My first trip “across the pond” was led by my 11th grade English and Social Studies teachers Mr. Briggs and Ms. Troccia. We saw all the major sites: the Tower of London, Stonehenge, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. But the most important thing I was given on that trip? An adult’s belief in my ability to navigate a foreign city completely on my own.
Though I’m pretty sure that wasn’t their intention.
Most of my peers on that trip were good friends with each other. But not with me. They were the cool kids. I was the shy, quiet one who wanted to be one of them but never figured out how.
But I had determined my lack of popularity wasn’t going to stop me from going on a trip to England. So there I was.
I listened intently when Mr. Briggs and Ms. Troccia explained how to use the Tube (London’s metro system). I knew that when we had our free time, I was going to be more comfortable going out by myself than trying to fit in with a group of people who felt like mere acquaintances to me. So I had better be sure I could get where I wanted to go.
On our first free afternoon, having successfully made my way to Piccadilly Circus, I paused when I saw a booth selling tickets to Les Misérables. I knew the show. Mrs. Steffen, my piano teacher, had spent months teaching me how to play I Dreamed A Dream, Master of the House, Castle on a Cloud. She told me all about her trip to New York City to see the musical on Broadway. And here it was. In London. I bought a ticket.
Two nights later, we had our first free night. I put on my flowered dress and ballet flats and was headed out the door when Julie asked, “Where are you going?”
“I bought a ticket to see Les Mis tonight.”
“Really? By yourself?”
“Yeah. I’ve wanted to see it,” I said, “and I didn’t think anyone else would want to go.” Our trip already included three other theater performances. But the truth was I didn’t have enough nerve to even ask anyone else if they wanted to go.
I successfully navigated the Tube once more. I found my way to my very-very-high-up seat. The woman next to me showed me how to use the binoculars to get a better view. And I loved it. The music. The story. The costumes. And the thrill of having made all this happen completely on my own.
Over the years, I improved my going-it-alone abilities.
- For safety reasons, I started telling people where I would be. Though, I must admit, I didn’t always end up there.
- I did my solo adventures in the daytime hours and learned how to make friends in hostels in order to enjoy evening adventures with new friends.
- I learned that being alone was a choice. That I could arrive as a solo traveler and easily meet people to spend every moment with. Or choose to not do that. And I loved both.
And today, though I’ve been with Michael for eight years (married nearly four), I still travel alone sometimes. I am lucky to have a husband who understands that my desire to travel alone has nothing to do with him. It’s something that feeds me.
And all these years later, I wonder if Mr. Briggs and Ms. Troccia have any idea that one of the best things I learned from them had nothing to do with English or Social Studies at all.