It was the summer after my freshman year in college when I decided to travel on my own to Terrassa, Spain. My parents were a little uncertain about letting me go but I told them that I’d been dying to go to ESCAC (one of my favorite film schools) ever since I was in high school. After weeks of insisting, they finally said yes!
To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had been to Catalunya (a region in Spain) with my dad only once when I was 12 and could barely remember it. Although I knew at the time that I wanted to come back when I was older, I was still venturing into the unknown. After all, the internet could only give me a vague idea about the program, the dorms, and the town itself. But my doubts didn’t stop me. After an 11-hour flight from Bogota, Colombia, to Madrid, Spain, a 1-hour train, and a long walk, I had made it to my final destination.
Here’s a few things I learned over the next – crazy – three weeks.
1. Be open to meeting new people.
I learned that traveling on my own did not necessarily mean that I was going to be completely alone for the next three weeks. In fact, it turned out to be the complete opposite. When I got to Terrassa I thought, “Shit, who am I going to talk to?” But I soon discovered that meeting new people could happen unexpectedly.
The first night sucked; I had no roommates, the dorm was creepy, and I felt unsafe, so I decided to basically not sleep and go for a walk at 6 a.m.. When I came back to my dorm, I could hear voices coming from the shared kitchen that was connected to another room. Hesitantly, I opened the kitchen door and saw a girl my age and an older couple talking. Turns out it was my roommate/classmate and her parents who were helping her move in. I ended up getting an invitation to visit their hometown (a small town nearby) where I met my roommate’s friends and got to know more of Catalunya. I am still good friends with her as well as many others that I met during the program. We still talk and hope to see each other again someday.
2. Be safe!
This one I learned the hard way. Although it can be difficult to pay attention to your surroundings when there are so many beautiful things to see around you, it is important to keep an eye out for yourself – and your purse. One day I took a day trip to Barcelona to meet a friend from Boston who was in the area. When coming back to Terrassa by myself at night, I felt like a guy was following me out of the train, which is why I decided to talk to someone about it. Luckily for me, the couple I approached was from Colombia and helped me get back to my dorm by calling me a cab. We also exchanged numbers in case of an emergency. This time I was lucky, but it later someone stole my phone at a club in Barcelona. So yeah, learn from my mistakes and be aware of your surroundings 24/7!
3. Explore without any expectations.
One of the best parts about traveling alone is being able to do whatever you want. For me, this translated into going with the flow and not having a set plan for the day. During my first weekend in Barcelona, I decided to walk aimlessly around town. I discovered beautiful places that I wouldn’t have if I had adhered to the “touristy” destinations. For instance, I ate a great meal at a small traditional coffee shop, relaxed by the beach, and discovered a place in town that overlooked the entire city. I got to explore the real Barcelona and its people by letting it take me by surprise.
4. Blog, vlog, journal, or photograph your experience.
When exploring the city, I made sure to bring my camera and notebook with me so that I could keep track of anything that I saw or heard that inspired me or made me think. Since I was on my own, this meant that I was silent for the most part, which allowed me to reflect on my thoughts. I don’t know if it was the European air, the film classes, or the numerous interesting people around me, but my brain was a creative powerhouse during the trip. Having the things I needed to put these ideas down allowed me to come back to them later when I needed inspiration or when I simply wanted to remember an amazing trip.