Picture this scenario:
Person 1: "Hey, CJ, what did you do for the summer?"
Me: "I spent 40 days backpacking in Europe alone. *insert grin*"
Person 1: "Oh wow! Sounds so glamorous. You must have lived it up."
Here is where we are going to pause. YES. I lived it up because it would have been crazy (and a waste of money) for me not to. Let us take a breath and remember though, that travel can get nitty and gritty, and there is a story behind every Instagram picture.
My goal is to be transparent with you all about the highs and lows of my travel tales, because the last thing I want to do is sell a dream. So, if I had a crappy time in a hostel, I'm going to tell you about it and I think it's important that you all are mindful of some of these things.
Sorry if this post is estrogen heavy, fellas. I hope you still get in a laugh or few.
Hostels are not 5-star hotels.
I love hostels. I love the community of them and how you can meet perfect strangers and develop friendships. But, I know some folks out there get way too analytical about them. For me and my sanity, I tried not to think about how many folks have slept in that bed, used that toilet, etc. You're better off not knowing. Promise.
Air Conditioning is a luxury. Sweating will happen. You'll be gross. You will live.
I live in Texas. It might be 100 degrees outside, but on the inside you bet it's 60 and I am wearing a jacket around the school. We do not play when it comes to air conditioning. I knew that some places would not have air conditioning in Europe, but you would be surprised at how much you will miss it. The amount of sweat I produced on some days was simply disturbing and the 2-3 showers a day practice was real. I remember leaving the most fabulous blue waters off of the Amalfi Coast in Italy and was heading to Napoli, so I could catch my bus to Rome. It was so ungodly hot on that train, it was packed to the brim, and the windows were not helping. I am just thankful I had enough good sense to buy myself a fan back in France. Sure, I was fanning hot air, but a breeze was a breeze.
Stop caking your face up. You look silly.
I was involved in a conversation about how to spot out tourists in Europe, and one of the comments was the makeup. If you look at French women for example, their look is effortless. They appeared to have mild touch-ups, but for the most part, looked like their natural selves. I started observing the local women while I was out and about to see if the stereotypes about women from different countries held true, and they pretty much did. I usually do not spend more than 10-15 minutes on my makeup, have never had my eyebrows waxed, and wouldn't be able to tell you my foundation color if I tried, but I usually wouldn't be caught dead without eyeliner. At some point throughout my trip, if it was hot enough, I would just stop caring and enjoy the moment and extra time in my bed without worrying about makeup. It would more than likely melt away by noon. My nails looked like crap by the time I got to Amsterdam. Sometimes my afro just did whatever she felt like doing, and I simply let her be. I am not saying stop doing what makes you feel good, but you should also be comfortable in your natural as well. Just sayin'.
Razors didn't exist.
We know that I traveled in a color scheme because it was easier to mix & match, but did you notice in my Instagram photos that most of the time my legs were covered? Why? Because it's bloody uncomfortable to shave your legs in a hostel shower when you are almost 6 feet tall. One of my hostel roomies in Brussels had told me she was leaving and I was welcome to the grapes she left... along with the pack of razors and I wondered if she had seen me up close. Eventually, I was finally able to have enough space to stop looking a bit "untamed", but to be honest, I did not care. I was out celebrating life in Europe. I didn't have time to be worried about mildly hairy legs.
Finding tampons is a TASK!
Again, sorry to the fellas, but this was a problem. Now, if you are on some form of contraception you know how to manipulate the system so you can go without having a cycle. But, since I'm hormone free (in that sense), I knew sometime throughout the trip I would have to deal with nature's reminder of my womanhood. I had even packed extra with me because I knew she was coming, but alas, I still ran out. Let me tell you something about the Netherlands. They have maxi pads. They have tampons. But tampons with applicators? GOOD LUCK. And let's just say, that at the lovely age of 27 I learned a new skill. Let's move on.
You will occasionally feel like a piece of meat.
