I think one of my favorite things about rowing is that whenever you mess up a stroke, you immediately get to take another one, a better one. The consistent repetition forces you learn to move on quickly and effectively; you learn to let it go and focus on the next one. There’s no time to beat yourself up over your failures or get mad about other people’s mistakes. It’s just you, your crew, your shell and oars, and 2,000 meters of water. There’s no looking back.
While I haven’t been as active in blogging as I would like to (it’s hard to keep up with when you are moving this quickly), one thing that I think I will put an effort into keeping up is my monthly reflection posts. It’s an opportunity to look back at where I’ve gone, what I’ve learned, done, seen, and experienced. Yesterday - as I entered my 37th country since my departure - marked three full months of being on the move across Europe so it’s time to do just that. So for this reflection post, I thought I would compile a list of 37 things that happen when you backpack long term and at a fast pace. Or at least 37 things that have happened to me.
A little over a year ago, the chilly fall weekend before Halloween, I made my first international solo trip. Sure, I had travelled solo within the United States many times and gone abroad a number of times with family or friends. I had even moved abroad - but I had an almost instantaneous support system thanks to my university and the nature of student life. Even with these past travel experiences, at that time even the prospect of travelling alone to a foreign country where I knew no one and didn't speak the language seemed absolutely ridiculous. I remember getting off the plane in Luxembourg City, feeling anxious about navigating the bus to the city-centre, where I would then get the train to Esh-sur-Alzette to meet my AirB&B host. What if I can't figure out how to buy a ticket? What if I miss my stop? What if the bus just doesn't show up? What if I get on the wrong train? What if my AirB&B host doesn't show? I was practically sweating I was so nervous.
We live in a world where, according to society, trans people don't deserve to exist. The basic act of being alive - of breathing, of resisting this societal standard - is in itself revolutionary. It took me a long time to understand that and realise the value in my own life. I spent too much time believing that the path which society has set forth for trans people was the only option. It took taking a leap of faith and going on a trip with ten total strangers across Siberia in the middle of winter to truly discover that there's more to life than what is expected of me.
Being a non-binary trans person, the gendered segregation and expectations of spaces such as mosques can put me in uncomfortable situations. However, at the end of the day I need to remember that these spaces are not about me. I am travelling in a culture that is not my own, in a country where the majority population is of a religion that is not mine, and I need to not only respect that but use it as an opportunity to educate myself and do what I can to stand in solidarity with these individuals.
This morning, after grabbing breakfast and checking out of our hostel in Belgrade, all of us pilled into a bus that would take us from Serbia to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The drive - for the portions of it that I was awake for - was breathtaking. We passed through small river towns, mountains, villages, and farm land. The constant change in scenery revealed just how dynamic and incredible Bosnia and Herzegovina is.
I barely slept last night because the heat right now is so miserable. I'm from South Carolina, I'm used to extreme heat (albeit, with widely available air conditioning). But this is something else - this is Lucifer. It's particularly bad in my room, which has no ventilation and a window that lets in all the sun light, making it so much worse. So when my alarm went off this morning, it took every ounce of will power to force myself out of bed instead of trying to get a few more hours of sweaty sleep. But I did get up and made it into the city centre in time for the 11:00 Bratislava free walking tour.
When I first decided to drop everything and spend a year backpacking, the first question that popped into my mind was “how the hell am I going to pack for this?” I began obsessively reading countless blog posts on packing for long trips and even did a few “trial packs” to get a sense of how much I could fit into my backpack without making it uncomfortably heavy. Based on this and the relatively minimal personal experience I have with backpacking, I learned a few key lessons that helped me finalise my packing list.