I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person. – Oscar Wilde
I have always been an independent person: making time for my friends, family, and past boyfriends while still managing to find time for myself. However, I felt that I had never really spent time alone away from the people I cared about; I wanted to experience that. While traveling alone for three months I discovered I could take care of myself at my lowest points, I could live simply and sleep almost anywhere, I realized I am free and how lucky I am to be from such a beautiful place, and I could push my boundaries and put myself out there to meet new people – some of whom have become great friends. I also experienced the kindness of complete strangers when I needed it most.
Dublin – April 2012
I sat in the Dublin airport with my face in my hands. Hot tears streamed down my cheeks as I thought about where I was heading — home.
It was funny. A year ago I had sat in the same terminal waiting for a flight to Boston with the same hot tears running from my eyes. But this time, it was different. A year ago I was ready to leave Europe; I was heartbroken and wanted to go back to Maine — to see my family, friends and the beautiful coast. This time I was sad to be done with my travels, I was sad to be going back home.
Before I left for my trip I wasn’t sure how many months would be too long or too short. I took a guess and made sure I’d use my 90 day tourist visa to the max and go from there whether I found work to make extra money or if I had properly made a budget, still had money of my own saved to spend. But neither of those options panned out.
I ran out of money with a month left of my travels and had to call home to ask for a little help. After mustering up the courage to ask for money, my mom transferred enough to get me through the next four weeks in the UK, which lasted me just till the very end.
I had only been in London that very morning with my best friend. I had spent the previous two weeks wandering the streets of the city, of different neighborhoods, listening to live music and drinking endless amounts of coffees in tucked away cafes. It was as if I was finding a part of myself that I had been missing for the past year. I found the happiness I had been searching for — I had found London.
As much as I love Maine, my family, and friends, I wasn’t ready to leave what I had just started to call home. I wasn’t ready to pack up my things in a beautiful city to move home to my small town. I didn’t want to feel like a failure moving home, broke and without a job. I didn’t want to face the fact that I would have to stay in this small town for another six months while I got my feet back on the ground, earned some money, and figured out my next adventure. But I couldn’t be luckier, and I knew that. I have parents that will take me back home if ever I need. They will allow me to run away and follow my dreams of seeing the world while letting me spend my money and come home empty handed (minus all those life experiences I am lucky to be pocketing).
I am lucky that my parents love me so much to allow me to let me go where the wind takes me. I am lucky to have such a beautiful home to come home to.
Check out our Dubin Indie Travel Guide
Salzburg – February 2012
It was the first time I had felt completely alone and happy since beginning my adventures. I realized how much I love trains. I love the mumbling of a foreign language; I love the soothing motion of rocking back and forth on the tracks; I love passing landscapes of small towns and big cities that I may never ever see again except in that one fleeting moment.
When I traveled across Austria, I’d never felt a greater happiness despite being alone. Time on the train had given me the opportunity to let my mind wander and allowed me to really think about what I wanted out of traveling, life, and the people I love and care about. It made me appreciate everything I had and made me look forward to everything to come in the future.
As these thoughts passed through my mind, so did small glimpses of Austrian life. I saw children pulling sleds up hills, mothers and fathers sweeping the snow off frozen ponds for their children to skate, bright coats in snow covered forests, and horses standing strong and tall in their snowy fields. Even though I was so far away from home, I had never felt so close to my roots, my childhood memories.
When we pulled into the station in Salzburg, I was longing for it to continue, for the train to keep moving. But, it stopped. I stepped off the train, a little unsure of this new place, but ready for an adventure.
Rome – February 2012
It was only a few days after my wonderful realization of how much I loved trains, how much I missed my family and how much I loved traveling alone. This was the day my faith was restored in humanity and the kindness of strangers.
After just barely catching my train out of Innsbruck, Austria, I spread out the sheets and tossed the wool blanket over my body and tried to fall asleep as fast as possible. The rocking back and forth and the low rumble of the wheels on the tracks lulled me into a light sleep.
When we arrived in Rome, I was flustered to be in a new place. I hadn’t been quite ready to leave Austria. I met some amazing people in my last minute trip to Innsbruck, and it was refreshing to eat well and share stories of adventure. I couldn’t wait to go back. Next time snowboarding & paragliding are on the “to do” list with my new friends.
But despite the beautiful memories of Innsbruck, I was in Italy. I was only in Rome for two hours before I caught my next train to Ancona to visit my friend from university. Then all hell broke loose.
