A little less than 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.
In hindsight, I was overreacting. A lot. By the time I arrived in Esh-sur-Alzette and settled into my cosy room, the excitement settled in and nerves eased. Not only was I presenting my research at an international conference, an amazing opportunity as an M.A. student, but I was getting to experience the wonders of living in Europe where foreign countries are just a stone-throw away.
That short trip to Luxembourg is when I learned the magic of solo travel. It's when I discovered that you get to do what you what, when you want, at the pace you want and the flexibility to change your mind without need to coordinate with others. It's freeing and empowering. And here I am, less than a year later, back in Luxembourg, the same fall colours are sprinkling the Vallée de la Pétrusse, and I am reminded of how this all began. No matter how much we plan in life, things always change. I look back at every decision, opportunity, and circumstance that brought me here to this moment, to this incredible journey of experiencing as much of the world as I can.
Bucknell. Common Ground. Changing majors. Conducting independent research. Getting rejected from 13 PhD programs. Getting accepted into five M.A. programs. Moving abroad. Presenting my research internationally. Travel plans falling through. Deciding to do the Trans-Siberian Railway instead. Finding the courage to say no to the long awaited PhD acceptance so I could say yes to the chance to spend a year backpacking.
All these decisions, rejections, and opportunities, every person who has supported, hurt, or challenged me, every mistake I've made and success I've had, has led me to this moment. Take away or change any one factor, the rest would disappear or morph into something new, and I would be somewhere else doing who knows what. It's like dominos, one thing leads to another, relying on everything else, and before you know it, the cascading sequence of life leads you to an unforeseen destination. You have the agency to set everything up how you like and change things as you go, but sometimes they start to fall before you are ready. Sometimes it may seem chaotic and awful in the moment, but when you take the time to step back and look at the whole picture, you realise how beautiful and cool it all is, even when it doesn't go as planned.
Returning to Luxembourg has reminded me of that, and I am so grateful for every single domino of life that has brought me here.