Hello friends and family! It’s been a while. Currently, I am in Thessaloniki, Greece living out my dream job facilitating a study abroad experience for 200 Northeastern University students. (More on this to come!) It’s been a couple of months since you last heard from me, and in between I have spent a summer in Tennessee, traveled to Peru, and made my way to Greece for a semester of work abroad!
My last few blogs have been few and far between because I can’t easily (or enjoyably) write a blog post until I’ve been hit by a ton of bricks of total inspiration. And currently, I’m feeling totally inspired.
Right now I’m sitting at a restaurant in Skopje, Macedonia (ok – about a week ago before I transposed this) drinking a beer and eating some delicious Macedonian dish with my hands like Elizabeth fucking Gilbert – that scene where she noms some pizza (I envisioned cheese dripping down her chin but the movie doesn’t portray this) while traveling in Italy without a care in the world. To me, Elizabeth Gilbert represents a strong, solo woman pursuing her dreams and growing herself through testing comfort zones and seeking to understand and explore more of this big ol’ world. For me, my short time in Macedonia rings of independence, adventure, excitement, and success.
I’ve been in the Republic of Macedonia for three days now. The country’s name itself is a sensitive topic among Greeks and I solely refer to it as “Skopje” here in Thessaloniki to avoid upsetting the locals. It’s my first solo trip in another country – one that I do not speak the language and that I knew very little about previously.
This trip has involved all of the wonderful and stressful things that travel (for me) often encompasses: logistical challenges – such as having a loose plan for my transportation to Matka Canyon, a potentially exciting border crossing, biting off another big-and-large hiking adventure, and a cozy attic room in a hotel at the end of a beautiful canyon.
This week in my section of my Global Experience course – a class I teach for N.U.in freshmen students to help them process this wild and novel experience abroad in Thessaloniki – I went over a framework on comfort zones and the learning process.
And it occurred to me that this is why I love the two things that I most seek out in life: outdoor experiences and travel. (Best when paired together – like my trip in August to Peru with that Ashley girl to complete the Salkantay Trek, which I will share with you soon when I find more time to write in between working and eating fried cheese!)
The framework states that learning and growth happen between the comfort zone and the panic zone. On this trip alone I experienced multiple scenarios illustrating this delicate balance.
- Stepping foot off the bus in Skopje, I had not yet decided how I would journey to Matka Canyon, but considered a taxi for convenience and timeliness. Upon poking my head around some of the shops looking for the money exchange teller, a shopkeeper in exasperation discouraged me from taking a taxi to avoid being ripped off – although I conjured up other reasons to not get in a taxi with a man in a foreign speaking country. I had briefly looked up some info about the public bus to Matka the night before, but began to dip into the panic realm when I realized I didn’t know where the correct bus stop was, nor could I easily communicate with the locals.
- Agreeing to take a photo of a man who asked me to capture his picture in front of the Alexander the Great statue. I happily obliged, but cautiously so, because of a previous experience interacting with a stranger resulting in a stolen backpack. After taking the phone from him to snap his photo, he moved closer to me and took the phone in my hands (unknowingly at the time to show me the angle for which he wanted his photo taken), and I visibly flinched and shuddered. He quickly apologized, but I undoubtedly yet briefly spiked into the panic zone. (We then had a lovely conversation in which I learned that he is French-Egyptian and will be traveling for three months in Europe.)
This past weekend I brought a book with me that I am re-reading for the second time – Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass. This book discusses spirituality and connecting to the higher power that binds this universe, and the author shares her experiences in life as well as tips for practicing meditation, conquering our fears, and living an inspired life.
As someone who experiences anxiety from time to time and errs on the side of risk-aversion, over-preparedness, and caution (my 50 year old aunt reminded me today that it was me who convinced her to turn around on a trail in Washington when we saw a momma and baby bear within 50 yards :P), You Are a Badass guided me to the perfect mantra to put my busy solo-solo-travelling brain at ease.
The universe loves the crap out of me!
After taking a lovely photo of my new French-Egyptian friend (who in fact wasn’t trying to rob me), we were chatting about our travels in the Balkans and he asked me how the border crossing between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia was – because with all of the political disputes it can be rather tricky and he had heard there can be serious problems and that (yada yada yada)… My brain began to spin and then I remembered my beautiful little mantra in my back-pocket. Not today, mister. The universe loves the crap out of me! I told him that my border crossing to Skopje was relatively simple (although slightly disorganized) and that I was confident my return stop through customs would be the same!
Surely enough, I ended up making 2 friends on the bus – a man from Ukraine and a woman from the Republic of Georgia. The border crossing took half the time, and we didn’t have to kill 20 minutes in the duty-free store. How’s that for a Greece/Republic of Macedonia border crossing?!
In searching for bus #60, I had walked to two sides of the bus station to no avail and attempted to ask directions from several locals who spoke zero English. My potential bus to Matka was arriving and leaving in 5 minutes and I had no clue where to catch it or how to purchase the bus-card.
The universe loves the crap out of me!
A few moments later I saw two female travelers heading very decisively around the corner of the bus station. I asked them if they were by chance going to Matka Canyon – to which they replied in English they were!
I’m learning to love solo travel. Yes – learning to love. Because I don’t know if solo travel is something that people instinctively and instantaneously dive into headfirst and love. I know I don’t love all of the weird little moments at first, but I do think they teach me (and those who pursue it) to be a braver, wiser, and more-loving individual.
*Let your faith in the universe be greater than your fear.*
On this trip – on more than one occasion – I felt like Elizabeth fucking Gilbert.
For more insight on solo-travel, check out these eight lessons learned from traveling solo.