No one can prepare you for the initial feeling of isolation when traveling alone. People warn you of it and describe it, but you never fully understand it until you’re standing in an airport departure lounge surrounded by Hasidic Jews fervently praying to God whilst you ask yourself why you never prayed before, given your current situation.
People say that in times of great distress, you feel your heart in your mouth. For me, this was not the case. As I sat on the National Express bus to Heathrow I could feel my heart beating firmly and painfully between my ribs. My throat was closing in on itself as nervous toxic bile rose up from the bottom of my empty stomach.
“What the hell are you doing??” I asked myself as I checked my hand luggage for liquids at the airport for the millionth time. I asked myself the same question again when the man at Heathrow said I couldn’t check in my bag because I was flying on to Rio from Rome and that I would need to let Rome passengers check in first. And again when I was being rushed through to departures by a different member of staff because I was consequently late checking in my bag.
The isolation of the plane journey didn’t help either. On my long haul flight from Rome to Rio there was no one sitting next to me. Being an Italian airline, most fellow passengers were Italian and unsure of what to say to a scared, red-eyed British girl cowering in her seat.
All that I could think of was the people who probably didn’t think I would go travelling on my own. The thoughts circled until in exasperation I cried, “And so what? I am doing it.” Sometimes the road to courage and success isn’t conquering fear, but rather simply accepting it and embracing it. People try to cure their fear by either denying its existence or faking some kind of stiff-upper-lip, only to be secretly dogged by it each and every day. Ironically, it’s often those who shed their tears and sit quietly for a moment with their fear who ever truly recover from it.
The thing I’ve already come to realise is that when travelling, you’re never really alone, not unless you want to be. Even if you’re shy, someone who’s confident and outgoing will most likely speak to you. Your awareness of other people and your relations with them becomes heightened tenfold when you’re sitting in a foreign setting alone.
It’s therefore not surprising that within an hour of being at my hostel I met a group of British girls and managed to tag along with them to the nearby beach.
Exhausted and exhilarated, I buried my toes in the white sand of Copacabanna, watching the crisp blue waves in my white bikini. Turning my face to the sun I finally murmured, “Jesu Christo, I’m in Rio.”
And with those 5 little words, an adventure was born.