As an extrovert, existing by myself in a different country has been tough. I have experienced a fair amount of obstacles, and instead of being able to consult with someone else or have a companion as I address certain issues, I have navigated these situations on my own. I know that I am capable, and the past month has demonstrated this, but the emotions are so hard to carry when I only have myself.
I did expect to have someone exploring with me, but things do not always transpire accordingly. This did not stop me from fully immersing myself in a city that I love, and I have learned a lot about myself and my surroundings in the process. As much as I enjoy planning (virgos rise), I was not ready for the difficulty in doing so when the itinerary was entirely my choice. I wake up whenever I want, I sleep whenever I want, and I can visit the places that I want to see in addition to avoiding the ones that do not interest me. I decide the cuisines that I want to consume and how much time should be spent in each place. I could have my entire day planned only to encounter something unexpected or be pulled in a different direction once I am actually in the city’s center. London is truly endless, and many people have told me that even though they have lived here their entire lives, they have not covered every aspect of it. The way that I view the city now is very different from when I have previously visited, and grappling with this realization has also been overwhelming.
Due to my long-term stay, I also focused on establishing a routine here, which is rough when I can only plan so far in advance. I am at a major crossroads in almost every aspect of my life, and I decided to complicate this by buying a one-way ticket across the pond. Arranging my things and hanging my clothes in an Airbnb feels strange, having a UK phone number feels strange, and shopping for groceries to make food at (not my) home feels strange. I had to find the closest health clinic and nail salon, and I needed to have a plan in place for emergencies.
I know that these details are probably similar to ones that people who study abroad also have to address, but the difference is that I have been completely on my own. I do not have a network of classmates or colleagues here, and I’m not living with roommates. I do not have classes or an internship to attend every day, and if I let them, my days can be a lot of nothing (of course, this did NOT happen as I’ll be damned if I waste my time in this fantastic city!). I have never experienced such an intense lack of human interaction, and while this may seem dramatic, anyone who knows me knows that I am very outgoing, so solitude is not my cup of tea. I value my independence and do need alone time as an adult, but my mind becomes a little bit darker as days pass without genuine conversation.
The following paragraphs are some points that I have noted during my solo time in the UK.
Shame does not exist in eating at restaurants alone, but I found myself humbled by asking for a table for one at sit-down restaurants. I know that many people dine alone, but I still do not think that it’s a request made often, and hosts do not know how to react to it. On the bright side, I was always accommodated without a reservation because I was the only person who needed to be seated. I could eat and pay at my leisure, and I was able to eavesdrop on some interesting conversations.
I have made some amazing friends, but they are all still new friends. They do not know me in the ways that my friends in the US do, and I feel a bit awkward inserting myself into their already established lives. I have to share my story with new people while also navigating my life in a new city. To that end, importance exists in residing outside of the comfort zone, so I am proud of myself for taking the initiative to meet people. For example, I entered a small boutique in the Shoreditch area and the two girls working there seemed very cool. I literally walked up to the check-out counter and asked them if they wanted to be friends, and now we are! I have also taken advantage of mutual connections, and I am grateful for everyone who has connected me with someone they know here in London.
My parents encouraged me to register for a tour of Stonehenge, Bath, a drive through the Cotswolds, and Stratford-upon-Avon. These are definitely areas that I have always wanted to cover, but I did feel a bit wary prior to the twelve hour excursion. I woke up at 5:15 am and only returned home at 9:15 pm. The day was long, but time seemed to pass quickly. I was actually sad when it ended as I had so much fun. I am obsessed with the city of Bath and cannot wait to visit again. I was nervous to join a tour group as a singular person, but the guide was so welcoming and I felt comfortable. I had some good conversations and it was honestly one of my favorite days that I have had here in the UK.
Rest is essential. I do not have the energy or money to be living large in London every single day, and I embraced the days that I stayed inside, catching up on job applications, watching movies, or reading books. I made sure that the spaces in which I stayed every night were comfortable enough for me to do this, and I value my time spent traipsing around the city much more because of it.
I know that I have extremely high standards for myself, but only having my own company in another country showcases just how extreme these standards are. I physically feel the weight of the pressure that I have placed on my back with the amount of to-do lists that I have and lists of places that I want to cover. I grow frustrated with myself when I delay my departure into the city because I get so tangled in planning my routes and what order of business is most logical. If I buy something, how inconvenient will it be to carry? Where can I use the toilet? Can I get back home from wherever I am with a dead phone? On top of the daily routine, I have been navigating loneliness, heartbreak, imposter syndrome, and much more while here. These emotions have accumulated so heavily that I would not even know where to begin to unpack them with someone else now because I have not been able to do so for so long. I am also still trying to be as invested as I can be in my friends’ lives back in the US, but this has been draining me in ways that I have never felt before. I am trying to absorb as much as I can of London while also planning my future.
As thrilling as social media can be, and as exhilarating as solo, long-term stays in other countries are, rough patches are inevitable. I can be here, gallivanting in London, but life does not stop. The world does not stop. My health is still important and my bank account balance is real. The emails still arrive and the text messages do not stop. Romanticizing one’s life is frequently necessary, but the realities of solo traveling and traversing oceans by oneself are still prevalent. I find solace in that even if all else fails, I can count on myself.
thank you to everyone who has reached out to me during this time
xx (as the British say lol)