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From Barcelona, I hopped on a train to Madrid to spend a quick 24 hours there. When deciding whether to spend two nights in either Barcelona or Madrid–since that was all the time I had before going to Dublin to run a half-marathon–I couldn’t choose between the two cities, so I decided to split my time between them. Despite the rushing around, it was worth being able to see both cities, with hopes to come back one day and spend more time in Spain.
Realizing I could walk just fifteen minutes from the train station and be at my hostel, I carried my way-too-heavy backpack filled with souvenirs for friends and family, first through the massive greenhouse that is the train station. Arriving to the hostel by evening time, it hit me that I was seriously not in the mood to wander around alone. I had tapas and sangria on my mind like crazy, and the idea of dining alone, while usually not something that bothered me, was feeling especially uninspiring.
So when I got into my hostel room, which was immaculately clean, teal, and all-around magnificent, I was absolutely stoked to find a friendly fellow American who had also been contemplating venturing out for tapas and sangria. As we discussed traveling solo and generally enjoying doing solo activities, it felt like travel destiny to cross paths just then, and Katelynn and I geeked out in our room for many minutes over how excited we were to head out for the night.
My new friend and I sat outside a restaurant and enjoyed patatas bravas before heading to a bar recommended by my friend Carla, where we could get the best sangria. After the sun set, the two of us wandered around Madrid’s cobblestone streets, chatting about travel plans, life goals, and similar reasons for wanting to explore the world and see as much as we can, while we can–and the stresses/sacrifices of making that kind of lifestyle happen. Like convincing friends and family that we aren’t crazy. And feeling more comfortable living out of a backpack than with a house full of things. And the stability we’d found amidst the uncertainly of solo travel, which wasn’t exactly an option either of us had learned much about, or thought about before actually just doing it.
The next morning, I begrudgingly checked out of Mola Hostel–which I could not recommend more highly; it was hostel perfection–to haul my backpack around for the day before catching a flight to Dublin, the last stop of my Europe trip. At this point, I was missing my cat like crazy, but I was also certain I was not ready to stop traveling. Not even close. It was bittersweet to have crossed paths with Katelynn, who was just beginning her trip. I could excitedly share many of the things I’d done around Europe over the past month, looking back and feeling glad at how much I’d learned while away from home. In that month, I found that I could fully enjoy being gone that long, and not wish I was anywhere else but traveling. It was harder, though, to accept that this trip was coming to an end, and that I’d be heading back to my old apartment to get ready to move into my parents’ house.
I’d planned to leave the town I was living in, and as my lease was ending, it made financial sense to store my things at my parents’ house and do some temp work in Milwaukee before the next trip I’d planned, to Australia at the end of September. Back then, my plan was to do one more (expensive) trip before moving to California. To make a long story short: California was an idea that came to mind at a time when I desperately needed to have a goal that was all mine; something to lock in that would be at the end of the line of for me; a destination kind of like Oz. I hadn’t worked out any details, but I’d researched it enough to know I could see myself living there. But the nagging feeling in my gut that only grew throughout my month in Europe was that I was not ready to be locked into a lifestyle that wouldn’t make it as easy to travel as much as I wanted: i.e., with rent, a full-time work schedule, and not being able to leave my cat on a whim once I no longer had my parents there to cover me.
Wandering around the gorgeous botanical garden in Madrid with loads of time to think, I didn’t know what my new plan would look like, but I couldn’t shake the idea that I needed more room in my plans to travel. I needed to extend the cushion I would have, living with my parents–as much as I disliked the idea of being 29 and not feeling independent at all. But when I weighed out what I wanted do most at that time, it was having the freedom to see more of the world, in my own time frame. I didn’t yet know how to actually make any of that happen, but the wheels had begun spinning in my head. The path I was envisioning felt crazy, and closer to impossible than possible, given that I had done little solo travel at the time, but I knew it was the direction I needed to go next.