You’re in Prague. You have no access to money. Your debit card was stolen in Barcelona and your credit card has decided to deplete your credit line down to zero. You’re sitting in your hostel with the few crowns you have left trying to figure out your next move.
You’re in Vienna at a deserted train station trying to get to your hostel. You can’t get the single machine to function properly so you can’t buy your ticket. You’re stuck in a foreign place unable to reach your destination.
You’re hiking to see a waterfall by the remote Lake Bohinj in Slovenia. It’s getting dark and excessively cold. You’ve been hiking for over two hours along a winding road and haven’t seen a soul. You’ve already come too far to turn back now.
It’s completely dark outside and you’ve woken with a panic. You’re due to catch an early flight to Germany. You’ve missed all your alarms, your pre-paid bus to the airport has already come and gone, and your European adventure looks to be off to a shaky start.
Feeling a little stressed imagining these scenarios? Well this was my trip. These were some of the few escapades that occurred over my month-and-a-half adventure by myself around Europe.
Yet, looking back on my time spent abroad, through all the misfortunes and times spent in suspense, I only see all of the light through the dark.
Because picture this
You go and spend the last of your money on a beer at the hostel bar. You decide to forgo your woes and strike up a conversation with some nice Jersey boys at the bar. Together you view Prague from a lovely rooftop bar, get treated to traditional Czech food, and go to one of the local’s houses to play games. You explored a beautiful city amidst new friends and a flurry of snow.
A nice man sees you have been struggling with the machine and purchases your ticket for you. He sends you on your way with a wave as you mutter a grateful danke schoen. You catch the train just in time.
You finally make it to the base of the waterfall after a tiring trek uphill. You run into a Slovenian family. Together you hike up to the top only to find that all that you had hoped to see was frozen into a trickling stream. You sit for a moment to take in the view and laugh in each other’s presence. The family then takes you to dinner and beer, teaches you how to dance like a Slovene, and finally gives you a ride back to your hostel where they bid you good night.
You’re staying with a friend whom you’ve made during your time studying in England. It’s four in the morning and your late for your plane. Her parents get up and drive you an hour to get you to the airport on time. Never a complaint. You run yourself sweaty, get advanced through the security lines and make it to your terminal with time to spare.
When I had left for studying abroad last year, I had thought that this life-changing trip would be all about “finding myself”. About becoming who I wanted to be. And it was. It did. But that was not what I found truly changing.
What I found on that trip was my faith in humanity. My faith in other people. My faith that people might actually be good at heart.
I have never encountered such generosity, warmth, and care as I did when I was traveling Europe. Such love for a stranger who had done nothing to receive as much.
And you know what I attribute it to? Some may call it youth. Some may call it luck. I call it going about life with open eyes and an open heart. I call it putting yourself out there, going on adventures, and marching full steam ahead and hoping for the best.
I call it living frugally, taking in your surroundings, and pushing yourself to befriend those that you normally wouldn’t. To me that’s one of the great benefits of traveling alone.
When you travel alone, the whole outcome of the journey is in your hands. Whether you push to connect with people or see the most sights, that’s all up to you. When you reach out to the world, you’ll find the world already has it palm outstretched, waiting to take hold.
So that journey abroad wasn’t about finding myself—it was about learning how to reconnect with others. It was about letting people in again and sharing this joy and love that life provides. And it was this generosity and warmth that led me to be more generous in return. To let my ambitions and impulses guide me. To be less afraid.
Sometimes we get so incredibly caught up with the life we’re living that we don’t look beyond the everyday. That is why traveling is good for the soul. It pushes you to be more. To live beyond the ups and downs and make your journey exactly what you want it to be.
It is with this thought that I leave for Europe again in the next few days. This trip will be different. I have friends to meet along the way whom I have made through my past adventures. Smiles and laughs to revisit. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with that—as long as you still leave a little room for spontaneity.
I remember back when I was on my initial flight to England, sitting next to a woman with whom I had barely spoken a word. Before we were due to land I told her about my journey studying abroad; my hopes, my fears. She gave me a warm smile and wrote out her name and number. Said to give her a call if I ever needed any help. I still have her number. Whether she knew it or not, she made a difference in my journey.
So thank you. Thank you to all those who helped me along the way and who will help me further in the future. I can’t wait to share this crazy life with you.