After a sleepless night, my emotions were running high.
As my father drove me to Newhaven ferry port, I could feel his anxiety steadily building. Given that I had left him with very little time to process my departure, it was a completely rational response. Just the night before I announced to my whole family: ‘I have something very important to say, and I hope you can be supportive of my decision. I’ve booked a ferry to Dieppe, leaving at 9 tomorrow morning. I’m going hitchhiking around Europe with the very last of my wages. And I’m going to leave my job as well.” I won’t waste too much time explaining their immediate reactions; they are probably exactly what you would expect. The point is, I could detect the disorientating shock generated by my actions right up until the very moment I said goodbye to my father at the ferry port. In a way it never left, transmitted across hundreds of miles through the thinly veiled distress in most of my mother’s communications with me.
Still, these were consequences I would happily accept in exchange for the sense of freedom I would gain. And leaving my job? Well that was just an added bonus, to be unashamedly honesty.
As soon as I was alone, the need to reassure my family shrunk dramatically, forcing me to confront my own fears. Despite the fact I was only a 20 minute drive from my hometown, everyone around me was speaking French. Everyone around me was not alone. While I see myself as the kind of person who enjoys quiet moments of privacy, the thought of complete isolation felt cold and alien. Back home, there are always people I can reach out to if necessary. Regardless, I never feel truly lonely because I have the ability to listen in on stranger’s conversations, momentarily imagining myself as a part of their inner world. It might sound ridiculous, but these small differences are what separate independence from isolation.
After boarding the ferry, my minor crisis was silenced by the infinite possibilities ahead of me. I could end up anywhere, with anyone, doing anything. I always wanted to embrace the unknown, and now I am!
Filled with optimism, I started to write. Unfortunately, however, every time I put pen to paper over the course of the trip my state of raw emotion corrupted the quality of the writing. So none of it is directly useable, but it is a fantastic blueprint at times.
But I digress! After jotting down all of my thoughts like a hyperactive child, I took my camera and went outside to document the sea voyage. All of the photographs turned out miserably bleak: OK no excuses, I was still figuring out how to properly use the camera and I couldn’t find the correct aperture, shutter speed or ISO settings. It is an especially embarrassing confession for a Film Student to make, so please appreciate my candour.
The harsh wind drove me back inside quite quickly, despite its reinvigorating influence. I started to pick at my sandwiches, eating only a small amount of what I had. I must be economical in every sense to stay on the road for as long as possible, I told myself. Indeed this was a challenge that made me deeply vulnerable. As I touched upon in an earlier Facebook post, I often treat food as a discreet form of comfort, as I suspect so many people do, whether they like to admit it or not. Now I had to let that go, it felt like the last pillar of my support system was gone, sparking a little voice of doubt that inquired: “But do you really have what it takes to survive this trip? Maybe you’re too pampered and weak, maybe you should just return to what you know.”
I knew from previous experience that the only effective counterargument to crippling pessimism was to act. Fear thrives in quiet, stagnant moments and drowns in the physical process of doing whatever it is you’re afraid of, quite ironically. So, when I arrived in Dieppe I immediately applied for a ‘promising’ role as a temporary grape picker in Lyon (more on that later), mapped out my route and left death’s door (the ferry port) to see the city.
Truthfully, there wasn’t much to see. It’s one grotesque port, surrounded by an urban wasteland. Not to suggest it’s a distinctly poor place, but rather a wasteland in terms of the collective mood of the people living there. They appeared flat, unfriendly and fundamentally miserable. Imagine the complete antithesis of exuberance. Maybe this was just my perception as an outsider, but I generally had a positive view of people throughout my journey, so I believe it’s a fair observation.
Hunger was becoming an annoying distraction, so I stopped off at a small bakery to buy my first (of many) baguettes. I dipped it in a pot of humous, confirming my status as a nomadic hippy – as if there was any remaining doubt in your mind.
My heart was stubbornly set on finding some beauty in the city, so I took off into the old town. I discovered quite a stunning cathedral and a huge tower providing a panorama view of the entire landscape. Both pretty and intriguing in their own right, but I struggled to enjoy the view from the tower. Perhaps that’s why they installed a museum there? I tried to see the exhibition but it had just closed – such phenomenal luck.
The receptionist kindly advised me to come back the following day, but it was time to move on. My urgency was twice as strong knowing that Paris was just a two hour drive away. A flicker through google maps and a glance at a bus stop convinced me to walk Northwest, along a long stretch of road that seemed to lead out of the city. Surprisingly my navigation skills were spot on, as I quickly arrived at a roadsign that read PARIS in bold capital letters. Even I could be sure of myself in that situation.
I was in no rush after figuring out my exact location, so I strolled towards a nearby McDonald’s, (unknowingly) beginning my love affair with the corporate behemoth. It’s a chain that represents everything I hate morally and ethically, yet the free chargers, reliable WiFi and cheap food kept me coming back, like an addict in a visibly deeper state of shame with every fix. In the interest of full disclosure, it was also a way for me to form a sense of structure in a rapidly changing, foreign environment.
After overdosing on social media and awful food I decided to get an early night. The only positive of twisting and turning in bed the previous night was my sense of gratitude to find literally anywhere to sleep that night. I walked about one thousand meters and pitched my tent on a small patch of grass by a large road. Not the motorway, but certainly not a quiet residential area either. After wrapping myself up in my sleeping bag an immense sense of pride washed over me. It wasn’t just some distant fantasy anymore: I was truly out on my own wading through completely unknown territory. Carefree, confident, filled with a soothing bliss and humility. I slept so deeply that I’m sure nothing could have woken me up prematurely – not the grunt of giant trucks hurtling towards the motorway, nor the loud chatter of late night Mcdonald’s fiends; not even the piercing acceleration of drivers so blatantly compensating for a lack of something else. Simply nothing.
If happiness is the direct result of gratitude, as I often believe it is, I was filled to the brim in this moment.
In my next entry, I will explore the subject of my first ever day hitchhiking as a single traveller. It might get gloomy, but try to persevere until the end.
Thanks for the read, I hope there are some visible traces of improvement in my writing! My first post was pretty dire, in my opinion. But if you can learn from an experience, it’s always worth having.