What you are about to read is a story about one of the craziest, exhilarating, most independent things I’ve ever done in my life (and for those that know me, that is saying A LOT). It was an experience that I can wholeheartedly say changed my life, and showed me just what I am capable of. The story I am about to tell you has unlocked an entirely new world for me…a world in which I KNOW I can handle adventures and travels completely on my own, and a world in which I am FIRMLY holding the key to my fate. What I am referring to occurred this past January when I went to London on my own with no idea of where I was going to stay or what I was going to do, and the only thing I could lean on was the glorious fact that everyone spoke English (word of advice, never take that for granted). So, without hesitation, let me begin….
It all started with a huge transition in my life…I was leaving the restaurant job that I called home for two years while I went to school, and I would soon be starting my first “big girl” job after college graduation. Like any other post-grad, starting your first job is both totally terrifying and extremely exciting all at the same time. This is what you went to school for so long for, and now, all of that hard work, all of those long nights surviving off coffee and your iPod (Journey and Queen to be exact) are finally paying off. So anyways, I had put in my two weeks at the restaurant, and had a few days off before I started my new job. I had always wanted to go to London, and my desire to go was even more amplified because I had wanted to go during my Europe trip last summer but it ended up not working out, so it was shot to the top of the list of places I wanted to travel to in this world (and boy are there many). The home of the Spice Girls, Princess Diana, and fish & chips was calling my name, and I had no other option than to listen to the call.
Now, under normal circumstances, going to London for a few days spur of the moment would not have been possible, considering it costs an arm, a leg, and your family’s life savings to travel overseas. But, playing in my favor was the handy-dandy little fact that my mom works for the airline industry, so flying is cheaper than a value meal at McDonald’s (maybe not, but you get my point). It’s all stand-by of course, which means you only get a seat if there are extra seats available, but for the price (or lack of), it’s worth the risk. Especially when you have nothing to lose.
And that’s how it went. I had not the slightest clue of where I was going to stay, no idea of what I was going to do for those few days by myself, and if I would even get on the flight or not. All I knew was this was a place I wanted to see and experience, and nothing would get in my way.
I ended up flying stand-by to Chicago no problem, but then the problems arose when the flight I was supposed to get on to London was oversold. Pretty disheartening when you’re banking on an available seat to get you to where you want to. But, nonetheless, I ended up getting one of the last seats on the flight, business class and all. The flight over was nerve-wrecking and filled with anxiety. What the heck was I getting myself into? Why did I think this was a good idea to fly over to an entirely different country completely alone? What would I do if I couldn’t find a place to stay? I couldn’t figure out if it was courage, bravery, or straight up insanity that drove me to do something like this, but I would find out sooner than later.
I landed in London exhausted and tired, and thanked my lucky stars that I was in a country that spoke English. Exhaustion and trying to interpret a foreign language are a lethal combination, and I’m not sure I would have gotten out alive had that been the case, or at least successfully navigated to Tourist Information Services. I got off the plane, went through customs, and bee-lined for the nearest tourist information desk. They gave me the name of a hostel that was well-known in the area, and putting all my eggs in one basket and praying I wasn’t going to be on the receiving end of a scam, I made a reservation fit for a queen…getting the top bunk of a bunk bed in a room with 12 other women. But hey, I was here to meet people right? What better way than to share a room with 12 of your newest friends?
I found my way to the hostel, all the way in the south of London in Pimlico, and stumbled into the hostel. Although check-in wasn’t “technically” allowed until 2pm, the guy at the front desk let me into my room early to nap (although the cleaning crew cleaned around me while I slept, but hey, it happens). After taking a 3 hour nap, I woke up ready to take on what would be some of the best days of my life.
I think there is really something to be said for traveling on your own. Of course it’s fun to have a companion there with you to experience the exact same things you are experiencing; it’s comforting to know that you always have someone to talk to, and it’s a very safe feeling to know you are not alone. But swing the pendulum to the other side, and you will experience a freedom you’ve never felt or experienced before. To be able to do whatever you want, for as long as you want, is a completely underrated and addicting feeling. You can move as fast or as slow as you want, take as much time as you want looking at the Tower of London or in my case, shopping on Oxford Street, because the time is all yours, and yours alone.
I’m sure you’re thinking that I spent those five days in London completely alone, without anyone to spend time with or talk to. But in actuality, that was , in fact, very opposite the case. I made friends with people that were staying at my hostel, I made friends with the people who worked at the hostel…with people on a free walking tour I went one…with people who were simply going in the same direction as me (in this particular case it was finding the right train to take to London Bridge.) I had the absolute greatest time because I put myself out there and knew that I wanted to meet anyone and everyone I came into contact with. Between going on a pub crawl with people from the hostel, eating dinner in Camden Market with a new friend, having a long conversation with someone from Kazakhstan, learning how to salsa dance with people from Norway and Spain, and walking around the streets of London with someone from Australia, there was never a moment that I was NOT with someone.
I also soaked in the time I was able to spend by myself. I walked around Hyde Park while listening to my iPod and watching the swans in the lake, I strolled down Oxford Street and went into every store I could, and I stopped for cappuccinos more times than I’d like to admit. By the end of my week there, I was able to meet up with my mom, who had coincidentally worked a flight over to London. We went to see the Rosetta Stone, ate the best Spanish Tapas I have ever tasted, and saw the musical Shrek, along with just wandering the magical streets of London while feeling invincible and free.
I came back from my trip with an excitement and wonderment for life that I have for so long forgotten about. From the minute I boarded the flight back home, I had never been so sure of the fact that I can make it wherever I am. I can move across the world, I can move a few cities over, or I can simply move down the street, because no matter where I am, my thrill for life, my love of meeting other people, and my passion to embrace all things different and unknown will never leave me. Never Ever.
“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world” – Mary Anne Radmacher