It all started the day I decided I was doing Erasmus. I packed my bags, got on my first flight ever and went to live in Switzerland for three months.
Switzerland was my wake-up call. This was the first time I felt I needed to escape home, I needed something different and that was far away from my comfort zone. I ended up in Switzerland by many weird, actually a little stupid, reasons, as my choices would have been Barcelona or Rome. But that’s not important anymore. The thing that matters now is that me moving to Switzerland on September 2013 was the very first time I used travel as an escape, and I didn’t know it yet, but it would be the moment I would fell in love with travel.
After three months of studying in Switzerland, I traveled to Rome for a week, and boy was this the moment that changed everything forever. You see, no matter how beautiful Switzerland may be, I didn’t really fit in the country. But the moment I got to Rome I knew that was the place I should’ve been in the first place. That’s where I was suppose to have lived for three months, not in Lugano. So I spent a week in the Roman city, loving everything, and I cannot begin to explain the bittersweet feeling it was to leave.
I’m pretty sure the moment I landed back in Portugal I was incredibly sad for saying goodbye to the freedom I felt in Switzerland, but mostly, because I was saying goodbye to Rome, the very first place I had fallen in love for.
It was in Rome that I got the real sense of the word travel. I got on buses without buying tickets, which would get me in trouble and cost me a bus fine of 100€ (which never arrived to my home, thank God!). I tasted incredible pizza, that got me thinking I was sure I would return to Rome one day. Little did I know then that a year and half later I would be solo backpacking Europe!
I fell in love with the food, the sounds, the culture, the very noisy streets and loud coursing Italians. I went crazy over souvenirs and out of the blue I wanted to take everything home with me, so I could show everybody how awesome Rome had been. And the moment I was forced to go home I even twisted my ankle in Milan (a very disappointing hour in this city I must say) and almost lost my flight back home. The funny part is I remember thinking missing the flight and staying in Italy a little longer wasn’t such a bad idea.
After spending one month at home, I returned to Switzerland for three more weeks, so I could finish my exams, and before returning home for good, and ending my semester abroad, I got a flight to Paris to meet my cousin. And being those three weeks the hardest time I had abroad, making me feel alone, I gladly embarked on my flight (except for the part that my flight from Milan to Paris was my worst flight ever, I cried the entire time believing I was going to die and that I would never see Paris, and I even had the lady next to me holding my hand to calm me down) and I was ready to see the city of lights, the one that everybody says is amazing and that I was for sure going to love.
Well, too much expectation led to this huge disappointment and I did not love Paris. I accepted at that time that my tastes might be particular and that I can’t compare myself to others. So yes, I might just be the only person to not like Paris.
But there was one thing about Paris that is important to mention and that probably made it possible to imagine myself traveling alone. You see, my cousin worked in the mornings, so during that time I would be by myself, exploring the big city and doing everything that I felt like doing. I had no itinerary, no specific things to do. I just had my map (this was the moment I realized I suck at reading maps) and I would wander around the Parisian streets looking for something interesting to see and to do.
After five days in the city that “is always a good idea”, I got back home to my ordinary life. I went back to University, leading to me being sad all the time for hating it more than ever and for not being ok about anything I was doing at the time.
One day, for some reason I can’t remember (maybe fate?) I discovered Adventurous Kate’s travel blog. I was hooked! I think I can admit that I read almost her entire blog, including all her posts on traveling solo as a woman. From her blog I suddenly discovered there were hundreds (thousands) of women traveling the world on their own and they were writing about their experiences and inspire girls, like me, who wanted to travel, but never actually thought about the possibility of doing it alone.
One thing that I never said here on the blog, and that few people know about me, is that I always loved writing. Ever since I was a little girl I would write stories and say I was going to be a writer. I believed that so much that everywhere I went I always had to buy a journal and a few pens, and this is something that still happens, as I cannot go anywhere without a journal and pen to write my travel stories. Seriously, I freak out when I want to write something and I don’t have a journal. It already happened more than once and I turned into a crazy lady entering every single shop asking for a journal and yelling “What do you mean no? Don’t you people write?”
But the truth is I have trouble writing. I’m not one of those people who can just put every experience into words. I can’t write on deadlines and I cannot write when others ask me to. My writing comes as an emotion almost. It’s just something I can’t control! It’s like my hands move on their own and I send it all out to the paper.
