Airplane blankets & family photos

I am a natural introvert and I recharge my energy through solitude. Solitude is not necessarily about being lonely; although I freely admit that I spent many hours and many days feeling lonely when I lived in Paris for a yearlong master’s program. To me, solitude is about finding stillness and a sense of peace in moments when you are alone. I do not pretend that I mastered the ability to comfortably navigate around a city on my own 24/7. But by living pseudo-alone in Paris, I did learn to enjoy the solitude of traveling with only my own schedule, needs, emotions, and baggage to worry about.

When I first moved in to my Parisian apartment, I knew that my room would be a retreat from the stress of school and the city. Immediately I set out to make the space as familiar and comfortable as possible. Within the first hour, I hung up pictures from home, added my Bible and journal to the nightstand shelf, laid out my commandeered airplane blanket on the end of the bed, and carefully organized my clothes and shoes in ways that made sense to my needs. Although all of these things were extremely trivial, arranging my belongings made the room feel like it was mine and increased my confidence in the decision to live abroad. I found the process of personalizing my living space to be incredibly important in embracing life in a new semi-permanent adventure. Because I rented a room in a family’s apartment, I did not have the option of changing paint colors, choosing my own bedding, or putting holes in the walls. So I took full advantage of the things I could do to establish my presence. Throughout the year, I continued to add mementos from traveling; bouquets of fresh flowers (proudly displayed in old coffee containers); and sweet cards from friends back home to slowly create a room that truly reflected my life.

From other traveling experiences, I know that sometimes it is impractical to bring a ton of personal items to decorate a living area. When I bounced through thirteen countries over ten weeks one summer, the most I could fit in my luggage was an unframed family picture that doubled as a bookmark. Looking at the photo was a great reminder of the supportive and encouraging people who wanted me to fully take advantage of every moment of new friendship, bite of food, broken conversation, photo opportunity, and transportation nightmare; not to stay holed up in a hotel room and ponder my loneliness. Enjoyable traveling requires finding a balance between retaining memories of the past and anticipating that what lies ahead will be equally (if not more) wonderful. For me, it is important to consistently step out of my comfort zone while maintaining a certain level of familiarity and solitude in order to process and appreciate the adventure that awaits me.

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