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?”