November 1, 2020
I grew up in a blended family… like four different last names in a family of six, blended. It made it really difficult for my family to travel outside of Canada, since there was a lot of paperwork required in order for us to leave the country. Coming back to school after summer, all of our school friends had spent their break on the sunny beaches of Cuba, adventuring at Disneyland in Florida, or snorkeling through the clear oceans of Jamaica, while my family saw the west and east coasts of Canada. As a kid it felt lame, because just like trading silly bands, if you didn’t relate or participate in the trend, it wasn’t cool. I thought it was only cool to spend your break on collecting seashells on sunny beaches, snorkeling with fish and wearing Minnie ears on your head in front of Cinderella’s castle. Looking back on it now though, I am so lucky and thankful that I had the opportunity to travel with my family. Plus I feel like not many people who I grew up with had that opportunity to travel across the second largest country in the world. Other than my trips across Canada, I haven’t traveled much. Unless you count that time I went to Denmark when I was six, or set sail on a cruise for my fourth birthday.
When I got into high school, my need to travel sparked when I heard about this exchange program in Europe. Three months of hosting a student from France, and then three more months living and studying in France! This was awesome, I HAD to do this. Sure enough, on my sixteenth birthday I left my home in Canada and soared overseas to France. It was one of the best experiences of life so far. When they told me in orientation that I would “meet long lasting friends from all around the world”, they were not joking. Now that I’m trying to plan my backpacking trip across Europe, I’m realizing just how many connections I made and how many friends I made from this exchange program. If you are thinking of doing an exchange program, I would totally recommend it.
After returning from my second home in France, I was sad that I didn’t have anything else to look forward to. No plans were in place, and I had no clue when I would be able to travel again. I waited for so long for an opportunity to come up. Would I have another chance to travel through school? Would one of my friends want to travel with me? Would I have the money? The answer is yes. I did get another opportunity to travel through school, I had plans to travel with friends and I found lots of ways to save money.
The last week of my summer before going into my second year of College, I went out to dinner with my friend who was moving to Scotland to live and work. There was a moment during dinner when we connected the dots that I could come and visit her during my reading week and we could travel together! This was finally the opportunity I was waiting for. Two weeks before the trip I got a text on a bus ride to work, it was my friend. She had an issue with her Visa and had to come back to Canada the same week I was supposed to visit. Well, now what? It was too close to my trip that I couldn’t cancel – especially since I booked the cheapest flight out. I now spent the next four hours at work asking literally ever single coworker what the hell I should do. By the end of the shift I wanted to go, but I thought it was the craziest idea I’ve ever had to go alone. I called my parents and they seemed confident that I could do it alone. I looked into hostels (it was terrifying) and planned my trip to a tee. Leading up to the day of my trip I felt excited, nervous and scared at the same time.
Before my dad dropped me off at the airport and it was time to say goodbye for a week. He was nonchalant about the whole thing as if I did crazy stuff alone like this all the time. Navigating through the airports was definitely the hardest part, but I figured it out fast enough that I had time to stop for a beer and grab some road snacks. Two flights, 1 bus, and 1 train later, I was in Edinburgh jetlagged and in disbelief that I was here. Little did I know that I was about to have one of the greatest adventures that would eventually lead me to be confident to be able to travel to other countries alone!
Scotland and Ireland couldn’t have been a better destination for a first time traveler. It’s a great place to feel the waters into solo travel. If you are thinking about independent travel, DO IT! Work hard, be confident and don’t make excuses like I did. As soon as I stopped making excuses for myself about how traveling was impossible to do alone, I was able to go to three different countries prior to the pandemic. There will never be a good time to travel (unless you are in a pandemic), but I am currently planning the biggest trip of my life next year in the midst of a pandemic. Don’t wait for others to have the same aspirations for travel as you do. If you want to do it, you’ll meet others along the way that share the same level of passion for travel. Plus, if you can navigate international airports, you’ll be fine ;)