It’s been nearly a month since I started my backpacking journey, and I can say with complete certainty that some days are much easier than others. I’m currently making my way through Spain, which funny enough will probably be the most difficult country I’ll travel in while touring Europe. Not only because it’s one of the first countries I’ve backpacked through, alone, where the common language is not English, but also because I am learning how to get around using only public transportation; something that is seriously lacking where I’m from in South Florida. My last couple weeks in Spain have also made me realize that I think we all have our ideal concept of what traveling will be like, but the reality comes with a lot of the same frustrations as sedentary life.
When I imagine myself roaming country to country, I envision the joy of arriving in new places, the wonder of visiting world heritage sights, the freshness of experiencing new people and the adventure of trying delicious local cuisine. I don’t necessarily imagine walking the same street 4 times looking for a laundry mat or ATM, eating crappy food because it’s cheap, or not being able to sleep for a number of defeating reasons.
It’s in these moments where I feel my weakest that I find strength and push on because, well, I have to. I am challenged at least once a day to overcome a language barrier, inaccurate directions, a change in plans, or some other plan-altering experience. I don’t have the comfort of always being comfortable. I don’t have the security to retreat into myself and shut out the world around me whenever I want. I have to press on, I have to rely on those around me, I have to get over it, and I have to work it.
What I mean by work it is to always play it cool. No matter where I am or what situation I’m in, I always try to play it off like I’m calm, I’m strong and I’m in control, even if I feel mortified or just plain defeated. I may be lost, GPS isn’t working and it’s getting dark, but the quickest way for things to get worse is to start panicking, stare at my phone instead of paying attention to my surroundings, or squinting at every street sign like it’s going to magically sprout an arrow pointing me in the right direction. Body language is the quickest way to make yourself a target. If you look scared, all of a sudden things can get a lot more scary.
For anyone worrying about me being in terrifying situations that I’ve had to figure my way out of, please don’t because I really haven’t. Most people are generally nice and helpful, and pretty much everyone knows enough words in each language to communicate in almost all situations. I honestly have the most trouble at grocery stores because not a lot of tourists seem to shop for their food and the tellers speak extremely fast! Overall, I really haven’t been scared of anything except missing out on something awesome.
I do however make sure that I’m not putting myself in situations where the odds of being targeted are higher. I mainly go out during the day, or I at least try to get back to my BNB/hostel by 11:30pm if the area seems nice enough. If I was traveling with someone else I might be a little more flexible with my self-made curfew, but since I’m currently flying solo I find it best to stick to the daytime scene. If I get familiar enough with an area and it seems lively after dark, I’ll go out for an evening stroll to have a single beer and see how the city lights come to life. Much to my surprise, I have no interest in going out to clubs or bars if there isn’t someone by my side to share it with. I’d rather relax and write, draw or watch Netflix so I can get up early and seize the next day.
Having so much alone time has also allowed me to hear my thoughts and intuition with so much more clarity. I know when something feels off immediately, and I follow that intuition no matter what. I figure it’s never worth finding out if my intuition was right and getting stuck in a bad situation that I could have avoided. When I got on the wrong train last week, I had the feeling that I was making a mistake, but I got on it anyway because it was leaving and I had to make a split second decision. It was also 9:30am and my intuition told me two things: this is either the right train, or I’ll almost surly be able to figure out the way to my next destination with a lot of daylight to spare. Turns out it was the wrong train, but my intuition about the situation was 100% accurate. I made it to my destination within an hour of when I originally expected to, and I had a little side adventure to a village I would have never seen had it not gone down that way.
To some people, getting on the wrong train, losing an hour in transit, getting turned around, or just having to change plans can ruin an entire day. To those people I say, no matter what the situation is you can always try to make the best of it, and this doesn’t just apply to traveling. Sometimes we expect way too much out of our day and it leaves us feeling defeated. Sometimes we want to accomplish so much and miss out on all the awesome little moments in between that we take for granted. If we look at each day as an opportunity to work it by trusting our intuition, taking what the world gives us with open arms and reining in our baser emotions, every moment that we move through the craziness of life unscathed is an accomplishment. It is in those moments that we become the calm, strong and controlled people we are working to be. The “work it” method is doing its magic for me so far, and it’s what keeps me going when the going gets tough.
In Spain they have their own way of expressing this method, “Al mal tiempo, buena cara”. Stay positive, even when faced with bad situations.