Wanderings: On my own in Barcelona

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There is a period in my mid-twenties that I think of as The Brave Years—a short span in which, over and over, I stared down my own fears and started to live life the way I wanted.  Traveling to Spain is one of the standout markers of those days.  For years I had wrestled with frustration and impatience trying to get others to travel with me.  Money and timing and nerves always seem to erode the best laid plans, and I was tired of waiting.  So at the end of my first year in DC, I bought a plane ticket, booked a cheap single in a hostel, and took a deep breath.

Barcelona was an easy choice.  My Spanish was good after a year of practicing with international roommates, and the mix of modern culture and gothic architecture appealed to me. The metro system was easy to figure out, and soon I was wandering the dark winding streets of the old city and feeling very brave.

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Still, the first two days I ate nothing but almonds and oranges I bought at a little store near my hostel, too intimidated to go into any restaurants and order alone in another language.  All the walking eventually had me starving, and that hunger wrangled my courage, first at the open air Boqueria, then a casual falafel place, little coffee shops, and eventually amazing tapas bars.

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Traveling alone is liberating and lonely.  It can be wonderful to set your own agenda, to linger in or bypass a museum, a street, a bar, a shop, with no consideration for anyone or anything other than your own mood.  There is also no one to lean on or commiserate with when you meet challenges, and nobody to celebrate with when you absolutely nail a conversation entirely in Spanish, or to turn to when something you see is breathtakingly beautiful.

These days I’m much more comfortable traveling alone.  So much so that, when we travel together, the Mister and I will separate for a day and go on our own little adventures.  And while I did eventually make friends in those days in Spain, something I’ll touch on a little more tomorrow, the most enduring experience of that trip was the aloneness.  Separation from television, news, media, internet, conversation and companionship.   Culturally we often think poorly of aloneness, but being left to nothing but my own thoughts and experiences was by turns exhilarating, frightening, focusing, and powerful.

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12 Comments on “Wanderings: On my own in Barcelona

  1. These photographs describe the urban beauty of Barcelona so perfectly! You have an amazing eye for composition. Such an empowering post.

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  2. Great images. You certainly nailed the feeling of traveling solo, something I’ve done a TON of. Look forward to reading about some of your other experiences.

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  3. Your photos are beautiful as always. I for one am so glad that you tool that leap and went off on your own because the photos are such a reward for the rest of us living vicariously through your travels. Thanks again! Barcelona looks incredible! The photos look like they are right out of an old foreign movie.

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  4. What a great post to stumble onto ~ I used to travel alone all the time in my 20s but since I got married, I can’t remember taking a trip by myself. Brought back interesting memories ~ exciting, scary, lonely, happy all rolled into one!

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    • Yes, I only seem to travel alone nowadays for work or family obligations. I love traveling with my husband, but it is such a different experience from the scary/fun adventure of doing it alone.

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  5. Love this post! I did a similar thing in my 20s. Quit my job and moved to Paris by myself as an au pair. It was probably the most challenging yet rewarding time in my life. I almost can’t believe that I’m really the same person as I was then. I feel so removed from it now and it seems like a lifetime away. Good thing you have all these wonderful photos to transport yourself back. Can’t wait to hear more.

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    • Going through all the pictures makes me eager to pack up and go somewhere new (and without snow.) At this exact moment being an au pair in Paris sounds perfect!

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