You know the feeling when everything seems to be going wrong? When I was 24 I had what felt like a quarter life crisis. I’d been living and studying abroad in the UK for seven years, but my visa had run out. I had to return home to Toronto. My boyfriend of five years had just broken up with me – well actually he told me that we needed to go on a break and then ghosted me.
Suddenly, I was living at my parent’s house and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I was desperately trying to claw my way out of a pit of depression.
One day when I was bored, I accompanied my mom to her travel agent as she picked up some documents for her upcoming trip. At one point the agent started talking about this company called Contiki. I’d never heard of it before. We flipped through the brochure and I loved the idea of the Eastern Road trip. As we were booking she said: ‘hey, why not tack on the Croatia Island Sail trip?!” Well ok then! Then, as I needed to fly home through Rome, I figured I’d stay for a few days by myself.
In August I flew out to Berlin. I was going to be spending two days by myself before the Contiki actually started. I was so nervous! I’d never travelled on my own before, only with family, friends or a boyfriend. Honestly, I think I was mostly afraid of being alone with my thoughts. I quickly realized that I needed to start doing things for me, when everything and everyone else was stripped away.
I’m a professional photographer, so I bought a new mirrorless camera before my trip. In Berlin I just started walking as far as I could go and shooting everything in sight. I also bought a leather wrap journal to organize my thoughts.
As soon as I met my Contiki roommate, we immediately hit it off. People kept asking us how long we’d known each other. I couldn’t believe how quickly I connected with someone (we’re still close now!) and I was blown away by how diverse my group was. We had people from all over the world – all ethnicities, age ranges, singles and married couples.
After isolating myself for so long, I was filled with such joy that I had 52 other people to talk to, drink with, and share experiences with. I didn’t feel alone and found myself smiling and laughing. I even became open to trying new things like dancing the waltz in a palace square in Vienna. Of course there were times I still felt sad and unsure, but my new friends and roommate supported me and raised me up.
When it came to the destinations on the trip, I was in constant awe: the macabre beauty of Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic, the parliament buildings in Budapest at night, the Berlin wall, Łazienki Park in Warsaw, the fashion of Vienna, the food in Prague. My senses were constantly stimulated and my world view was opening up. Suddenly my problems seemed further away.
When I landed in Croatia I was riding a massive high and missing my new friends already. I was really excited about the heat and balancing out my first two weeks of walking and touring with just laying around on a boat. I was the only Canadian on the trip and every other person was from Australia or New Zealand. Everyone was happy and energetic and ready to have a good time. I realized that I was on this boat surrounded by positive energy and sunshine – not a bad place to heal really.
I’m half Croatian, and was finding myself beginning to connect with my own heritage. I discovered how amazing the people, food and culture were. Who was I in the context of my history? Who was I now? Who did I want to be? It’s said that with distance we see things more clearly and floating in the salty Adriatic sea I began to see myself, and more importantly the image of who I wanted to be.
By the time I got to Rome, I was alone again. This time I didn’t feel scared or timid at all. I felt more myself then I had in months. I dressed up to the nines just to go have a glass of wine and bowl of pasta by myself. I didn’t rush and spent hours just walking the streets and gardens. Having been to Rome before, I sought out alternative things I wanted to do or see. When it was time to go home, I wasn’t riddled with anxiety at the prospect of going home.
I just recently rewatched the Julia Roberts classic Eat, Pray, Love, and although its super cheesy to compare my journey to hers, it really feels like a similar experience. I might not have prayed or found love, and this was only the beginning of my healing journey, but I absolutely found myself again. I was reminded of the values I hold through my new relationships; how to be open, kind and have a sense of humour. I saw so much beauty in ancient buildings, natural landscapes and the fortitude of the locals and their unique ways of living. Perhaps most importantly, I found the peace and strength that comes from being with myself, loving spending time with my own thoughts and that feeling of pride and accomplishment from doing something for myself, by myself.
There’s no magic cure to heartbreak (unfortunately) or that feeling of being lost. What worked for me might not work for anyone else, but after these first trips abroad I came back glowing – and I don’t just mean from my tan.