London Tube thoughts: Commentary on traveling alone
I sat on a dirty stool with my notebook in my lap, writing with such intensity that the ink from the standard ball-point pen bled through to the other side of the paper. I looked up briefly at the busy London street, making eye contact with nobody, silently watching everything. I smiled to myself and couldn’t have felt more at home.
I wanted to travel on my own for as long as I could hold an airplane boarding pass. Restless by nature, I longed to fill the pages of my passport and collect enough fascinating stories to transform me into some fabulous stranger at a dinner party.
I spent most of my time in London alone. I rode the Tube, the city’s underground public transportation, with an ease that only navigating the Rutgers bus system could allow. I went to see the common English tourist spots alone, like Tower Bridge and even Stonehenge.
At first I felt like I was going crazy. Having nobody at all to share my thoughts and feelings, I felt a loneliness that could only be captured in an indie film.
The days went by slowly. Before I left, I feared the opposite would happen — that somehow moments would pass me by before I could catch them.
I’m the type of person that constantly yearns to be heard. Coming from a family of three other loud siblings, I was always talking to somebody, especially when we were traveling together. The dream of wandering alone and “finding myself” felt like it was quickly vanishing. It was almost like torture, being surrounded by so many laughing families and knowing I willingly chose to be so far away from mine.
After a day or two, spending time with myself and learning and seeing new things alone became intoxicating. I started getting excited and immersed myself with the empty pages of notebooks that were easily filled after hours of people-watching and reflection.
In between my croissant and espresso daydreams, I met a lot of people that I hope to never forget. At the cheap hostel I was staying at, I shared a room with four other women who were much older than me.
After a brief period of intimidating looks and awkward silence, I started to open up to the five other women and I learned that their travels each had a great purpose to them, as if they were all agents on secret missions, and in true journalistic fashion, it was my job to figure out why they ended up in the same small hostel in a London neighborhood.
One of the women was from Hong Kong, and we became fast friends after she heard my stomach rumbling and kindly offered me Japanese sweets. She told me that her daughter was my age and studied at the university a few blocks away, which explained why my new friend was away from our shared room all day.
As we sat down on my bed and flipped through apartment listings she hoped to find for her daughter, I was overcome with a strange feeling. Listening to her explain how she prepared many meals for her daughter to eat over the course of the next few weeks, it felt like I was talking to another version of my own mom.
My new friend appreciated how genuinely amazed I was to hear her stories so much that she reached out to caress my face the way only a mother knows how to, and said, “You’re a good girl.”
I also reconnected with a few friends from my childhood that lived in England, and we basked in the glory of eighth-grade memories. Spending time with them felt surreal. I couldn’t stop thinking about how bittersweet these precious moments were: to catch up with old friends just to say goodbye again.
Above everything else, I learned the ancient and forgotten art of being grateful. Meeting new and old friends in a country I only knew from Gothic novels, seeing new places and just being so far from home made me appreciate all of the aspects of my life that I often overlook.
I recognize that traveling anywhere is a privilege that not many people can afford. If you’re given the opportunity to go anywhere alone, please go. Even if it’s to the next town over, it only takes a conversation with a stranger to feel like you’re miles away.
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