The Romance and Reality of Travel

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THE ROMANCE AND REALITY OF TRAVEL

The Romance and Reality of Travel

The first time I went to Ireland I couldn’t stop thinking about the movie “P.S. I Love You.” I imagined walking through a field of flowers, surrounded by lush green mountains, and stumbling upon a friendly Irish man who also happened to be devilishly handsome. We’d go for a pint, listen to music, kiss out on the cobblestone, and fall deeply in love. The advertised romance of Europe is no doubt what has attracted me to go there ever since I can remember, but the reality is a bit different. Here are some of my experiences compared to my expectations of traveling.

Romance and Reality of Paris

They say Paris is the most romantic city in the world. How many young lovers have lustful embraces by La Tour Eiffel? A wine and cheese picnic by La Seine as the sunset reflects in your true love’s eyes. Putting a love lock on Pont des Arts or Pont de l'Archevêché, near Notre Dame, to eternalize your affections in the city of love. Oh, and what about an impromptu marriage proposal while walking along Les Champs Élysées, or even atop L’ Arc de Triomphe, as the city lights and stars create the perfect moodlighting for that long-awaited response of, “Yes!”

I admit, I did each of these things, but not like you’d see in the movies. I had many poignant outings to the Eiffel Tower, with friends and by myself. That was the only place in Paris that felt real to me, where I understood that I’d finally made it to live there like I’d always dreamed. I had picnics by La Seine with friends, hanging out and meeting new people. It was part of everyone’s schedules to attend courses, grab some bread and wine, head out for a picnic in a park, and then go out to a bar or club together afterwards.

I even put a love lock on a bridge in Paris, but I did it for the opposite reason. I wanted to leave all of the love I’d had for the person I’d gotten the lock with, to trap all of the memories into that lock and leave it there forever. There was no marriage proposal during my time in Paris, but I did get down on one knee with a ring and propose eternal love to my best friend in front of the Eiffel Tower! That was my twist on the classic cliché.

 It may've been overcast on this day in France, but I was very happy!

It may've been overcast on this day in France, but I was very happy!

Romance and Reality of Solo Travel

Traveling the world by yourself is not like what you see on social media. Period. I didn’t take many pictures of myself in all the places I went because I was shy about asking someone. That, and I was nervous about them stealing my phone. I went on a solo trip for nine weeks. Sometimes I had no access to laundry and had to wear my underwear inside out to make it work. I had a container of $45 face lotion that security at Manchester Airport threw out because I had too many liquids. My laptop suddenly broke while I was in Limerick, Ireland, and would not turn back on. I schlepped around a broken laptop for two months! *le sigh*

The romance of solo travel meets the reality of it when you experience how amazing it is to see the world on your own terms. I didn’t feel lonely very often, as it is easy to make friends in hostels; I was alone by choice. Sure, sometimes I got lost, harassed by random men, self-conscious of my appearance, scared of the unknown, but at the end of each night I would write in my journal and still feel completely amazed at what I was doing. I didn’t have the “perfect” body, gorgeous wardrobe, sexy mancandy at my side, or budget to afford expensive meals in fine restaurants, but I didn’t need those things. I opted for cheap meals, staying in 8-bed mixed dorms, and wearing the same three outfits until they had holes in them.

I didn’t go on my solo trips to brag about the luxury of travel on social media. I followed my heart, and appreciated everything. The romance of solo travel is that people will envy the privileged life you have. The reality is that you will come to deeply know yourself through the process of seeing the world on your own. The two meet when you take selfies in Sorrento, Italy, and post ‘em online saying, “I made it here! I did it!” Not to brag, but to inspire.

 One of my favorite things about solo travel is not needing to depend on anyone else's schedule.

One of my favorite things about solo travel is not needing to depend on anyone else's schedule.

Romance and Reality as a Female Traveler

Traveling as a woman presents its own challenges that most romanticized clichés don’t seem to mention. Young, beautiful women go exploring, fall in love, and find their destiny over a bottle of rosé on the beach at sunset. Real life is more like having to find your hostel at night, in a city you’ve never been, and having random men persistently ask to take you to dinner while you sit at a bus stop. It’s having somebody try to pickpocket your cell phone on the métro, because they often target women. It’s having a drunk guy crawl into your bed in the middle of the night in a mixed dorm. It’s being underestimated simply because you’re female.

 Some of the best nights out in Paris were spent with just my girlfriends. 

Some of the best nights out in Paris were spent with just my girlfriends. 

I found romance on my solo travels because I was falling deeply in love with the places I was seeing, and with myself. My travel experiences are no clichés. But there were moments of elation, like when I got to the top of the Eiffel Tower for the first time, when I found 20 euros on the ground in a puddle, or when I sat alone on a beach in Sligo, Ireland, on my 22nd birthday, looking out at the ocean thinking, “Wow.”

Your travels won’t be like what you’re expecting. Life loves to throw its wrench into your best laid plans. You will experience sudden things that you never anticipated. You will create your own reality out there in the world, and sprinkles of romance will shower you when least expected. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows. But after everything, the memories of your travels will be irreplaceable. And a heck of a lot more interesting than a Hollywood movie plotline.

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