At 20 I was naive enough to tell people I was going ‘to find myself’. Luckily I had enough self awareness to deliver that phrase with sarcasm and knowing, but I did believe it on some level. I believed I would have a deep and wonderful experience. That I would meet interesting people, eat good food, drink wine in street cafes, speak French, take deep breaths on mountains, not care if I missed a train, not plan too much, be free and easy and only decide where I’d go next on a whim. I did all of those things. But what I didn’t have was peace as I did them, and so I didn’t have a deep and wonderful experience – I was sometimes lonely, even when I was with people; and I was sometimes afraid, even when I was safe.
I wasn’t scared of anything external, not really. I didn’t think anything bad would happen to me, like being mugged or kidnapped (and it didn’t) and before I went if anyone questioned my judgement (on her own, a young girl, no mobile phone, hasn’t booked her accommodation, in unknown places, etc.) I’d say ‘bad things can happen anywhere,’ and feel extra mature about my outlook. I remember a few people (Mum, Nana, Grandma etc.) asking with worried brows, ‘But can’t you get anyone to go with you?’ I was aghast – of course I could – if that was what I wanted, but I didn’t. I’d had this idea, I’d bought a couple of guidebooks, a return flight to Amsterdam, a train pass, an incredibly heavy timetable showing details of ALL trains in Europe that summer, and I went.
(... more soon...)