27 April 2013

Guest Post from Ashley Riordan

Today I am proud to present an awesome guest post written by one of my favourite bloggers, Ashley from Ashley Riordan! She has been having quite the adventurous year or two, and recently embarked on her first solo overseas trip last year to Germany. I was very interested in hearing on how she overcame her fears, dealt with the challenges, and traversed the unknowns that is travel, especially when done on ones own.


Traveling Alone in Germany

My name is Ashley and I blog at Ashley Riordan.  I recently traveled to Germany, which was my first trip outside of North America, and Aaron asked me to write about the fears I conquered, experiencing a different culture, traveling alone, and how this experience has changed me.  It hardly makes sense to me now, but I was really scared before I left.  I couldn’t even really place my fear.  It was ambiguous.  I just had no idea what to expect.  It was so bad that I was having trouble taking deep breaths.  That is, until the minute that I landed in Germany and felt completely fine.

I think the fear was just a natural part of doing something for the first time and doing it alone.  I didn’t conquer it in any magnificent way.  I just kept taking these small steps toward going until the only step left was to get on a plane. I’ve boarded a plane tons of times, so I knew how to take that last step, and then after a long and uncomfortable flight, I was there.  Once I was in Germany, I managed my fear and uncertainty by focusing only on one step at a time.  Things as simple as: find a place to stay, figure out how to get there from the airport, find something to eat, and figure out where you’re going next.

I arrived in Germany with only a vague geographical plan.  I had never traveled like this before, and I’m from the west coast of the United States where getting from one major city to another is no easy thing, so I didn’t know how realistic I was being in thinking that I could see so much in only a week.  This ended up being a great way to see the country.  I would love to go back and spend more time in each city, but I was able to see way more than I expected.

I told myself before I left that I shouldn’t fear looking like an idiot, because there was no reason to expect myself to know what I was doing in a foreign country traveling alone for the first time.  I was sitting in a restaurant in Seattle with my Dad just before I left when a Japanese girl approached us to ask about how she should tip, and after she walked away my dad said, “That’s going to be you in a week.”  As it turned out, for the first time in my life, I naturally felt that it was okay if I made mistakes.  I recently heard travel writer Andrew McCarthy say that when he’s at home, he would never think to ask for help from anyone, but when he’s traveling, he doesn’t hesitate.  I was far enough out of my element that I didn’t mind asking for help or admitting that I didn’t know things.  It didn’t even bother me when a German man yelled at me for not opening the train door fast enough.

I have done most of my traveling with friends, but it was really important for me to take this trip alone.  I had been thinking about it and working up the courage and saving the money for a long time, and this was something that I wanted to do on my own.  I’m a person who really likes to be alone a lot of the time, but I didn’t know how well that would translate into traveling alone for a week, and I worried that I would be lonely.  I never was.  I was traveling so much and seeing so many things that I was never sorry to be alone.  I did meet and talk to new people, but I’m not a particularly social person, so that really wasn’t the point of traveling alone for me.  Most of my down time I spent reading and writing, which was perfect for me.

I felt very safe in Germany, but there are some precautions to take when you’re traveling alone.  I gave my parents and close friends an itinerary of where I expected to be each day.  I also gave my friends the contact information of my parents in case they ever thought something might be wrong.  I tried to get in contact as often as I could, though my internet and phone access were somewhat limited.  I would just say where I was and where I was planning to go next.  I sent an email to a friend when I was in Munich saying that I was in the train station talking to a boy, and just joked that if she didn’t hear from me again then I had probably been kidnapped, and then I caught an early train toward the mountains where I had no internet access for more than 24 hours. I learned my lesson with that: no jokes about kidnapping unless you’re sure you will have internet access in the immediate future.

A week wasn’t really long enough to absorb much of the culture.  I spent less than 24 hours in each city, which just meant getting a glimpse of what each place had to offer.  But that was okay with me, because I have every intention of going back to Germany more than once in my life, and I would really love to live there for a while.  The most profound way this experience changed me was that it made me realize I could actually get on a plane and go experience a new place by myself.  Once you start traveling, that seems like the easiest thing in the world, but I had a lot of doubts before taking my first trip.  Now I am so impatient to travel internationally again that I am having a hard time being satisfied with my lovely but quiet life here in California.


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