When people ask how my trip to Paris was, the only thing I can say that is truly honest is that it was a lot of things. and many of those things weren't positive, but no one really wants to hear that. They want to hear that you had the time of your life and you didn't want to leave and that it was magical. And maybe for some people it is, but for me, this time, it wasn't.
I love travel. I feel pretty pro at travel. Growing up in Alaska going anywhere meant flying there. Or road-tripping for about a week. My first solo flight was when I was in 6th grade (I think) and I was so used to flying that I didn't realize that traveling as an unaccompanied minor was different. I filed off the plane with the rest of the passengers, met up with my mom at the gate and we went on our merry way until the panicked flight attendants caught up with us and confirmed that I was leaving with the proper guardian. I've flown to countless cities and road tripped from Alaska to Florida and back to Washington State solo.
With international travel, though, I'm not as experienced. I went to Guatemala once with a group in high school, but I don't really count that because we were mindlessly shuttled around and I didn't have to figure out a thing. It wasn't for lack of desire. I was all set to attend the American University in Cairo for a month during college but my passport with my student visa didn't arrive in time for my flight so I cancelled the whole thing (a boyfriend also may have been involved in my lack of wanting to leave home too. Lame). Since I had to cancel that flight, I was able to re-book a new flight and arranged to go to London, which I also didn't do, for reasons I don't remember but I have a suspicion have to do with that boyfriend. Years before that my entire family had a huge trip to Europe planned, but the day before we were set to leave my grandma got in a car accident that nearly claimed her life and so the entire trip got cancelled.
So, when I found a super cheap flight to Paris a few months ago I heeded the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run With the Wolves, "'I am going' These are the best words ever. Say them, then go." I booked the flight for my birthday and re-upped my passport. It felt like something I needed to do. Travel in the US no longer pushes me out of my comfort zone, and I needed to get out of it. I needed to prove to myself that I could. That I could do something brave. I knew that a lot of the things I do, like traveling solo cross country in a 1973 Winnebago Brave, look brave to outsiders, but to me felt squarely inside my comfort zone. International travel, though, that was new. And definitely outside my comfort zone, in what a friend once called the "growth zone."
I researched like a crazy person because I like to be prepared, tried my best to re-learn the french I used to know in high school, and waited with so much excitement that at times I thought I might explode. My husband Dan drove me to the airport that chilly morning, and I kissed him goodbye and got on the plane.
It was hard. I'm a solid introvert, but being in a foreign country alone, not being able to speak the language, with no one to share the experience with was difficult. The jet lag was brutal, and I didn't do a lot of the things I thought I would just because the language barrier gave me a lot of anxiety. I spent half of one day hidden in my Airbnb watching Netflix and crying. After some encouraging words from friends I pulled it together for my last few days in Paris and released myself from the pressure of having The Best Time Ever. I read my book in a cafe while enjoying my petit dejeuner, walked around the Musee D'Orsay, and ate a nutella filled crepe under the Eiffel Tower. I realized that I didn't have to fit everything into this one trip. I didn't have to have The Best Time Ever, because there would be other times to come to Paris. I could come with Dan or a friend next time and be able to laugh and talk and share everything with someone.
I'm glad I went. I feel like I broke through whatever it was that was keeping me from traveling abroad. And I feel like I opened myself up to the universe, letting it know that I my passport was broken in and ready to go. I already have tickets to Iceland and Ireland (and maybe Paris again) for 2016. Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her book Big Magic about ideas being sentient beings on the lookout for people who are available and willing to take them on. One of my dreams for the next year, as both a photographer and a human, was to travel more both domestically and internationally for work and self-enrichment. I was tired of waiting around for it to happen to me, and this trip to Paris was my stake in the ground. "I'm here. I'm ready to go. I've got my passport in hand!" Like being a good host for a creative idea, I feel like you need to make yourself available and ready for those big dreams and not in a sitting around and thinking about it way. Like a, "Hey Universe! I'm on a flight to a place farther away from home than I've ever been. Your move!" And as soon as I made that shift, the Universe felt like it shifted a bit too. Doors started opening. Little ones, but ones nonetheless. So even if my trip to Paris wasn't the Most Magical, Best Trip Ever, it was a little flag that I waved to the universe letting it know that I was open for business with my bags packed. And my comfort zone is a little bit bigger too.
"I am going" those are the best words. Say them, then go.