Excerpts From My Weird, Lonely Travel Diary

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These past two weeks, I’ve been on a trip to Europe that I’d been saving for and putting off for the last three years. While many of my college buds had “life-changing” European travels through study abroad, I’d immersed myself in a part-time job at the local newspaper that I was terrified to leave. I somehow got it in my head that if I so much as missed one day of work, I’d be replaced. (Plus, that newspaper paid me bank to drive to crime scenes and write about them. While I was making all my own money at 19, I was about as pleasant to be around as Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice.)

Anyway, the point is that I got caught up in work and I never traveled in Europe.

Then, there was the matter of the perfect travel companion. At first I wanted it to be someone romantic. We’d cuddle on long train rides and share crepes in Paris beneath soft candlelight. But that doesn’t always work. With my ex, whenever we traveled, we fought spectacularly, like we wanted to show this new city just how cruel we could be to each other. My next idea was going with a friend but I could never find anyone who fit the bill — someone I was close to, but wouldn’t fight with, someone cool and not judge-y, and most importantly, someone whose schedule matched mine.

So I decided to go alone. While I could have anticipated the food, the fun and the tourist attractions, what I didn’t anticipate was how weird it is to travel by yourself. By day four, I was talking out loud to no one. By the end, I was in a real bad mental place.

Here are some short, incomplete excerpts from the diary I kept while traveling:

“Went to the Eiffel Tower and sat in the shadow of its looming legs. Saw one couple crying and one couple straddling each other and making out. Paris!”

“Paris: Where you’ll never be as well-dressed as that random chain-smoking twelve year old.”

Making Eye Contact with French Boys on Bikes But Never Saying Anything: The Gaby Dunn Story. Coming soon to Lifetime!”

“Notre Dame was so beautiful that at one point, I turned a corner and said “Cool, cool, cool!” Then, I sang a new song to myself that I’d made up called ‘Abeds in Paris.’ …I need to make friends.”

“Bought a chocolate macaroon. Wondered why no one had hit on me yet and realized it’s because I always have food in my mouth.”

“Went to the Musée de l’érotisme, the sex museum, after wandering around. There was one exhibit with hilarious 1920s silent film porn. Sat down to watch it and a young guy sat beside me. Thought about saying hi.

Q: How does one flirt in a sex museum?
A: Nope. Don’t do it. Only creeps would go there alone.
Q: Weren’t you there alone?
A: Fair point.”

“I could watch an entire TV show of people miming sex acts in French and other people who don’t speak it having to guess what they’re talking about.”

“Have not spoken out loud in 36 hours. Not unlike when I fall into a Tumblr hole, only now I’m out in the world.”

“Super hungover. Had a really hard time finding this one Metro stop and was too embarrassed to ask. For the first time, I felt annoyed to be so alone. Once I got to the train, was confused about which one to take and asked some people. They looked at me like I’d shot Gandhi.”

“Got to Versailles. Do you think Marie Antoinette ever vomited in the beautiful gardens under the golden gates of the palace? I feel so connected to history!”

“Taught my French host the term ‘food baby.’ Have never felt more American.”

“College friend and I went to an American rock n’ roll club in Madrid where a Spanish live band played weird covers of Springsteen and The Rolling Stones but also, ‘Dani California’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers? Before that we pre-gamed at her house and got so drunk that we were Youtubing old Destiny’s Child music videos, pointing at Beyonce and yelling “Flawless!” We did not leave for the club until 1:30 a.m.”

“Random Spanish words. Then ‘Natalie Portman!’ then ‘Black Swan!’ Apparently my resemblance translates to all languages. I told them not to worry. We are all black swans.”

“Guy tried to talk to me by asking my name. Told him, ‘I am Iron Man.’ …Probably won’t hook up in Europe.”

“New AirBNB hostess has a poster in her bathroom with a politician where she’s defaced it with Sharpie swastikas. Hoping this indicates a displeasure with that politician but am scared to actually investigate further.”

“Keep idiotically thinking, ‘These are Paris streets. I am in Paris.’ Have taken way too many ‘Myspace-style’ photos of myself because I’m always alone.”

“Feel strange and guilty to be lonely in Europe. Missing New York. So stupid and unanticipated to be in Paris and to be lonely. I often feel alone in New York but not like this. Had that sense again of ‘Wherever you go, there you are’ in that traveling somewhere else doesn’t mean you can escape yourself. It’s not the city that makes the difference. Not that getting to see and understand the endless, overwhelming world isn’t helpful or that I don’t appreciate how beautiful everything is and how lucky I am to finally be doing this — since I often feel this weird weight about not being able to experience everything that’s out there. But at the same time, it’d be better with people. I thought going on this trip would cure my depression or instantly make me a better, more well-rounded person, but that’s not the case. It’s not traveling; It’s human interaction — from the Ozarks to Japan to Canada to wherever you go — it’s having other people around to share what you’re doing. Someone once wrote on one of my Thought Catalog articles, “If everyone feels alone, why can’t we all just find each other?” I don’t know if it’s that easy, but I do know now that I have to be okay where I am, before I can be okay anywhere else.”

