When people heard I planned to travel to Europe by myself at the age of just barely eighteen I received concerned, confused and condescending remarks from just about everyone. They looked at me like I was crazy, and then to my mother like she was equally crazy for allowing me to do it. It was as if they didn’t believe I’d be able to handle it- the unfamiliar atmosphere, responsibilities, independence. I didn’t let it phase me, however; the closer I got to my date of departure, the more confident I felt about going.
As soon as I said goodbye to my mother and boarded the plane, I felt the excitement begin to build within me. I looked around at the people following me onto the plane. They held passports from everywhere imaginable- Ireland, Canada, a man in a lovely knit cap from Nigeria, and a woman in a bright pink suit who sat next to me, from Brazil. We all had the same destination- London, the international city.
When I arrived at Heathrow Airport I made my way through customs and after a bit of frazzled confusion, I successfully navigated, via the Heathrow Express and London Underground, to my hostel in central London- the International Students House. I checked in, and found myself sharing a room with five other girls. These inhabitants would come and go during the duration of my stay, but a few became friends along the way.
There was Isabel, a Greek girl with long curly blonde hair, who was studying at London’s Metropolitan University. We would become fast friends- after all she was essentially there alone as well. We would spend afternoons in the hostel study, chatting over coffee, or going for runs in the nearby Regent’s Park. There was Sadye, a girl from Southern California a few years my senior, traveling and working in the city. We often went out for drinks, and we continue to remain in touch to this day. I also befriended Laura and Zoë, two friends from opposite ends of Canada, traveling around Europe and looking for jobs in London.
In reality, I was forced to meet new people and become more outgoing because I was by myself. Had I been there with a friend, who knows- I may have only let myself stick to what was familiar, and missed out on meeting all of those wonderful people. I knew one person in London prior to arriving- a friend from home who was studying at Regent’s College. We went out on the town one of my first nights in the city. It was nice to see a familiar face, but I would soon realize the freedom and joy of gong off on my own and exploring new places and meeting new people.
I spent my days doing whatever I wanted to do. There was no group itinerary, no schedule, no time constraints, and no tug of my arm or voice in my ear saying “no, let’s go this way instead”. I could go and do as I pleased. I hardly took the tube [London’s subway system]; after all I was there to see the city. I walked all over the place, stumbling upon charming cafes, amazing vintage shops, and meeting interesting people along the way.