Life Lessons on the Solo Traveller’s road
Since leaving my comfortable and fairly sheltered existence in New Zealand as an athlete living in the quaint and friendly town of Cambridge, I have realised that there are many life lessons that I have only now discovered by throwing myself in to the interesting and at times turbulent life of a solo traveller. At home I had many comforts. The comfort of my training schedule at the lake I knew so well with the comfort of the same people I had surrounded myself with who I knew could be counted on to make me feel comfortable. The comfort of knowing a place, knowing the people in it and knowing that my day to day routine would more or less be the same no matter the day, no matter the season. It’s only now that I have left that comfort that I have discovered “the uncomfortable”. In the last week I alone I have experienced “the uncomfortable” more than once, the kind that I never had in my 7 years of living in my comfortable flat in Cambridge.
The first of these experiences happened at the exciting and highly anticipated Europa Park theme park. My friend and I entered the park with hopes high in adrenaline producing excitement and childlike enthusiasm and these hopes were fulfilled in the form of multiple rollercoaster rides of all descriptions in miniature replica countries such as Norway, Spain, Russia and Portugal. Giddy with anticipation we rode ride after ride not knowing what to expect and we were thoroughly satisfied with each and every one. “The uncomfortable” came when we approached a calm and lonely looking Husky dog tethered to a post near the entrance to one of our final rides. It was very normal here to bring your dog to the theme park, tie it up whilst you line up for a ride and then retrieve it again to move on to the next ride. What a beautiful looking dog he was with a silky grey and white coat and haunting glassy blue and snow-white eyes. In New Zealand I wouldn’t think twice about patting a pet dog just to say a friendly hello so as we walked by we gave him a little scratch on the head and marvelled at his beauty. Unfortunately for me in one sudden instant, a moment of uncertainty or fear, maybe an instinct surfacing from the overwhelming sensory input at the theme park, he silently reacted and latched on to my smallest and most helpless little finger, slicing the length of it with his blade like teeth. Not a growl or a remorseful whimper, just a silent act of aggression to teach me an important lesson that in 26 years I have not yet learnt – do not ever pat a dog at an amusement park. Needless to say the aftermath was uncomfortable, my first time in hospital and my first time getting stitches, although only 5 was not a great way to end my day.
I have now moved on to Girona in Spain where I have a few days here before I need to find someone to remove the stitches from my poor battered little pinky, luckily I can already say stitches in Spanish, “puntos de sutura”. But of course after being here two days “the uncomfortable” has already reappeared with it’s smug little grin. I was on my way to meet with a group of expats here to get some advice on living and working here when I was stopped by a portly looking man who asked if I was here on Erasmus (European study exchange program) and I told him I wasn’t and explained my reasons for being here in my best Spanish possible. He was an Italian on exchange here and had just lost his phone and needed to call his parents to get it replaced. He seemed normal enough and appeared to be going in the same direction as me. We talked a little more about Girona and Italy and then he not so subtly looked down at my feet. Staring at someone’s feet is not particularly normal at the best of times so when he remarked on the beautiful likeness of my feet to the Greek statue of Venus in Florence I started to feel a little …. uncomfortable. Thinking it may be some sort of cultural difference I continued on walking as he spoke about the beauty of feet and even guessed my shoe size. When it got really uncomfortable was when he pulled out a bag of paints (children’s face paint to be exact) and explained that he was a painter and if I would be so kind could I sit for a bit so he could paint my beautiful Greek goddess feet.
Now I really felt like I had to get rid of this guy but unfortunately he just wouldn’t budge, he followed me down several streets until I found my group of English saviours. After asking again if he could paint my feet (so weird!!) and me saying I really don’t have time, he then relented to just getting my email address so he could contact me to paint them at a later date. Now there is one thing that I have learnt in my 26 years and that is that when a strange man asks for your details, always give them a fake! After giving him on old un-used email address I got to my safe haven with my like-minded expats and started to feel comfortable again. All of this got me thinking about the lessons that travelling has taught me so far, things that I have only learnt by travelling and having these new experiences, some have been good, some have been bad and some have been down right weird. Here is a list of what I have learnt so far:
1. Don’t Pat dogs at amusement parks (ever!)
2. Search “all solutions” when buying Italian rail tickets (otherwise you
pay through the roof).
3. A “biscuit” is not a “biscuit” in America.
4. You can’t help all of the homeless people.
5. Don’t sign petitions from gypsies.
6. Always carry snacks in your bag.
7. Do couch surfing!
8. Don’t do couch surfing if your host tells you that clothing is
9. Talk to people, they might be nice.
10. Don’t talk to everyone, some of them are crazy.
11. Breakfast included means breakfast, lunch and dinner for the day.
12. Try weird foods whenever possible, you might like them (crispy pigs
ears are delicious!)
13. Talk to as many locals as possible, they know so many things about
their town that you just can’t learn from a tourist office.
14. Sometimes Italian men don’t seem to understand “no, I’m not
15. Bring your student ID! You can do touristy things so much cheaper.
16. Google is actually a traveller’s best friend.
17. Don’t fall in love with America. It’s so dam hard to get a work visa!
18. If a stranger starts talking about your feet, take those beautiful feet
and get the hell out of there!
I feel like there are so many more lessons to learn and so much more “uncomfortable” to come, and that is why I love this solo travelling life. ¡viva the school of life!