“F-ck. It is midnight in Paris. Where is Marion Cotillard?” TC Mark

image – Gaby Dunn
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  • E.

    Wish you could have stayed longer… there are truly angels in this city!

  • Sian

    I love this. I travelled alone in the Middle East/Europe for four months and at one point I hadn’t spoken to anyone in English for days. It got to the point where I heard someone speaking English in the supermarket, got incredibly excited and looked around to see who it was and then eventually realised that I was talking to myself out loud. Also, of all the places I went I definitely felt like Paris was the loneliest place to be travelling by yourself. Kudos for going into the sex museum alone, that was one step too far for me.

    • http://daigski.tumblr.com Christopher

      I enjoyed this. I travel for work and am home about one month out of the year. If you’re not on the phone or at work, there’s rarely a need to say anything. I’m traveling now, in a place where no one speaks english and this came through all too loud and clear.

  • weston

    just got back from three weeks in paris alone. learn to make friends, don’t be so fucking awkward and cry about how lonely you are. i met some of the most genuine and incredible people by having the courage to walk up and start a conversation, regardless of only knowing how to half assed-ly order “un cafe” in french. paris is a heartbreaking city to be alone in, why not try and make some friends?

    • http://gabydunnthoughtcatalog.wordpress.com Gaby Dunn

      Oh, I did! I don’t want anyone to think I was miserable, because I certainly wasn’t. It’s a beautiful, awesome city. And I had a great time meeting new people! I just wish I could have gone with someone, or maybe not stayed as long in one place?

      • weston

        ohhhhh i see. got the vibe you were just bummed the whole time. i feel you on all of that though, this was my first time traveling alone, and i am insanely awkward when it comes to meeting people. a companion would have been nice, but i really appreciated the time i got to spend with myself. i left the city for the countryside for one night and it was entirely too refreshing, made me wish i spent more time away from Paris as well.

      • Kaitlin

        I’d like to commend Gaby on how kindly she responded to Weston’s assaholic first comment. A good lesson to learn is not to jump to conclusion when you could (and did) actually just misunderstand someone’s intent.

  • Vivek

    You have a great blog. I loved reading it. Can connect with you about traveling alone as I have been doing that for the past one month.
    Keep it up!
    P.S The iron man thing was really Hilarious :)

  • Solitary Nomad

    It was probably the language barrier that caused your isolation. I’ve traveled across North America several times, alone and with little thought of the destination, and have never felt lonely or isolated.

  • Chris

    What a perceptive, poignant article. I, too, recently returned from a solo backpacking trip through Europe. I can’t tell you how much the honesty of this resonates with me. Thank you for your insight and humor.

  • joycenancy

    excerpt about missing NY and needing human interaction and wherever you go, there you are… so very honest and true. also, brave to admit.

    I took a trip abroad with great people, and was able to switch into a happier, braver, more curious version of myself. but on the flight home to NY, I cried hysterically for hours at the tragedy of having to be myself again, having to live my actual life.

    I’m sorry you couldn’t stave off the loneliness. but it wasn’t a waste — another experience under your belt, just like everything.

  • CL

    Currently in an airport waiting for my next flight on a 3 week trip so I totally get this.

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  • Emil Caillaux

    I’ve done the same thing, same city, same time only last year. By the third day I was talking to myself. If you add that to the fact that I was underdressed compared to the average Parisian, I suddenly felt like a hobo.

  • http://gravatar.com/c77235 77235

    aah. are you planning to visit Amsterdam? I will be happy to show you around .

  • Sarah

    “Notre Dame was so beautiful that at one point, I turned a corner and said “Cool, cool, cool!” Then, I sang a new song to myself that I’d made up called ‘Abeds in Paris.’ …I need to make friends.”

    Amazing. Gaby Dunn, call me, maybe?

  • J

    really?! a couple weeks alone and you feel THAT lonely? i found this sort of sad. that isn’t even very long to have to tolerate being alone with yourself …
    i lived alone in korea for a year. moved there knowing how to say “hi”. i also traveled through central america for four months knowing almost no spanish. it wasn’t scary. it wasn’t isolating. it was an adventure that pushed my boundaries and forced me to learn A LOT.
    two weeks is nothing. too bad you didn’t enjoy being with yourself more.

    • http://gravatar.com/andyesisaid Rachel

      I think some you are lacking on empathy a little. being alone for a 2 week vacation is much lonelier than moving alone to a foreign country for a year, where you establish it as a new home.

