10 Lessons From Europe and An Introverted Traveler

I’ve kept you all waiting so long that I very well may have forgotten everything I wanted to add to this list! (So much for an unforgettable trip? Ha!)

For those of you just settling in on this here blog, I went on a very short backpacking adventure throughout Europe by my lonesome in July–my first time going back there as an adult. I got back to the U.S. about a month ago and I promised to put together a blog with a list of things I learned, about myself, the world, traveling, whatever, as a kind of “here’s what not to do”, but I sometimes have the memory of a goldfish and am fake-panicking that I might’ve forgotten all the lessons already.

Emphasis on fake.

All is well. I’ll certainly never forget the way I felt and the beautiful things I saw and learned. As for all the smaller things, here’s to trying to catch them all:

1. Amsterdam is not the ideal place for a solo female nature-lover.

Duh. The place is wild. (Hello Red Light District!) And anyone who knows anything about anything at all would know that.

Great. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I want to add: “Because really, even with a selfie stick it’s quite difficult to get yourself in a picture with the Iamsterdam sign without somehow looking very awkward or getting a slew of people in the photo behind you or cutting off the top of your head or the beginning of the sign … ”

You get the picture.

Aside from that, of course, it’s a nice place for city lovers and groups of friends or even just friendly travelers to go and explore–especially at night, even though it is pretty quiet in the day time. We all know I’m neither of these things, though, and I almost always travel alone. But it is just one of those places that you kind of have to go to just to say you did it. Thus, I spent the least amount of time in Holland, and I’m not pressed to go back to do anything except maybe explore the fields of tulips out in the countryside. (Or just the countryside in general.) The city is very European and dare I say, quite cultured. And it certainly is quite reality jarring to be in a regular old store or coffee shop and see people purchasing marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia over the counter as one would purchase a cup of coffee. (Surprise! Weed doesn’t sell in stores in Jamaica. And it’s actually been quite illegal there just like everywhere else.)

2. I am probably a little more cautious and reserved than I really need to be.

Let’s face it. I read way too many mystery novels and watched way too many episodes of Snapped and way too much Investigation Discovery back when I used to utilise the television. (The only thing I ever watch now is Teen Mom and I’m not ashamed to admit it! I’ve been a part of their lives for like seven years now. That’s not a relationship you just throw away … especially when you technically still have access to a tell-lie-vision.)

Still, I am pretty to myself in my real every day life, too, but I think when I travel alone I get into super protective mode and I kind of just don’t allow myself to meet friends (read: men) the way I maybe should.

I learned this lesson halfway through the trip–in Venice to be specific with a Czechoslovakian man by the name of …. (Yeah right! You really thought I’d remember his name?) who insisted that we get a drink, water for me since I don’t do alcohol, and talk about the world and traveling and where the “street harassers” in each country come from. After I sent him off, I realised that it was quite possible that he really just wanted to have interesting conversation with a person who comes from all the way across the world so that he wasn’t alone for a few hours and so he could learn a bit more about the world and the people who inhabit it. But, at the time I was too intimidated by the fact that he was practically twice my height, quite possibly also twice my age, (OK maybe not that old..) and I kept picturing how easily he could kidnap me or force himself on me in one of Venice’s dark alleys without anyone ever seeing or hearing a thing.

But really, not everyone is out to harm you. In fact the overwhelming majority of travelers are just like you. The world is a pretty damn safe place like 95% of the time. We all really just want to get along. I admit, though, that it’s kind of difficult to determine who to trust, especially as a woman.

Cue the “people who live in America are so paranoid” sentiments right about … now.

3. A watch, Meisha. A watch.

You don’t really realise how dependent you are on your phone for timekeeping until it’s dead and you have a train to catch in less than 15 minutes and you’re running with luggage across the streets of Sestri Levante having just forced down a plate full of your favourite vegetable (not) on the beautiful black sand beach that’s about a 5-10 minute walk from the train station depending on how quickly you walk… OR… You have a small waiting period between trains at the Deiva Marina stop and you figure it’s just enough time to go help yourself to a Tiramisu gelato and simultaneously get to take in the views of the small seaside village, even though the next train is the last one to Milan for a couple of hours and your phone is dead and YOU DON’T HAVE A DAMN WATCH…

4. Italy.

If you don’t find yourself in the mountains of Italy on the Cinque Terre, or Italian Riviera coastline at some point in your Italian vacation you just didn’t do it right.

Holy crap! Had I known, I might’ve just spent my entire vacation in the countryside of Italy. I’d have skipped right over Amsterdam and Venice, and went straight for the vineyards and the cliffs and the west coast beaches. I didn’t even get to wet my foot in southern Italy, and I can only imagine the beauty that is Bari or Naples or any of the other cities that aren’t overrun by meddling tourists with their three-foot-long selfie sticks! (Hello pot, I’m a gently used kettle.)

5. I must hurry up and get to Croatia before internet overexposure and Instagram travelers turn it into a hot spot for tourism and hiked prices.

I probably should’ve kept that one to myself.

6. Interracial dating is a thing. A big thing. And you will attract men who’d never look twice at you in the U.S.

My my my. Where should I begin? And how do I write this without sounding like a self-absorbed egoist?

Seriously. I could’ve found myself a husband in those few short days I spent in each of these European countries. And if I had first pick I’d have to go with an Italian man because the Most High blessed those men with the most perfectly chiseled jawlines and mesmerising eyes I have ever beheld. If Jesus existed and was a human, he was for sure Mediterranean. (I’m wiping up the drool, I promise.)

