Spring break: we look forward to it for a reason, and not just because we’re lazy. If you’re like me, sick of your current area and want to see somewhere new away from bitchy housemates and stacks of unorganised notes from the quarter already passed, then spring break presents the perfect opportunity to do so. This week I’ve been exploring Seattle with my UEA friend Sophie, before venturing north of the border for my first experience of Canada. Vancouver happens to be where I came up with this post, formulating the idea in the gorgeous Stanley Park, before drafting it in the Olympic Village brewery with a raspberry cocktail or two. Heaven, right?
And it does have to be noted that both cities are brilliant. I needed my time in Seattle with Sophie more than I realised: I’ve not laughed so much the entire time I’ve been in America. it was great to just be tourists together exploring somewhere new to the both of us, whilst also having a sense of much-needed familiarity in each other. For anyone considering going – do! Enjoy some seafood at Pike Place Market, go see the aquarium or the zoo, and take those aesthetic Chihuly glass photos for Instagram! Beware though, everything has been done before: you may think you’re being super original like we were in our reflection shot above, just to head to the gift shop and find a postcard of someone doing it way better. Can’t always win.
Alas, the weekend had to come to an end. I moved on to Vancouver alone, as Sophie headed back to her own Canadian university for class. I have to preface this by saying that Vancouver is hands-down my favourite city I’ve visited in the past seven months of this wild ride. Maybe (read: quite likely) it’s a Canadian thing, and I should have sacrificed my academic interests for a ride in the clearly more aesthetic, friendly and all-around better North American country (only kidding… a little bit). Exploring during spring break comes at a cost, though, and I don’t just mean the financial kind. Seeing cities you’d rather live in than the one you so diligently picked as your new home is one of them. Always a risk, considering by this point in the year you’re probably sick of your own city, having exhausted all the things to do (and indeed by this part of the student finance calendar, probably your money as well). Visiting the University of British Columbia to see their Museum of Anthropology made me rue Study Abroad for their choice to take UBC off of our options list, and had me running to double check their master’s and PhD prices (if I wasn’t so homesick I’d consider it, just saying).
But more crucially than that, if you’re travelling to escape the people back in your new ‘home’ rather than with them, spring break can be a terribly lonely experience. While I laughed more in Seattle with British friend Sophie than I have done at any other time in America with anyone else, I found myself nearly crying in Vancouver. I made the mistake of watching the boats and the mountains and thinking about my mum, who came here long before I was born and loved it, and would love to see it again. And here I am, experiencing it without her. Obvious logistics such as the short time span to distance ratio and her job make it impossible, but I wish I was seeing Vancouver with her.
I’ve always been an independent person. It originally grew out of necessity, a particular set of childhood circumstances that developed into a way of life. And I’ve long since experienced extreme loneliness: I think sometimes I seem as if I’m content as a lone wolf, and no one seems to question that maybe I didn’t originally become such out of choice. However, now that I’m in the mindset and seem perpetually unable to dig my way out of it, I’ve explored a fair few cities on my own. San Francisco, in fact, was at the time of visiting, my favourite trip of my life, and I tackled it alone. Operating alone means you never need to plan too much ahead. You can go with the flow, do exactly what takes your fancy and when. When I took on San Francisco, I appreciated this a lot. However, here in Vancouver, just days after seeing Seattle with Sophie, I realised something. If you’re with the right people, you can do this just the same. See the world with the right people who want to run the same circles as you do and you don’t need to be regimented and strict and force yourself or each other: Sophie and I had an itinerary that we planned down to a dot, before railing off and doing something completely different at 10am of our very first morning. Sometimes solo travelling works, but sometimes – as this week has proved – it can just amplify loneliness, even if you’re a self proclaimed ‘lone wolf.’
While it took twenty years and the right trip to make me come to this conclusion, I also realised that my loneliness as I take on the world thousands of miles away from where I’m comfortable is symbolic of something I should be proud of – the independence I have gained through perseverance. In my early life, difficult circumstances forced me to grow up too fast, learn how to tackle certain things alone and persevere in spite of it. Standing here in Vancouver, able to explore such a vast city nearly five thousand miles from home completely alone, is supposed to be daunting, especially at twenty years old. As is studying for a year in a new country where you know no one. It would be absolutely expected to be scared. Except I’ve never been scared of it. Regretful, yes. Lonely, most of the time. But scared, no. Because my independence has taught me that I can take on the world and win.
With this in mind, yes I can stand here in Vancouver wishing my mum – who would love the experience – could see the city again with me. But despite that, I made it here. Even with a bout of homesickness and a persistent knee injury that realistically should have taken me to Accident and Emergency by now, I’ve made it through and fallen in love with Vancouver, knowing that I would be sacrificing something by spending this break alone. I could have instead spent spring break holed up in bed in my apartment in Los Angeles, avoiding people I don’t want to see and things I don’t want to do, and ultimately feeling more sorry for myself. If I hadn’t had the independence and the belief in myself that I could have a good time in spite of the loneliness of solo travel, I’d probably be doing exactly that, and feeling just as lonely to boot. At least I’m out here making memories. They don’t have to be perfect ones, as life isn’t the shiny, picture-perfect Huji snaps we post on Instagram. In years to come, I’m going to look back on this trip and my ability to conquer it fondly, and I should be just as proud of that – if not more – as I would be of the ‘ideal’ friendship group spring break.
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