I spent my small savings, boarded a plane for London, and planned to make friends along the way. I ended up crying in a crumpled ball outside of an American Express office in Paris.
I had just gone through a terrible break up, I was stuck in what was quickly revealing itself to be a dead-end job, and I wanted to get the hell out of Orlando, Florida. A European adventure alone seemed like just the ticket to heal my broken heart and get some perspective on what I really wanted to do with my life.
I had been to Europe once before in college on a study abroad program, where I interned at the BBC. Sure, my new friends from the program and I traveled when we could, but I didn’t get to see nearly as much of Europe as I wanted.
I took leave from my job, bought the travel guide “Let’s Go!”, exchanged dollars for traveller’s cheques, and off I went. The first few days were fine. I went alone to places I had loved during my time in London. Sometimes it was lovely to be alone, but the fact that those same friends weren’t with me to share my memories of Covent Garden or the afternoons in the park, made the whole thing slightly tinged with sadness.
After exploring a few cities, I grew tired of my own company. Also, when you miss a train and get stuck in Rome for the night with friends it’s a fun adventure. When you miss a train and get stuck in Rome ALONE for the night, it’s a completely different animal. Circa 1997 (pre-iPhone) you dealt by yourself at midnight with tiny maps through sketchy parts of town, with Italian men leering at you in a scary, please-God-get-me-out-of-here way.
I took the Chunnel to Paris and felt very fancy. When I got there, my rusty high school French failed me, and even while ordering a baguette I was met with icy, American-loathing eyes. In a group setting, we may have giggled or volunteered our best French speaker to order for us. I went to the museums I had missed the first time around, but again, there was no one with whom to appreciate the art or discuss it. Don’t get me wrong -– I can appreciate a day alone. But the first 14 days that way got boring and lonely fast.
Being a woman traveling alone opened my eyes to hassles and unwanted advances I hadn’t experienced before. I was standing alone near a hotel and was mistaken for a prostitute and propositioned.