I planned and saved for my trip to Europe for my last two years of college. After my first year, I knew I wouldn’t have enough money to travel as long as I wanted, so my senior year I worked two jobs so that I could afford the trip. I even decided not to go home for Spring Break so that I could work extra hours on campus. I was supposed to backpack Europe with a friend but she had some medical issues our senior year and wasn’t able to go. So in the Spring I had a decision to make: did I cancel this trip that I’d been wanting to take for 2 years? Or did I bite the bullet and go by myself?
I thought about it a lot – anyone who knows me knows I’m not one to rush into big decisions. On the one hand, I was a little terrified of the idea of going overseas by myself. But on the other hand, this was something I’d wanted for so long and had worked so hard for, that I couldn’t imagine just walking away from it. So in the end, I decided to go for it.
I bought a 3 month unlimited Eurorail pass and worked out an email/call schedule for my family, along with a rough calendar of where I would be and when. I didn’t want to plan things to stringently because I wanted the flexibility to change my plans. But I also needed to give my parent somewhat of a guideline to where I’d be, as they were a little nervous about me taking this big of a trip by myself. And then I bought a one-way ticket to Dublin.
My flight left a week after graduation. My whole family came out to New York to celebrate, which turned out to be a blessing in so many ways. The cheap pack that I’d bought online ended up tearing when I was trying to pack it for my trip. I never had a car living in New York, but my parents had rented a van for their visit so that we’d all be able to get around while they were in town (and so they’d have room for all my crap that they were taking back to Idaho with them.) We ended up making a panicked trip to Dick’s to look at bags. It took hours and I ended up spending 3 times as much, but I found a wonderful pack. It’s been to 20+ countries with me and I still have it to this day.
After my family returned to Idaho, my sister, Katie, and I spent a week in New York before I flew to Europe and she returned to Idaho. We got a hostel in the city and spent the days doing all the touristy things that I hadn’t done in the 4 years that I lived in New York. It was very busy and a lot of fun. But what I remember most about that time is my last night there. As I was packing my bag in our hostel, organizing myself for my trip, I had an ‘Oh shit! What did I get myself into?’ moment and I broke down. As I sat on the floor surrounded by my clothes and toiletries I bawled because I was terrified of the choice I’d made and convinced that I was making a mistake. My sister looked at me and told me that I was strong and that I could do this; that she admired me for my courage and my inability to let my fear stop me from going after something that I wanted.
There are only a handful of people that I’ve ever shared this story with and I asked my sister to not share it (although I have no idea if she ever has). I’ve only told it to people who’ve had that same moment where their fear became so great that they almost talked themselves out of doing something that was really important to them. And I tell them for the same reason that I’m still so grateful to this day that I had my sister there: sometimes in life we need our own personal cheerleader. Sometimes even the strongest of us need someone who knows us so well to tell us that we’re doing the right thing. To tell us that we shouldn’t give up. To tell us that we can succeed if we just take that leap of faith and stop doubting ourselves.
A lot of people tell me how brave I am to backpack through Europe by myself. But being brave doesn’t mean that you’re fearless. It means not letting that fear get in the way of going after what you want. Katie and I finished packing our bags that night and the next morning we were on our way to the airport. After checking my bag and being bumped from my original flight, it was finally time. The plane was there and they were calling out my row to board. I took a deep breath and I got on the plane.
Reading about your honest emotions about fear and facing it made me misty!!! I know that moment… So glad you had the guts to go for it!
I agree with Patty, I started tearing up myself. I’m in awe of you, Natalie. I would have given into fear and gone home.
I don’t know…you’re a pretty strong woman! Thanks for the comment. It’s always nice to know when my writing makes people feel.