After reading a million travel blogs I had this urge to write down about my travels. I passed through female bloggers and thought “I could totally do this” and that’s how Travelling with Rita was born. I remember writing nonstop, it came out natural and the final result made me really happy. I even wrotea post on how happy blogging made me at that time! That’s when I knew this blog was just what I needed and I had finally found something that I could write about and it was where I could join two things I love, writing and travel.
Now how did I make the decision to travel around 12 European countries alone?
After landing a summer job with a seven months contract, I started thinking that maybe I could save some money and invest it on a trip, so I started looking for places to go. I had it all planned out, as I was going to Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Cordoba and Granada. I even had the conversation with my boyfriend (at the time) saying I wanted to go alone and see If I could pull it off. He said sure, but being the total ass that he was, he never really cared about it.
Well, we broke up, obviously, and things in my life changed. I suddenly started to crave for more. I kept reading travel blogs and I wanted an adventure, something that would excite me like never before, something that would challenge me and that would frightened me. So, over night, I transformed my Spain trip to an European trip, which kept getting bigger and bigger.
Now let me tell you something that’s probably gold (but not any news), if you’re a woman wanting to travel on your own, but that scares of to death, I’m going to tell you the trick: you just need that one person that believes in you. Why? Because the moment you say you’re going to travel alone as a woman, all your friends and family will be against it, they will tell you over and over how dangerous the world is, and that a woman shouldn’t travel anywhere alone, and at some point you will question yourself and think that maybe they are right. I heard things like how bored I would be by myself, how could I eat alone at a restaurant? I couldn’t actually have fun eating a gelato in the street with no one to share it with! I would for sure get assaulted, robbed, raped (yes, I heard that one) and I would go back home crying after a week. Oh and what about sharing the room with boys? Isn’t that weird? Aren’t you scared of sleeping at night? Did you see that movie Hostel? You really shouldn’t go! BULLSHIT! GO! All you need is ONE person that believes in you, that tells you to go, that’s excited with you, that listens to your plans and believes you can actually do it.
And if that person doesn’t show up in your life, all you actually need is yourself! I know it’s hard to believe when nobody else does, but trust me that you are much stronger than you think, and don’t listen to other people’s opinions. They don’t know you as well as you do. And what if you fail? What if you go back home crying with fear? Well, you’ll still be amazing because you went for it, you tried, you didn’t let fear stop you from getting on the flight! Trust yourselves ladies! We can do anything we want!
I can say that I was lucky enough that I got that one person in my life at the exact right time. Someone that would listen to my crazy ideas of being the girl who knew little about travel and that would say things like “I wanna go to Bosnia, Serbia and sleep in caves in Turkey!”
All I know is that my Backpacking trip around Europe would never have happened if it wasn’t for that person, so I’m more than grateful for fate to join us at that time.
After almost eight months, I packed my stuff and got on a one-way flight to Rome. I traveled around Italy for a month, I fell in love with pizza and pasta, and I even got addicted to the gelato, something I had spent my life saying I didn’t like. I guess travel really does change us!
I then changed my mind last minute and decided I was not going to let fear stop me, and I went to Eastern Europe. I crossed Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia where I met a Portuguese girl and ended up traveling to Poland to stay with her, and then I saw myself travelling to the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) with two Portuguese girls, and ended up in Germany before returning home to Portugal.
A year ago I never thought I would ever had the opportunity to write this post. How could I keep a travel blog alive with almost no travel baggage? What stories would I tell with almost no places visited? Well, the other day I read a quote that said “we don’t afford it. We just make it happen”, and that’s exactly what I did and what happened! I never thought working a part-time job in Portugal could make it possible for me to travel for three months in Europe, but I made it happen! I got my priorities straight and my entire focus was the places I could go If I didn’t go to that birthday dinner or that night out. People asked me a lot of times how I got money to travel. Well, I worked and saved every cent I earned towards travel!
Today, a year after, the blog has around 3000 views monthly and just hit 410 facebook followers (already having a few regular followers on both). I even had women coming to ask me for advice as they want to travel solo for the first time. And two girls I met on my backpacking trip told me they felt inspired by what I was doing and decided to give it a try and they are both planning their first trip alone.
I mean, how can I not fell proud about that?
It may not seem much, but I know that having a travel blog is a long term commitment. It takes time to have an interesting blog and to create a community of followers around it. So, with the little experience I have with travel and blogging, I’m pretty happy with the results, and I have no intention of stopping any time soon, as I was hardly bitten by the travel bug.