      • J

        not really. on a two week vacation you know you are headed home soon, plus the excitement of traveling takes at LEAST that long to wear off. move to a city of 700,000 where no one else speaks the same language as you and then you can tell me which is more isolating.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sarasuebeedoo Sara Suzanne

      I didn’t really get the impression she was depressed and lonely the whole time, I think this was just a commentary on the actual ‘alone moments’

    • http://gravatar.com/mmmzane mmmzane

      Different people are different, dude. I was CRAZY excited to go to Paris to study abroad last year, but when I got there, it was a lot more lonely than I expected. After 4 months, I got used to it, but it was still both scary and isolating.

      I DID learn a lot; I learned how much I value personal relationships that I’ve built over a long time, I’ve learned I’m more of a mid-sized city sort of girl, and I realized how important it is for me to really connect with people at a level that’s hard when you don’t know anyone around.

  • Amelia

    Two things: One, “Happiness is only real when shared.” An interesting point when considered from a ‘traveling alone’ perspective.

    Two, your ‘everywhere you go, there you are’ point is too real. I just returned from a semester abroad and did a two week trip solo just before leaving, and it was extremely different from traveling with friends. I realized all my problems were internal, not location-based: I could be in one of the most amazing cities in the world and feel exactly as I did at home every day. That said, I generally really enjoyed being able to run around on my own schedule and do what I pleased without coordinating with a group.

    Perhaps Paris is a particularly unfriendly city, though, because I’ve always found that, as a 20something woman solo, TONS of people feel comfortable waltzing up to me and striking up conversation – from old women to little kids to creepy men and everywhere in between. I eventually started wearing earbuds in public to avoid it.

    • http://gabydunnthoughtcatalog.wordpress.com Gaby Dunn

      This is exactly how I felt.

  • kalamazoo

    Reminds me of the Alexander Supertramp quote (Chris McCandless – Into the Wild) “happiness only real when shared.”
    I just had the best 3 weeks of my life in Amsterdam, but was with a study abroad group from the US, and am kicking myself for clinging to them as much as I did. Life only happens outside of your comfort zone, and there were so many times I said “let’s just go over there and talk to them!” but couldn’t get anyone to join me, and so I lost the opportunity. This isn’t to say I didn’t meet anyone or have an unbelievable time, but I could have done more, broken down more barriers. It was definitely a learning experience.

    • kalamazoo

      Oh damn. Strange timing with the post above me.

    • J

      that’s what i’m saying. travel is all about learning and making choices. you can feel lonely and be alone or you can push yourself to do something out of your comfort zone and lose the loneliness.
      that’s the most amazing thing about traveling. everyone is on a different journey but they’re all in the same boat.

  • LC

    I just did the same exact thing for a month… this was like reading my own diary. It’s the strangest thing and you become similar to a crackhead when searching for wifi to be in contact with the world as you knew it.

  • Gerli

    I live in France normally and came now to NY for 2 months. all alone as well. anyone wanting to meet a nice Estonian girl to grab an orange juice and help to discover the city? :)

  • http://twitter.com/nosexcity No Sex City (@nosexcity)

    While these totally cracked me up, I hope your solo journey was fucking amazing when you weren’t thinking in weird/sad circles. A trip to Paris sounds like a horrible thing to ‘waste’.

    • http://gabydunnthoughtcatalog.wordpress.com Gaby Dunn

      No! It was a lovely trip for sure. I don’t feel it was wasted. Had a great time.

  • Bal

    Yeah, i totally would have gone with you. Not a weirdo, i promise

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  • Jana Pollack

    Few things – first of all, I love a pregame that lasts until 1:30 and includes shouting at youtube videos. And second, I totally relate to this. I went to Scotland alone a few years ago and had so many of these same feelings – especially the “where you go, there you are” paragraph. So well done.

  • M

    This is a great piece! Been alone in China for the past 5 weeks now, and I can’t wait to go home. Sure, I’ve met some amazing people and learnt so much about the Chinese culture, but frankly, I don’t think there’s any place like home.

  • http://divyankasharma.blogspot.in Guest

    It’s not traveling; It’s human interaction — from the Ozarks to Japan to Canada to wherever you go — it’s having other people around to share what you’re doing.

    ^ Gaby – you nailed it! There are so many instances when I felt alone even when I was in college, a time people over associate with fun and debauchery and I felt like I wasn’t getting the most of what the school had to offer. It was only after deep introspection, (yeah it took me all that!) that I realized what I was missing was people and not ‘fun’.

    Great post!!

  • http://twitter.com/regularmegs Megan Carroll

    I really want to travel abroad, but I too have not found a travel companion. The thought of traveling alone is kind of scary, so I haven’t done it. Yet. I admire you for going alone and for writing this. Great post.

  • Kin

    ““Making Eye Contact with French Boys on Bikes But Never Saying Anything: The Gaby Dunn Story. Coming soon to Lifetime!”

    spot on, Gaby! loved it. happens to me too when I travel alone.

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