The first time I went to Europe was in October 2015. After the most stressful connection in Paris (Charles de Gaulle is the most chaotic and unorganized airport I have ever set foot in), I landed in Barcelona with my heart racing.
And an old Spanish man falling asleep on me, but that’s beside the point.
For some reason, going to Europe made me incredibly nervous. I had been out of the US, but Spain was the farthest I had ever traveled from home. And on top of that, I was secretly using it as a test drive for my solo trip to Peru.
I am very fortunate to have the most generous godmother on the planet. She never had kids of her own, which has led her to shower me in an abundance of opportunities, experiences, and love that I don’t deserve. Barcelona was such a showering of generosity; she had to go to Barcelona for a business meeting and offered to bring me along to tour the city while she worked. That meant I would be alone to tour a Spanish city for a couple of days. And I was so nervous.
Luckily, I had an evening and a full day with my godmother in the city before her meetings started. The first night, we got as cliche as we could. We visited La Sagrada Familia, ate tapas and churros, and drank sangria.
The next day, we visited a few more of the spots my godmother really wanted to see before she had to go to work. The whole day, I was trying to remember her every move, how she hailed taxis, and what she told the cabbies to get us back to our hotel. I was so afraid I was going to be stranded on the streets of Spain, lost and unable to find my way back to the safety of my hotel room.
My first morning alone, I had to give myself a pep talk before I left the room. I counted my Euros, checked my camera battery, and double-knotted my boots multiple times before I even approached the door. Admittedly, I did the most comfortable thing and went directly across the street to Starbucks for breakfast; I was too scared to try anything out of my comfort zone. But afterward, I hailed a taxi, successfully instructed the cabbie where I wanted to go and arrived a few minutes later at the most breathtaking cathedral I’ve ever seen.
That day has become a favorite memory from The Gap Year. I walked through the gothic streets and buildings of old Barcelona, taking pictures and looking in store windows. I didn’t have a plan or a route; I just explored calmly and without interruption. I happened upon an outdoor market and found some beautiful pottery. I was able to understand the vendor’s very thick Spanish accent and she was able to understand my very thick American accent. I walked away beaming. I was on a different continent and I was still able to communicate in Spanish with a stranger. At the end of the day, I successfully hailed another taxi and got back to the hotel without any issues. The next day I went on a cheesy tourist bus tour and got to see all of Barcelona. The whole city is magical. Every window, every street, every wall has character and is a work of art.
Takeaway: After my two days of exploring Barcelona alone, I felt more confident about going to Peru. I was capable of going to another country, communicating, making purchases, and finding my way around for myself. As terrified as I was, I was able to hold my own and make the most of the experience. I was able to do what I wanted, see what I wanted, and do it all at my own pace. Being completely alone was initially daunting but ultimately more rewarding than I ever anticipated.