Missing someone horribly is just another wonderful and cruel part of being in love.
A year ago I packed the wrong shoes, forgot my debit card, and left my coat at home. I backpacked across Europe to some of the most traveled and beloved cities in the world, wandering every day not knowing what to do or where to go. I expected spiritual epiphanies, new friends that would make heartfelt speeches at my wedding, and experiences that I would stitch into my quilts as an old woman. Instead, for some of my first days, I had to force myself out into the cold, struggling to enjoy the crowded department stores when I had imagined quaint villages and antique streetlights. I didn’t know where to find the “gems” and how to meet the locals, and my daily diet consisted of convenience store coffee and bananas. I came to burden myself with the mantra that I was traveling alone, a twenty-something on a trip of ascetic self-discovery. If I was going to suffer on what was supposed to be the greatest adventure of my life, it had better be for a greater purpose.
As time went on, I encountered special people that saved me one way or another. I thanked one of them in my Tales of Giving: Berlin Edition, and I have spent November writing postcards to the friends, and friends-of-friends, who offered me salvage from 12-sleeper hostel dorms when I couldn’t bear another night. Most important of all, however, was the guy who became my first boyfriend on a Skype date from London to Chicago. It was romantic, despite the fact that I was sitting on the floor of a cramped flat in Camden Town.
We had only been dating for a few weeks before I left, and there were no expectations that something would come of it. I remember us talking the night before I left, and when I told him I wanted to be free for my trip, he didn’t flinch and told me to have fun. As our short-lived summer romance came to an end, I landed in Prague and began telling every Aussie with a mustache I had a boyfriend. A strange feeling crept over me that I had never felt before. I had no interest in anyone else, and in every record storeowner or street artist I met, I saw him.
We began emailing each other every other day, he sending me updates on his Evil Boss’s latest schemes and I stories of my lonely Euro Trip. I woke up for those emails and wrote him back before bed, the bookends on each day, good or bad. It was catastrophic timing for a new relationship, but somehow it worked. He taught me how to need someone. When it comes down to it, I have always had a fear of commitment, and have happily kept my distance at the expense of many wonderful people. Lucky for me, traveling pretty much took my approach to relationships and threw it out the window. He was my lifeline.
It turned out that what I intended to be my “One Woman Travel Escapade of Epic Proportions” actually turned out to be “Lena Accidentally Falls in Love at an Inconvenient Time.” That’s life, though. I didn’t spend nights getting drunk at nightclubs but instead spent clearheaded days drawing and listening to music. Our Skype sessions saved me from the depths of depression when I had no money left and a burly roommate who snored. Our relationship changed the course of my trip completely, but I think what I gained from it was much deeper than the little adventure I intended.
I learned that letting someone be there for you is an important part of survival as a human being. I learned that traveling can be extremely hard and that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong, it means that you need to try harder to see the light in each day. Also, missing someone horribly is just another wonderful and cruel part of being in love. As is life, just like my postcards and ticket stubs, his T-shirts and photos now sit in a box. But that itch to travel again never goes away, and neither does my instinct to check my email the second I wake up.