I remember telling people in work that I wouldn’t be there the next week to follow up on various projects.
"I’m heading away for three months. Where? Oh, I’m starting in Spain and I’ll figure it out from there, I guess."
Even as I said the words, I couldn’t picture myself in Spain. I couldn’t picture myself on my own in a hostel, eating strange foods, sleeping in a room with nine other people, not going to work every day, sight-seeing and meeting new people.
Usually a very organised person, I didn’t pack for my trip until the night before I was due to leave. Because the idea of the trip was so foreign to me, I couldn’t prepare for it properly, or rather I felt I didn’t need to.
"What if I get homesick? What if I don’t like it? I wanted to leave the Gaeltacht early for God’s sake!"
I was so frightened. But thankfully, that didn’t last.
I remember beaming with pride when I managed to get from the airport in Seville to my hostel in the city centre, without the help of a taxi. I got on the bus, I bought a ticket, I got off at the right stop, I found the side street and I checked into my first hostel. To many, that would have been a very small and somewhat insignificant feat. But not to me. I’d survived the first part of my trip.
If I could get from A to B, I could get myself all the way to Z!
I assumed that feeling would go away once I settled into backpacking, but it didn’t. I beamed with pride every time I found the right platform in the train station. I beamed with pride when I successfully bought stamps from a lady who didn’t speak English. I beamed with pride when, on one sunny evening in Berlin, it dawned on me that I was completely and utterly content eating alone. Sure, there were times when I wished I was at home - miserable days where I could have hopped on a flight to Dublin without a second thought - but those days were in the minority.
Before I left, my sense of adventure risked being overtaken by my fear of humiliation. Do you remember in Sex and the City when Carrie moves to Paris and even though she’s fabulously well-dressed and is carrying herself with a “this-is-my-new-life-now-and-I’m-making-it-work” confidence, she’s looked upon constantly as a foreigner. A foreigner as the lowest life form. That’s what I feared would happen to me but the reality is a far cry from the caricature that is a Candace Bushnell sitcom.
I learned ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the native language of every country I visited; Spanish, German, Austrian (that doesn’t actually exist, I know, but “Hi” in Austria is “Servus”, not “Guten Tag” like in Germany), French, Italian, Croatian, Bosnian, Hungarian, Czech and Polish. A friend told me that I wouldn’t learn any languages while I was away “because everyone speaks English”. He was right. But wouldn’t you be appreciative of someone who’d made the effort to learn a few words than none at all? I’d like to think I was received more warmly by locals than my counterparts who adopted the “keep speaking English but louder and slower” approach to communication.
I haven’t picked a favourite place. I had different experiences in every city I visited and I’d feel oddly disloyal to them if I singled one out. But I suspect that when I go back to work and we’ve wrapped a particularly stressful show, I’ll find myself daydreaming about a specific time and place and I’ll know then that that was my favourite.
I knew two weeks ago that I was ready to come home. I wrote about the turning point. It was the morning when I woke up and the guy in the bed across from me had gone to sleep with no boxers on. Waking up to *that* marked the moment when I knew I was ready to leave. I had seven cities left on my “To See” list, and I was going to visit four of them. Then, I was going to get the hell out of Dodge.
And now here I am. I didn’t get to the last three cities on my list. Instead I’ve chosen to spend my last week of freedom meeting up with family and friends, sleeping in my own bed (privacy, sweet privacy!), catching up on the news and, more importantly, Orange Is The New Black. But one thing’s for certain, my trip has made me realise how big the world is and how much there is still to see. I’m only 26, but going on a solo, three-month jaunt around Europe was the best decision I’ve ever made.