Nonetheless, I was approached more by my less colourful brothers than usual, and even moreso than those of my complexion, and it was pretty eye opening for me. In the midst of the super tense race relations in the U.S. at the moment, I found it quite ironic, and even exhilarating, that the ones who arguably created racism in the first place are so seemingly detached from it and uninterested in colour. It gave me the feeling of “throw them the bait and let them fight each other for it, even though there’s enough food in the back for all of them, while we move on to more important things.”

Which leads me right into the arms of my next point…

7. Europeans wear their awareness on their foreheads. It’s not an elephant in the room.

And they try to live their every day lives fighting in some way for what they believe in. (Or at the very least, they know enough to actually have beliefs to maybe fight for…) I’ll try not to patronise Americans too much here, but you take one trip to anywhere in Europe and within 10 minutes you’ll understand the difference between us Westerners and them. They are alive. So alive.

Save for the fact that they all speak at least two languages and have been to at least one other country, they really just are not caught up in the rat race the way we are on this side of the world. Yes, they still work and make their living and they still enjoy their city life and their substances and their music … But they just aren’t as interested in consuming as we are.

Life does not begin and end with paper money or pop culture. I never once heard anyone speaking about a television show or a celebrity or any of the other meaningless shit that we revolve our world around in this country. They talk about ideas and policies. They talk about books and theories. They talk about the human condition. Hell, some of them were even more privy to what’s happening in the U.S. than a lot of the people who live there. And they still live their lives and do their jobs!

Being multi-faceted. Oh, what a concept.

On that note,  it probably means the men aren’t that easy to impress; unless you’re an American woman and can actually hold a conversation of substance. Ha! (Awaits criticism.) Not to worry, they’ll still love you just for being foreign. That gives you a few points on the interesting scale automatically, no matter where in the world you go.

You’re welcome.

8. Switzerland is very big on self-sustenance. But they also, apparently, are not a very happy group of people. 

As you might know already from my last few posts, I didn’t plan to stay very long in Switzerland. The heart of my trip was really centred on Italy. Nonetheless, as usual, the universe had other plans for me. While I was there, I met a few people. In fact, I met the most people in Switzerland and even ended up crashing in their place for two nights. (I told you I learned to be more open and friendly halfway through my trip.) It sounds a little crazy, and I did prepare by sending my location and the name and a photo to my BFF in case I go missing. But that truly was just paranoia, because energy doesn’t lie. And they were all good people.

But, because they were locals, somewhat, I got to learn a bit more about living in Switzerland. And apparently their suicide rate is really high. The running theme there was “they’ve got a lot of money. But they’re unhappy.” And even that I think is interesting and further proves my last point. It’s probably a bit morbid, but it is interesting to know that they are so conscious of what they should be doing with their lives that when they aren’t doing it it’s so troubling that they choose to no longer exist. It says something about how highly aware they are, not that it’s a good thing of course. But so many people in the states are so “busy” with their own lives that they aren’t even saddened by the death of an extended family member enough to grieve about it for five minutes. Here, the big anti-suicide campaign runs in tandem with the anti-bullying campaign. And well, if that doesn’t speak volumes about our ego and our priorities…

9. You will never go anywhere on this planet without finding Asian settlers (most likely Chinese). And now, they’re just traveling, too.

I’m going to start this one out by protecting myself and impending statements with the stereotypical “I can because I am” disclaimer: My grandfather was Chinese.

Now I feel properly armoured enough to say: “what an annoying set a people!” (Cue Jamaican accent.)

Forgive me, but I found myself on a train to Interlaken thinking “Asian travelers have to be the most obnoxious people behind Americans.” But it’s a different kind of obnoxious. Because you have no idea what they are saying.

But they are saying it. Loudly. And quickly. And in your ears.

They never seem happy, either. I feel as though their culture is so tense and so work- and respect- and tradition- oriented that they probably take life a little bit too seriously. (There’s actually a “disease” in Japan called karoshi that translates quite literally into death by overworking.) They are all about business. They aren’t very friendly. Or very considerate of anyone else’s existence. And they are always in a hurry. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter if you’re going on the very same train, because they will run past you and over your foot with their 30-kilo suitcase while ensuring they beat you to the seat that you were clearly going to sit in. And they won’t look you in the eye after they do it either. Because you don’t exist. Ever.

Second disclaimer: I am speaking from my own experience and observation. I am allowed to do so.

And my grandfather was Chinese.

10. Aside from social issues, humans are literally the same everywhere–just in different languages.

There isn’t too much to say on this point except: everyone should get out of their home environment/comfort zone at least once in life. Really out. And really dive into another culture. Meet the people, not seclude yourself in an all-inclusive resort. There’s something to be said about a person who has traveled vs. one who is stationary–the travel practically seeps through their pores. You can never leave home and come back the same. New places and people teach you so much about our differences, our cultures and ways of life.

But it also, if you do it right, teaches you about our similarities. Energy is energy no matter where you go. A smile will always be a smile and a loving, pure heart will always shine through someone’s chest. We learn how important it is to coexist, how small we are in the big picture of life, and yet how important and significant our contributions can be, even if they only ever affect one person. You learn how to appreciate the world, the beauty of it, and how it gives us all a home. You’ll learn how to appreciate yours, and you’ll have an improved understanding of the human condition, and forgive its many flaws and quirks. You’ll appreciate beauty, and time, and existence, and tolerance, and language, and intelligence, and understanding.  Basically, and most importantly, you will find your humanity.

And you’ll wonder what the hell you were doing before why you didn’t find it sooner.

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