The first time I took an international trip alone, I was faking it. Well, it’s not like 20-year-old me pretended to fly to Paris and travel across Europe to visit a friend in Budapest. After failing to land a summer newspaper internship, I impulse-bought a plane ticket I couldn’t afford. The deception was there from the start: For some reason I lied and told everyone it was a great deal. It wasn’t. I told my parents I had enough money to see the trip through. I didn’t. I told my then-boyfriend I was super excited about it, that I knew how to have fun alone. I didn’t. I swore up and down that it wasn’t a big deal that I didn’t speak French or German or Hungarian and had no clue about the culture in most places I’d be traveling. I’d never been out of the U.S. before.
Hence all that faking it. I tried so hard to pretend I was the carefree world traveler I desperately wished I’d been raised to be. But in truth I didn’t really know how to have fun alone. I was too scared I’d sound like an idiot ordering at restaurants, so I just bought bread and cheese from the grocery store and ate in public parks. I didn’t make friends with other travelers. I walked until my feet felt like they were going to fall off, then walked some more because I wasn’t sure how and where to relax. I probably would have had a better time if I’d just owned up to being the naive American girl that everyone else saw.