The conductor walked into the cabin and asked for my ticket. I handed it over. She asked me somethin,g and I didn’t understand her. I shrugged my shoulders and smiled. In broken English she told me I hadn’t written the date on my ticket before getting on the train, so it became invalid and I owed her 50 euro. But since I didn’t have the cash, I now owed her 100 euro upon our arrival at the train station.
Then the yelling began.
The older man who was sitting across from me raised his voice in my defense at the conductor. Words were exchanged, and in the end she wrote him a ticket. For what – I’m still not sure. As he took out money to pay for his ticket, he also tried to hand her a 50 euro bill to pay for mine. She wouldn’t accept it and told him to hand it to me so I could pay.
I was blown away by his generosity, and I kept saying thank you. When he leaned over and said in broken English, “Horrible, horrible woman. No man has ever taken her home.” Then after a few more head shakes and mumbling under his breath, he said, “Smile, things are all right.” And I thought how true that statement really was.
Check out our Rome Indie Travel Guide
Madrid – March 2012
It started with a simple question, “Do you think you’re free?”
No one had ever asked me that before. I immediately said yes and then hesitated and retracted my answer. I wasn’t sure how to answer the question. I had to really think about my life and the meaning of the word free.
On dictionary.com the word free is defined as the following:
- Enjoying personal rights or liberty, as a person who is not in slavery: a land of free people.Origin free [free] adjective, fre•er, fre•est, adverb, verb, freed, free•ing.
- Pertaining to or reserved for those who enjoy personal liberty: They were thankful to be living on free soil.
- Existing under, characterized by, or possessing civil and political liberties that are, as a rule, constitutionally guaranteed by representative government: the free nations of the world.
- Enjoying political autonomy, as a people or country not under foreign rule; independent.
- Exempt from external authority, interference, restriction, etc., as a person or one’s will, thought, choice, action, etc.; independent; unrestricted.
After running quickly through the definitions of freedom I knew in my head I decided that yes, I was lucky enough to be completely free.
I was free in the sense that my parents will provide me with anything I need if I need it. I was free because I was born in a country with the right to be free written in the constitution. I was free because I had no ties to anyone or any place in particular — I could simply pack my bags and go wherever I pleased. I was free because I spoke English and Spanish and could communicate with many people around the world. I was free because of my education.
Of course there were certain things that tied me to the US – like taxes and visas regulating my stay in other countries. But those were only minor things. I could look past those and know that my life was free — unencumbered and ready to take on the world.
Read our Madrid Indie Travel Guide
Edinburgh – March 2012
I left Las Palmas de Gran Canarias after a week of relaxing on the beach and working on the base for my summer tan.
I hopped on a plane and set off to Scotland under the impression that I’d be volunteering at a Bed & Breakfast in a town called Dornie in the north. Assuming I was doing nothing wrong, I approached the Border Control ready to quickly state my plans, pass through to get my bag, and hunker down in the airport for a night of on and off sleep while I waited for my bus. Those plans quickly changed.
After playing a game of 20 questions with Mr. Border Control, he took me aside and told me I had two options:
- He refused me entry to Scotland under the pretense that I was going to be working illegally in the country without a visa. According to him, in order to volunteer one needed a visa in the UK. Who knew?
- He allowed me entry to Scotland (with a stamp declaring I had a warning) as long as I PROMISED not to volunteer and made other plans.
He continued to tell me that if it were any earlier in the day he would have just refused me entry and sent me back to Spain, which, I may add, wouldn’t have been that awful of an alternative. So I agreed to option two when he asked why I had flown into Edinburgh and not Glasgow. I told him the flights were cheaper and asked why, to which he responded, “The people in Glasgow are nicer.” I smiled and asked if he was from Glasgow – he said, “Aye, of course.”
From this experience I learned that true happiness comes from within. I believe one must be happy with oneself in order to find and share that happiness within others. Through these experiences I have found mine. Now let the adventure continue.
It was those three months, eight countries, and countless numbers of people that changed me for the better. I returned back to the USA that much stronger, self-sufficient, and happier. I found more value in time spent alone and with the people I truly cared about. I didn’t feel the need to constantly be surrounded by people, and I found joy in writing, reading, playing music, taking photos, and surfing.
A native of Maine currently living in San Sebastian, Spain, Alexandra Sagan Pope has always had a desire to travel and create new experiences. After graduating from university in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 2010, she took off to Spain and hasn’t stopped exploring since. You can keep up with her latest adventures at www.nativeofthenorth.
Check out our Edinburgh Indie Travel Guide
All photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.