fault, it’s just life. While I’m living my life away from home and apart from people I love, they’re doing the exact same thing. We get busy, we meet new people, we text less, we find new experiences, we get on with life. It makes me sad thinking about it so I try not to dwell on it too much knowing that this is the path I’ve chosen for myself and I simply have to embrace it for the good and bad.
On the bright side, I’m meeting with friends from home within the next few months and I’m nothing short of ecstatic.
- I’m a lot more affectionate towards my parents
When your parents let you go on a trip for maybe 3 months, maybe 6, maybe longer with two weeks notice and not too many questions asked, you know you’ve got pretty special ones. They have been nothing but supportive and prayerful, which has been incredibly encouraging in times of uncertainty.
It’s uncommon in my household, as open as we are and at least for me, for us to tell one another how much we love each other. I think my sister does a better job of this than I do and it probably boils down to how different we are.
I’ve also come to understand that the only sure thing is time passing and them getting older. I have a strong desire, for when I’m done trotting around the globe, to move home and take care of my parents till they’re no longer here. It’s very un-millennial of me to do so, but that’s what I want to do. I’ve witnessed, from the lives of my friends, how little time we have with our parents and it’s important for me to take care of them, regardless of how much they might drive me up the wall.
- I drink a lot more
“Get some milk thistle, it’s good for your liver”, says my mum through text. She’s probably right. There’s nothing I can say about my new drinking habit that’s going to make it any better. I enjoy it and it tastes so damn good on this part of the world it’d be an injustice to just stick to water and tea and juice.
- I still get nervous when speaking to strangers
This is something I think I hide well, too well perhaps. When the anxiety builds up inside, I put on my armour of nonchalance and indifference, like I couldn’t care less despite really wanting to speak to that interesting-looking person. It’s like a muscle, I think, this ability to speaking to strangers. The more you do it the less difficult it gets, but it takes time and gets easier with practice.
A few lines that work particularly well:
“Are you travelling alone too?” – Use this when you find another person alone in your hostel or on a tour.
“Hi, I’m Nicole. What’s your name?” – Use this when you’re slightly tipsy or if you feel super confident in the moment.
“Hi, is this seat taken? Thanks. I’m Nicole by the way.” – This line makes you come across friendly and super chill. No one will guess that you’ve been practising it in your head for the last 10 minutes to make sure you sound cool.
- Travel insurance has really given me a peace of mind
Over the weekend, I went out for drinks with some new found friends and it was only after getting to the bar that I realised that I had left my phone somewhere. I narrowed it down to 2 places – the Uber we got to get to the bar, or back in the hostel.
It might have been the one drink I had or perhaps I knew I was in safe company and I could easily get home if I needed to, but I remained calm. At the back of my mind, I knew that I would be okay without my phone and I’d have the money to buy a new one in a matter of weeks. I wasn’t in a terrible situation and that’s always a good thing.
- Slow travel is definitely the best way to travel
There’s no rush to see everything or do everything at a destination. Compared to my previous trip where I had limited time at each destination, almost everything was planned down to the second. It was stressful figuring out which tickets to buy for a tour I’d only be taking in 30 days time.
I’ve also been able to find my home away from home – cafes. I spent the whole of last year working out of cafes and now finding a cosy cafe with excellent wifi continues to be the bane of my existence – it takes time to read Google and TripAdvisor reviews and figure out how to get there by bus, metro or tram. Despite this, it’s the one familiar thing that I carry around with me everywhere I go.
Slow travel has allowed me to wander around without the need to rush to the next iconic attraction. In fact, I’ve skipped them entirely, opting to go for walks around whichever neighbourhood I’m staying in, lingering too long in cafes, finding awesome spots to unwind or work from and being mistaken for a local (every traveller’s dream).
- Goodbyes are still hard and they suck
Over the weekend, I met a Polish Prince (I’m going to call him a prince from here on out because he has blonde floppy hair that reminds me of a prince’s) and we got on well. I spent the weekend exploring town with him and another girl from Latvia. When it was time to say bye (the Latvian girl was nowhere to be found) and saying bye bye to the Prince was hard.
I end my goodbyes with See you soon but I know that’s rarely the case. The same went for an American girl I met and shared a great meal with. We talked about our lives and our journeys and our relationships – it’s funny to be able to connect with complete strangers so quickly and easily. Too easy sometimes that it makes it hard to say Bye. Unless we end up in the same place by some coincidence, the chances of me meeting them again is slim at best.
- I’m exactly where I need to be right now
I know this because every cell in my body is “switched on” and I can feel the energy and excitement pulsating through me. These days, when I sit down to work, whether on a rooftop, from a cafe by the sea, a pub or the train, I work with great intensity and focus, I write about my days ferociously and I love every minute of it. When I shut my laptop to explore a city or town for a few hours, I do it with the same intensity and energy.
I’ve found the perfect thing for me for now and I’m going to make it last as long as I can.