Travelling alone can sound scary. Ever since I was a little kid, I knew that I wanted to travel and do a Contiki. It was more like a rite of passage. My mom worked as a travel agent many moons ago, which gave her the opportunity to travel the world. She always spoke so fondly of her Contiki trip and I wanted to experience it for myself.
Preparing for the trip
I desperately wanted to go the summer after graduating high school, but I wouldn’t turn 18 until that August. Considering I was a broke student beginning university, I resorted to working at a summer camp before moving in the fall. After that I thought my dreams of international travel were on hold, at least for a little while.
That, luckily, was not the case. Thanks to an opportunity through my program, I was going to be in Prague for two weeks over the summer. Once I found out I would be in Europe anyways, I figured I might as well go on my Contiki trip before classes began. Then a few days in London, a few days in Paris, and a couple filler days in Vienna. Before I knew it, a two-week opportunity to build up my portfolio turned into a 33-day escapade across Europe.
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I was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to travel. But at the time I left I was only 18, and I was also terrified. I’d never been outside North America before, not to mention the fact that I was travelling alone. I had absolutely no idea what I was in for and any reasonable person might have seen this as stupid. I can guarantee that my parents were worried silly. Looking back though, I wouldn’t have done anything differently.
The travel experience
My adventure of travelling alone began with a redeye flight from Edmonton to London, and landed early the next morning. I was exhausted, disoriented, and nearly lost my luggage. I couldn’t for the life of me find the Gatwick Express to take me to the city. All I wanted was to get to my hotel, and by the time I arrived I felt like I was going to pass out.
I was devastated to find out that I couldn’t check in for another four hours. I had lunch at a little restaurant down the street. That’s when it really hit me where I was and what I was doing. I was watching a group of girls around my age, who were obviously tourists as well, laughing and taking pictures of each other. In that moment I longed to have someone to share the experience with, while I struggled to figure out the difference between a pound and a penny!
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I decided to set up camp in Russell Square while I waited to check in. As strange as it sounds, this is one memory from my trip that I remember most vividly.
I sat down on the grass under a tree in the middle of the park, I shut my eyes… and cried. I cried harder than I had in a long time, and wondered what the heck I was doing there. I was sitting in a park, thousands of kilometres away from my loved ones, completely alone, bawling my eyes out. I felt like an idiot; all I wanted was to go home, back to where things were more familiar and easier and I wouldn’t have to deal with my fears on my own.
As horrible as the feeling was, looking back I now realize that this was one of the most pivotal moments of my life. While planning my trip, I had put on this facade to convince not only others, but myself that I was tough and I could do this, no problem at all. This was the approach I took to most challenges life threw at me, and it was in this moment I realized that it was okay to be scared. It was in this moment that I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be.
The best part?
The rest of my trip was, in a single word, incredible. I met some amazing people, explored some of the most unbelievable places I’ve ever been, and made my fondest memories. But most importantly, travelling alone forced me to grow up faster in that month than any other point in my life. For the first time in my life I was completely dependent on myself, and went home with more skills and much more mature than I had left.
If you’re 18 or 19 and on the fence about taking your dream trip, I’d say, just do it! Yes, it will probably be the hardest thing you’ve done up to this point, but it will also be one of the most meaningful experiences you can have. I now look back at that horrible afternoon in Russell Park with a smile, because I know now that if I can take on that, I can take on anything life throws at me.