So, in the most non-arrogant way possible, I think I'm mildly attractive, right? Add that in some places (cough, Berlin), there weren't as many young brown-skinned female tenderonis walking around the city, you feel like a hot commodity. You don't always have to be able to understand a foreign language to know when 1. Someone is cussing you out 2. Talking about you 3. Speaking to you inappropriately. Non-verbal cues like body language and gestures go a long way. I knew from previous research that sometimes Europeans believe all women of a darker hue to be prostitutes, and yep, it happened a few times. Italian men were a bit too horny for my taste and I was going through a horrific situation, so I flipped off way more people than I am proud of. Usually, I would ignore people, but when a homeless man in Berlin comes up to you and tries to grab you and nobody on the street helps you, you feel a little dirty. Typically, in the more diverse cities like London, Paris, men would just approach me thinking I was from somewhere in the vicinity and wanted to have conversation. In other places (i.e. Amsterdam), sometimes I'd have old perverts asking how much (but that could have been my fault for sitting in a window in the Red Light District, where prostitutes...stand in windows). But, since I'm childish, sometimes I would wave, stick my tongue out, stare back, make a silly face, etc. God ain't done with me yet.
"I'm from Texas. I fight and I shoot." -me
Sometimes while abroad (or in the US), you need to get downright ignant. Most women I know would consider themselves a nurturer. We do not like to offend people and often find ourselves giving our phone number to men we have no interest in for 1. fear of the opposite party retaliating 2. hurting said guy/gal's feelings. Now, place yourself on another continent where you stick out like a sore thumb, don't know the in's and out's of the laws when it comes to protecting the female, and some alcohol. You've got yourself a pretty interesting mix there. Remember the homeless guy in Berlin that tried to grab me in broad daylight? Well, I was perceptive enough to see him stumbling my way, making obscene gestures, and since nobody blocked the path, I politely shoved him towards the street when he went for my hand. A similar situation happened in Italy when a guy looked like he was about to charge me up and was stutter-stepping like he was Allen Iverson. I was on offense this time instead of defense and did the same, shove him towards the street and book it move. If you do not feel safe, you don't owe anybody anything and need to take care of yourself. There is a fine line between not liking the way someone looks at you and feeling as though you are going to be attacked. Protect yo'self.
I saw more blood in person than I'd like to considering I am not in the medical profession. In Brussels I had some lovely Africans try to punch me because I was their "sister" and should want to talk to them (...sigh) and when I whipped out my phone because dude was in my face, they lost it. That same evening, I saw two [more] drunken homeless guys get into an argument to the point that one was stabbed (shoutout to my Belgian boo for protecting me). On another occasion, while walking to the rail station by my hostel I saw dried blood splattered all over the walkway. It took a lot to duck and dodge it. When I returned, I later saw a sign with letters in blood (of course) that said "For Weed". Well then. Add in the various attacks on Europe while I was abroad. Everything was not always sweet tea and sunshine. Your senses will be heightened at times but you have to learn how to continue living. Just pray Big Homie is with you wherever you go.
Traveling is Exhausting. Backpacking isn't for the prissy and weak at heart.
Did you read my post about my stats? I cranked out a little under 15,000 miles throughout the course of the trip. So, yes, I was tired. Sometimes beat down tired and didn't feel like doing anything but sleeping. That's the great thing about solo travel though, I had no one to argue with about it. I carried my duffel bag and a bag for my iPad and notebooks, and sometimes it was hot. Sometimes it was rainy. Sometimes your Google Maps decides to stop working so you have to rely on your ability to speak the native language and read signage for public transportation. Your feet are going to hate you. You will sweat out your makeup. You might cry out of frustration over uncontrollable situations at times. But would I do it again? As Glo from The Blog Abroad says, HAIL YEAH.
All in all, I had the time of my LIFE in Europe, and would still recommend for anyone to take an extended solo vacation, but again, I aim to be transparent with you all. There were some occasional bad days, but thankfully, the epic days outnumbered them dramatically. I was extremely proud of myself for how I "maintained my zen" in certain situations and for making it out without being pickpocketed. You are always going to have to have your guard up when in a foreign environment, but make sure you let loose enough to savor it up and have a dope time. Trust your instincts, look a hot mess, and live it up.
Which one of these was the most interesting to you? Be sure to shoot a comment so we can chat it up!