Berlin & I: Conquering My Fear of Traveling Alone
When I was a teenager, I thought I’d live in Germany someday.
I mean, I also daydreamed about living in England, France, Ireland, and Scotland–but I actually, truly believed I’d live in Germany. Why? Well, I fell in love. Unfortunately, I did it alone. But back then, there was nothing you could’ve said that would convince me he wouldn’t eventually figure out that he was in love with me, too. (Ah, youth.)
I was convinced that if I conquered the “obstacles,” it would all work out. What was the biggest obstacle? Well, I lived in New Jersey and he lived in Germany. A distance of 3,000+ miles was certainly a challenge. So I did what any 18-year-old with a painfully acute crush would (probably) do: I started taking German in college as my language requirement. It was a not-so-subtle effort to say “Look! I’m investing time and effort into your culture! I’m willing to learn a new language and move 3,000+ miles away from home to be with you!”
The cringing I do when I think about past-Ashley’s behavior is physically painful.
Fast-forward almost a decade and you’ll find me living 3,000 miles from home–in the other direction. I clearly did not live up to 17-year-old-Me’s 5-year plan of getting married and moving to Germany. Instead, I took a job and moved to San Francisco. Then I took a job and moved to Portland. So how did I finally get to Germany?
I was sent to Dublin for two weeks for a work thing, and I decided it was time: I was going to go to Berlin. I’d been steadily inching closer to the mainland of the continent, so why not? After Iceland, Ireland, and England, it was time to go to Deutschland.
One problem, though, was that I absolutely hated the idea of traveling alone. I’m fine spending a day or two by myself, but a whole week of vacation was looming lonely in front of me. What’s a girl to do?
I tried to rope the aforementioned German into joining me in his capital city, but he’s also an adult now, so he has Grown Up Responsibilities™. As he put it, “cross-country travel” just didn’t fit into his immediate schedule. I have a few European coworkers who I tried to drag into the trip, but no luck. Just over a week before I was scheduled to land in Berlin, I realized I’d really be alone. It’d be me and my elementary knowledge of the German language against the world.
A funny thing happened when I arrived, though. I realized that I could just… live there.
I started by going about my daily life the same way I would at home, only with less stress. I didn’t have to worry about deadlines or politics or even getting home on time to take the dog out. I slept in, sat by the window and wrote, and went to the park. Oh, did I go to the park. Some people go on vacation and spend their time looking at tourist sites, but I spent three of my five vacation days sitting in and wandering around Volkspark Friedrichshain. I watched tiny German children play (and, thanks to my basic knowledge of the language, understood them!), I watched fountains and streams, I wandered around taking pictures. It was lovely. There was no pressure; no FOMO.
Eventually, I dragged myself out of my neighborhood (and the park) to go do the “touristy” things. But what I remember most about that trip are the days I spent not feeling like I had to do anything at all.
All in all, I loved Berlin. Even though I got onto the plane dreading being alone, I think part of the contentment I feel thinking about that trip is due to the solo-factor. When I wanted to stay in bed until 2 reading a book, I wasn’t holding someone else back from getting brunch or seeing the sights. When I decided to walk a 10-mile day to pack all the tourist sights into one afternoon, I wasn’t dragging someone away from time they could spend meandering around museums. When I wanted to order in instead of going out, no one was there to protest. I was on my own schedule–and I didn’t have one.
I think past-Ashley would be sorely disappointed to find out that present-Ashley went all the way to Germany and didn’t stay to get married and have a pair of German children. Present-Ashley, though, is quite happy to be able to cross “Traveling Alone” off of the “Things I Have Anxiety About” list with confidence and flare.
Which leaves me with a question for future-Ashley: Where are we going next?