Fate was very much tempted by my new sense of security. I checked out of my Airbnb (by which I mean I left the keys on the table), and headed to a train station to get my ticket. With Interrail tickets most of the train travel is paid for, but on certain trains – typically those in popular tourist countries like Spain, France and Italy – you still need to make a reservation for the train. This adds about €10 per reservation, which I didn’t mind at all. The Interrail ticket is very good value and I got a lot out of it.
However it also adds the trial of actually booking the ticket. You need to go to the train station and actually interact with a person. And to my peril I learnt that you need to do this in advance. Getting from Madrid to Barcelona was so easy that I got complacent. I thought it would be fine to book my seat on the train just a couple of hours before my train departed. Gee, was I in for a shocker.
Thankfully Dan helped calm me down so I could think clearly. This clarity led me to a conclusion that would actually make my trip better. While I was looking at things to do in Marseille, I stumbled upon a bunch of reviews and websites talking about how dangerous it is for tourists. I don’t know if this is true, because I didn’t end up going there. In my fragile state I decided I couldn’t deal with that kind of anxiety by myself. So I went to Geneva instead.
Yep. That’s the beautiful thing about solo travel. You can just change your plans on a whim and you don’t need to ask anyone. I cancelled my Airbnb in Marseille, booked a hostel in Geneva, booked a train ticket for the next day, and off I went.
Being stuck in a foreign city on your own does teach you a few things about yourself and about how to cope when plans go awry.
When things go wrong it adds to the experience
Breaking out of my comfort zone by doing something as extreme as leaving the country on my own seemed like a sure way to fight some of these demons. By travelling, I thought I would become this interesting person, built up by the experience of hopping from country to country solo. It didn’t turn out quite that way.
With time, I’ve realised that while I may not have returned to the UK as a brand new outgoing person, I definitely did grow. My second solo travel adventure to Canada proved this. I felt a lot more relaxed despite travelling a lot further, and I didn’t get homesick.
Getting stuck in Barcelona gave me a great story to tell, and extra day in a fantastic city, and changed the way I think about life’s little curveballs. Definitely worth it.
Flexibility is key
For most of my life I’ve been the kind of person who likes to plan things to the letter, and gets mad when it doesn’t quite go the way I imagined. It’s a frustrating way to live, and completely disregards the chance for adventure, the individuality of people, and the flow of real life. This is something that I’ve tried over the years to rid myself of. As a teenager I was a bit of a brute due to this obsession with having things exactly planned.
The big lesson here for me was that it’s not necessarily planning that’s the problem. I can still allow myself to plan, as long as I keep an open mind. Acknowledging that my carefully set out route through Europe was likely to hit a few hiccups would have helped immensely. Perhaps then I wouldn’t have found myself on the edge of a meltdown at the train station.
Remember: things WILL turn out okay
It’s an exaggeration when I say I was in peril. I FELT like I was in great peril at the time, but realistically what’s the worst that could have happened? All I had to do to solve my problem was calm down and think about the options.
I tried to find an Airbnb and failed, so I found a hostel instead. Close to the train station – ideal, in a shared dorm – not ideal. But all I had to do was survive the night, and that seemed very likely. So I was okay. Everything was okay.
The next day I stepped foot in Geneva. I was only there for one night and part of the next morning. The small part of the city I saw was lovely. It’s true that it’s really clean and tidy, but it also boasts beautiful gardens and scenic views across the river. With hindsight, not only did things turn out okay, they turned out better.