It’s hard to believe that one year ago I wrote my story about how life drove me into rashly planning a trip to Greece for six months. I had no idea where I was going, or what I was doing, or why I was doing it. But I was so tired of sitting around the house feeling sorry for myself. Feeling heartbroken and stuck and like I wasn’t getting anywhere, at all.
I will not lie when I say those first few months in Greece were some of the loneliest months in my life.
It’s easy to look back on those experiences and to idealize them – to gloss over the facts. Some people say you can’t run from your problems, but I don’t believe that. You can run. You should run. You should go somewhere new, start fresh. Where nobody knows you and you’re separated from all the things that make you hurt, to gain new perspective. So I drank too much wine at a bar spilling onto Monastiraki Square in Athens. I explored the ghostly Santorini streets on a sunny February afternoon. I sat alone on a beach in Naxos and muttered a “thank you” to the black-robed elder woman who handed me a pamphlet with Jesus on the cover.
Just go and be and do.
It was hard, and Greece was hard.
The thing about travel dreams is that they almost never amount to your expectations. I admit I had more fun in other countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro. But Greece gave me everything. It healed me and renewed me and gave me courage. Greece was the lifeline that pulled me out of my funk, and brought me to the surface for air again. It took less time than I thought.
Mostly, I hold people accountable. I remember that first evening in Athens vividly: I sidled up to the bar at AthenStyle hostel, perched awkwardly on my stool, and ordered a pint of Mythos from Anna, the Finnish bartender. There were three people watching a football game. So we started talking, and we fumbled our way through small talk, and I remember the grin plastered across my face when I began to realize how I COULD do this, how I could meet people and travel alone and have new experiences that weren’t shadowed by heartache and self-doubt and everything else. Then came the other characters in the story: Steve and Milly and Dan and Maya and Julie and Rusty and Amanda and Tara and Lena and Theo and Madison and Madison and everyone in between.
How I navigated the streets of Lesvos without any Greek, or dragged myself through farm duty everyday, is beyond me. It seems impossible now, to work up the courage to ask a Greek person for directions, or to shuttle myself onwards to Albania, and onwards even further, alone, shy, timid, and determined. Me, afraid of talking to strangers or answering my phone or being forced out into public in my hometown. Me, throwing myself into the terrifying and yet unbelievably simply act of just living and going and doing and thriving.
I am certain I’ll never fully fit in anywhere. If I move to Berlin I’ll feel lost among the skyscrapers and din of artists and history. But I’ll do it anyway, and from there I’ll explore Poland, and I’ll visit friends in Ireland, and I’ll take a trip down to Spain just because I can. Just because I KNOW I can, because Greek showed me that I could.
I spent half the year travelling in 2014. I can trace back to my happiest moments: getting lost in the maze-like streets inside Kotor’s Old Town in Montenegro. Luxuriating in having an entire apartment to myself in Split, Croatia. Watching the sun set from a yacht in the Mediterranean. Fresh squeezed orange juice from a farm on Lesvos. Making new friends on a bus in Bosnia.They were simple but beautiful.
Travel doesn’t have to include enormously life-altering moments to fill your soul with joy.
I’m also more certain than ever that the best education you can give someone is travel. I think the world be a little less scary if we all did this. You cannot come to places like Bosnia and Herzegovina and not leave without the most profound emotions for such a war-torn country and its warm people.
I didn’t do everything I wanted to do in 2014. I didn’t write beautiful stories, although I read beautiful books. I was really optimistic about that last year – how quickly I’d pick up my pen and start writing fiction again. And now here I am, a year later, with a 30,000-word fiction deadline looming for a romantic travel story, and working on my first manuscript under the guidance of Canadian author Olive Senior, whose praise has already swollen my head to disproportionate sizes. And although I have not found the courage to test the waters of romance again, I’m finally happy. Happy and content and excited to see where I’ll be a year from now, because honestly, I don’t have the foggiest clue.
That’s my idea of adventure.