When Solo Travel Isn’t So Solitary
I planned a trip to London and Paris for 10 days in February. My cousin was living in Paris and I had spent a month in England without ever making it down to London so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to see both cities. Work was busy and chaotic and the holiday season felt so long that I was ready for this escape from the States. I planned on it being a solitary one, just me, myself and I getting lost on the streets in Paris and London. While I did get lost, quite a few times actually, this trip was far from solitary. It was filled with new faces of new friends and many TCKs, the conversations with them reviving me and reminding me that I am not the only one that thinks the way I do and that there is a sense of community in this global network.
My cousin had to work most of the time I was in Paris so I was content to wander the streets either by myself or with some of her friends who let me tag along. I fell in love with the buildings, the cafes lining the streets and the bread, so much bread. I’m part of an online TCK community and I had reached out on my first day to see if anyone was in Paris and wanted to meet up too. I got a response from a woman who was around and we agreed on a time and place.
I met Maya on a sunny afternoon near the Seine. We hugged on the sidewalk outside of a restaurant as we introduced ourselves. We were hungry and decided to wander around until we found a restaurant that had a menu enticing enough to make our mouths water. We ordered our meals and started to get to know each other. As we talked about our TCK upbringing, about making friends and meeting other TCKs, she said, “It’s almost as if we’re in hiding”. She was right: we TCKs have spent so much of our lives adapting and blending in to new cultures around us that we’ve hidden ourselves. We’ve tricked new people into thinking we fit inside a box, when in reality we fit into many.
We meandered around Paris and talked about relationships and moving and what our dream jobs would look like. She told me about the Paris from years ago and how it’s changed now; about the guy she was seeing and how she is happy to be back in Paris where he lives as well; and that maybe I’ll find home when I meet someone and that’s when I’ll decide to stay somewhere. I didn’t love the idea of being told I would stay when I met someone, my independent “I don’t need a man to be happy” attitude was shouting to resist that idea, but I could see it made sense to her.
I left Paris feeling introspective and analyzing what home looked like to me and what it means to stay. I don’t like the idea of a person keeping me somewhere; I want to find a place that feels like home, where I feel whole and then I want to meet someone. My train ride to London was a quiet, relaxing, two hour journey. I arrived and met my friend at the piano at St. Pancras station. He took me for breakfast and we caught up on life since we’d last seen each other. After dropping me at my hotel I ended up having a complete breakdown. Maybe it was from exhaustion, maybe it was the stress of life finally catching up to me or maybe it was something different altogether, but I was resolved to tears for the rest of the night. Anxiety consumed me and I was unable to leave my hotel room that night or all of the next morning. Thankfully my best friend came down from Manchester the next day and was able to drag me outside and get me to eat something and see one museum. My mind and body were emotionally drained and I was just happy to have a quiet evening with a close friend. We treated ourselves to gelato and a chick flick in bed before calling it a night. My first two days in London were hard, despite being with friends who knew me well. I had thrown myself into work in the States to distract myself from dealing with life and ran away to Europe hoping it would all disappear. But the things you run from follow you and it all caught up to me in London. Maybe I was triggered, maybe I was dreading going back, whatever the reason for these feelings bubbling up inside of me and coming out in the form of tears, I allowed myself to feel.
In London I spent a couple of nights with Jay, a fellow TCK who I hadn’t actually met in person yet, but only had conversations with on a Slack page for TCKs that she had created. She was letting me sleep on her couch for a couple of nights. I walked over from my hotel and rang her bell not knowing what to expect but we immediately hit it off. I felt at home right away in her cute flat. There was a large window in the living room with plants scattered around on the floor and on her shelves. She had pictures placed on the wall of different people and different cities and a partially finished painting of an elephant on an easel in the corner. The space felt light and homey and cozy.
I set down my belongings and we planned out our day over hot coffee. It started with high fashion shops where she put up with my gushing about how much I loved Alexander McQueen as we walked through the flagship store. We stopped to have ramen for lunch and reached out to another TCK she knew who was in town to meet up with us. While we waited for him, we went back to shopping and bumped into a friend of mine from Scotland who was living in London. We invited her to join us for drinks with Omar, the other TCK.
Jay, Rebecca, Omar and I squeezed into the corner of a busy pub late that evening. I honestly don’t fully remember what we talked about! I was in a fog of happiness over the perfect day, staying awake purely by adrenaline of being around all the newness. I remember laughing, taking a few pictures and then moving to another part of the pub where it wasn’t as crowded. Rebecca left and the rest of us got hungry despite my internal clock telling me it was time to go to bed. Omar knew of a Turkish restaurant he wanted to go to so we entered the restaurant and scanned the room for a spot for the three of us. The only other people there that night were a handful of different couples on what looked to be dates. We ate falafel and hummus and pita bread and talked for a couple hours more. When we started to slow down, Omar ordered Turkish tea. The sweet, warm tea revived us and the conversation flowed easily again. We talked about bad dates, poetry, moving, and relationships. I’m not sure what time it was when we finally left the restaurant but Jay and I purchased a bottle of red wine to take home on the way out. We walked to the tube station together and hugged Omar goodbye as we went our separate ways.
Jay and I finally got back to her apartment, my body and mind tired from the day and conversations. We poured the wine and lit the candles and settled in to talk about life. Jay and I stayed up till almost 3am that night realizing we had much more in common than we thought, shedding tears and spilling our life secrets. We bonded while drinking wine out of Parisian glasses. We talked about home and staying. I was reaching my four year mark of being in Tennessee and she was reaching the same milestone of being in London. Both of us had itchy feet to leave but she was focusing on staying. She was telling me how she was trying to make her flat feel more homey as she was so used to living in places and not fully settling in for the ease of packing it faster when she eventually moved. Now she was committing to this space, buying things three years after living in one place that people normally buy in the first couple of months to make it feel like home.
The next day was similar and involved more wandering, more conversations and dinner with another friend. The night ended with wine and talking until I physically could not keep my eyes open any longer. It was my last night and I was resisting the urge to sleep because I was dreading having the trip end. Jay was a wonderful host and she made me feel sane about so many things because she felt the same way, as did Omar and Maya when I talked to them as well. It wasn’t a goodbye but a see you later when we hugged at the tube station in the morning.
When I returned to the States I was flooded with questions about how my trip was and the sites that I saw. Everybody gushed over my amazing holiday before I could get a word out. The trip was amazing but I didn’t see many sites because I lost track of time wandering the streets with new and old friends. Instead it was filled with endless hours of talking with people who understood me in a way I had forgotten I could be understood. Coming back from this trip was harder than usual and as I fell back into my routine I had a layer of loneliness settle over my everyday life. Nashville had lost its luster for me months ago and I missed the people from overseas and the thrill of being in a huge city where every day you could go exploring and still not wander the same street twice.
I’m still not sure what home looks like or if I’ll ever find a place that truly feels like home. I’m also still unsure on how to stay. Leaving and moving seems so much easier and the thought of staying makes me uncomfortable. But Jay and Maya showed me that it’s as okay to go back to a place you used to call home and make it yours again as it is okay to go somewhere new, force yourself to stay and embrace the discomfort. There is growth in both and an inspiring life to live either way.