TRAVEL WITH ME | Venice to Milan

I had a lot of anxiety leading up to this trip.

I had traveled by myself before, but not like this.  Not a full two weeks of backpacking, checking into hostels, and planning out train tickets.

But when I had gotten to Rome to study abroad, I had already made up my mind that Prague had to be on the top of my list of places to visit.  And after having flown to London earlier that semester for another break, I had also decided that if I was going to go it solo, I wanted to travel by train.  In a lot of ways, I found it simpler, more relaxing, and more grounded.

My railway trip to Prague was, in most way, none of those things.

My first impression of Venice was that it was overcrowded, over-saturated with tourists, and absolutely stunning.  Like most of Italy.  After wandering around for a day, stepping into the overpriced shops and perusing the menus of expensive restaurants, I was glad to have arranged my stay for only two nights at the hostel - which, as it turned out, offered no WiFi or towels for the duration of my stay.

I think I could have lived with all of these things, if it weren't for the fact that, by nature, I am an introvert.  I do not energize myself from interactions with new people, places, and things, but instead lose energy from such interactions, and rapidly.  It's a good thing to know about yourself.  But certainly not the temperament required for extensive travel.

As such, I probably spent a considerable chunk of time inside the hostel, more than the average traveler might have.  I didn't stay out long after dusk, and slept in during the mornings.  I spent a lot of my stay at the Ca Venezia Hostel in my bunk, reading John Green's Looking for Alaska on my Kindle, and watching old movies on my laptop.

Yet it was to my surprise, as much to probably anybody else's, that the first revelation or "moment" I had while backpacking Europe all by myself was not as I was sitting by the canals, painting the boats in my sketchbook.  It wasn't when I boarded the train to Milan and saw the snowy caps of the Swiss Alps in the distance for the very first time.  It wasn't when I spotted the Bridge of Sorrows, or the Duomo up close.

It was when I was re-watching The Lego Movie for the umpteenth time, slouched on the top bunk of the hostel bed late at night.

I couldn't tell you how many times I had seen this movie before - it's my favorite pick-me-up film - but this time, something resonated with me.  Something about where I was, and everything that had happened to me between this viewing and the last had changed what I was watching, and suddenly I was able to personalize the film's feel-good message in a way I hadn't been before.

I wrote about it in my journal that night, but it stuck with me long after, as I embarked to my second destination: Milan.

This is what I wrote in my journal on the train ride there:

"Just simply existing and drifting was not the worst case scenario here - and it wasn't a scenario I'd even considered.  That I'd simply be me, and the greatest change that could ever happen while I was travelling abroad would not come in a flash, like lightning.  The greatest thing that could ever happen to me wouldn't be falling in love, or finding a friend for life, or going on a dangerous adventure, or being saved.  The best thing that could happen is that I'd be okay with that.  That's enough.  To be me."

I wish I could tell you I went on this journey and had an Eat Pray Love experience, and that you should totally go backpacking across Europe too if you have the chance, because you'll have that same experience.  Truth is:  I sat on the steps of the Duomo and ate McDonald's chicken nuggets and fries because it was what was easiest, and made me happy.  I sat in bed at the Venice hostel while my roommates went out for drinks, and cried as I finished reading Looking for Alaska because I felt those characters' loss.  I went to the Milan train station four hours early, and sat on a bench that smelled of piss while I read a book, because I felt more comfortable getting my ticket early than lugging my bags around to museums in the few remaining hours I had left before the train came in that day.

And those are the moments I remember, when I look back on the trip now.  And they are neither glamorous, nor transforming.  They are the same sorts of things I would have done if I was travelling back in the States.

But they're enough.  For me, simply learning to live my life according to myself, rather than seeking out the experiences I had always been told would change my life for the better, was more than enough.  And more than I could have ever asked for.

Have you traveled by yourself before?  What was your experience like?  Leave your stories down in the comments below!

Shai Cotten