After months of planning and preparation, the time had come for the journey of my dreams.
I left my job, my partner, his dog and my lease to embark on a solo backpacking trip across Europe with 25 pounds of luxuries on my back. I had loose plans for my first 3 weeks of my 3 months across the big pond. I figured I’d let the rest unfold organically. I was craving this alone time; this time to soak up cultures, views, cheese and wine. I manifested this, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t terrified of all the uncertainty. Did I make the right decision? Maybe I should have just stayed in the comfort of the simple life I cultivated in home sweet St. Pete. How would I navigate a new continent? Especially one with 24 official languages?
Having deep family roots in Belgium, I chose Brussels as my starting point in the EU. Although I no longer had family residing in the tiny industrial town of Charleroi, I found a sweet woman on Workaway.info who needed help on her farm on the outskirts of town. I was so eager to work in exchange for accommodation while simultaneously exploring the soil that nourished my ancestors.
I landed in Belgium at sunrise in mid-September, 2018.
There I was; a jet-lagged, STOKED, anxious mess, running purely on adrenaline. As I waited to deboard the plane I looked at the vast variety of people around me and pondered on the theory of “six degrees of separation”. Is there any chance I’m connected to any of these people? Aside from one of them potentially being a long-lost Belgian cousin.. probably not. I had left Florida a week prior with a 5 day layover in Baltimore for a convention, then I flew out of DC, had a layover in London and finally, there I was in Belgium. There’s a 0% chance anyone on this aircraft took the exact same route that I did… right?
I quickly realized I’ll need to take a series of trains to get to where I need to go. Sh*t. I don’t know anything about trains? What language do they speak here in Belgium? OH, right. French AND Flemish (which is sort of like an ancient Dutch). Despite my Belgian heritage, I don’t speak a lick of either of these native languages. I sifted through my hypothetical toolbox of resources to calm myself down. Breathwork and affirmations were the answer. *Deep breath in* I cross all bridges with joy and ease. I am safe and supported everywhere I go. *deep breath out*. Standing in line for customs, I begin scoping out my options of friendly-looking people that might be willing to play charades to help me navigate the public transportation system. Note: my phone wasn’t working properly; my international plan hadn’t kicked in, so that resource wasn’t accessible. I found myself gravitating toward the woman to my left
She was the one.
I turned to her and quietly said “Hello- Is there any chance you speak English?” She smiled and in perfect American English said “Yes ma’am! Do ya need some help?” WHAT A RELIEF. A true godsend. I said “WOW, hi, yes. Phew! I’m trying to get to Charleroi. Can you please point me in the direction of the train? How do I go about obtaining a ticket? How will I know when to get off? Are the trains here safe?” She laughed and said “Your concerns are valid- I remember my first time traveling to Europe. Fortunately I fly here every month for work, so it feels like my second home.” And she proceeded to answer my slew of fear-based questions. What are the chances the person I hand-selected speaks English as her native language?!
Eventually she asked where I was from in the U.S.
I joyfully responded “Florida! How about you?”
She said “Me too!”
Shocked, I mentioned the probability.. a 1 in 50 chance!
“Where in Florida?”, she asked.
“The Tampa Bay Area, specifically St. Petersburg. Have you heard of it?”
She laughed and said “Sure have! St. Pete is my home!”
With wide eyes, I said “Where in St. Pete?”
“Me too”, I whispered. “What part of downtown?”..
With furrowed brows she responded “On the corner of 4th and 4th..”
Trying to play it cool, I said “4th and 4th North? Or South?”
SHE SAID SOUTH. I don’t think “shook” was a trending word at the time, but needless to say, I was shooketh.
She squinted her eyes and took a good look at me.
“Do you have a black dog? A really big black dog that you walk daily?”
A smile took over my face. “Yes, that’s Barker. He’s a Great Dane.”
She laughed and said “I know exactly who you are! You live in the old yellow house on the corner!”
She was right. That’s exactly where I lived, all the way across the country. That’s the lease that I gave up to be standing right there, having a conversation with my NEIGHBOR in Brussels.
All the fear and anxiety drifted away. The very first person I built up the courage to speak to in the continent of Europe was my neighbor. My affirmation came into fruition. “I am safe and supported everywhere I go”. I believe this woman was put on my path to bring me the grace and ease to move forward with confidence.
My message is this: no matter where we find ourselves in this big, daunting world, we are surrounded by our neighbors. Sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically. Home is where YOU are. May you trust the journey. There’s divinity all around us.
Over the course of the next 89 days I visited 11 countries, slept in 44 villages and galavanted 500 miles across cobblestone streets of Europe. I had deep-rooted faith that I was on the right path, and that confidence brought me to some of the most majestic places in the world.