Last month I returned from a last minute, two-week trip to the U.K. I initially had signed up for a
Prenatal Yoga Teacher Certification in NYC that was cancelled last minute.
So of course, I panicked. I had just quit my job of four years, trained my replacement, and was ready to throw myself into teaching yoga (and continuing to act) full time. My anxiety about my financial security nearly hit the roof.
I paused. I told myself, “This WILL be ok. There is something better available to you.”
Did I really say that? And did it actually work?
Lesson 1: Be open in times of difficulty and breathe.
In my search for a replacement program, there were none I could find locally (meaning in NY and soon to find out, the rest of the country) that fit my criteria of 'fast and now.'
I came across Sally Parkes Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training Course in Worthing, U.K.
Traveling to Europe on my own had been a long-time dream of mine that never seemed financially feasible. Out of curiosity, I checked flights and found a round trip ticket for $382. I booked my ticket
within a few hours of finding it and I was off! Thank you, Norwegian Airlines!
Lesson 2: When you see what you want, take action.
“Welcome to Gatwick Airport!”
Before I could even fathom that I had just landed in a foreign country, I had to account for the fact that
I had been very poorly confused when booking my ticket; It not only involved a time change but all of the times were listed in a 24-hour clock format. #AmericanProblems. In my rush to book an affordable ticket,
I did not consider the consequences of my immediate actions. It was 11pm. I was wide awake having left
at 11am from the U.S. only six hours earlier and I was about to venture to my very first Airbnb experience.
I was to take a train a few stops from the airport, walk up a street, turn, and walk down an alleyway.
At midnight. Alone. In a foreign country. Going to a strangers house to sleep. Please say “alleyway” again.
Did I mention that due to the lack of wifi, I had previously written these directions down on pen and paper?
I was going old school and relying on a lot of faith in the universe. Turns out, the Airbnb worked perfectly
and was only a short walk from the train at night then back again in the morning to get to the southern coast. My class would begin at 9am and go all day (which was 3am, NY time)..
Lesson 3: Pay very close attention to time zones and clock formats when booking a flight. Or just always.
I purposely only pre-booked lodging the nights before I had my program so I could keep my adventure options open. I was interested to hear what places the locals recommended I visit more than I wanted to just play tourist.
My first night in London was so last minute that I ended up booking a hostel called Wombats City Hostel
(via Hostelworld.com) while on the train ride there. (Luckily this train had wifi, most do not.)
As much as I wish I had something juicy and weird to share with you about my first hostel experience, I have to say, it was so much better than I had expected. It was incredibly clean, their security was top notch,
and on top of that, it had the cool vibe of a place I might hang out at anyways.
Lesson 4: Pre-arrange to not arrange everything so you may exercise spontaneity and decision-making leading you to new and unexpected experiences.
There were two places specifically that I made my goal to see while in the U.K. One of which
Now before I get into that adventure, for any other explorers considering the U.K., please take note that
it was a very unpleasant surprise to find that the National Railway is the most accessible
mode of transportation throughout the country and because of this, is INCREDIBLY EXPENSIVE.
Definitely check out the BritRail Pass before you go; you have to be living outside of the country and it can only be delivered by mail so there’s no way to get it or anything like it once you arrive.
My mother had googled the Britrail pass previously which I didn’t really look into.
Lesson 5: She is still, always right.
I arrived in Salisbury around 2pm or so. The bus ride out to Stonehenge took quite a while and
the entire excursion after getting off the train was about 2.5 hours.
Stonehenge was amazing. The weather was perfectly cold with a light drizzle that made the off-season tourist destination that much more desolate. I will never forget the vast amount of space around the rocks; Nothing but hills and fields and a few scattered sheep grazing the earthy terrain. Coming from the City,
this felt like a huge breath of fresh air. It felt cleansing.
The only other people on the bus, I learned, were also Americans. I have always been naturally shy
and making friends and socializing was never a strong point for me. Many might be surprised to hear that
but as an actor, its a skill I have developed, not something that has ever come naturally or felt comfortable.
I pushed myself to ask them questions or make comments about the surroundings, whatever I could do.
Also, at this point, I was starting to feel lonely. Something adventure-Danielle hadn’t anticipated
and certainly didn’t want to admit. Even though there wasn’t a strong connection, they hinted that
they were going back to London that evening and asked what my plans were. I felt myself leaning towards
the easiest solution to my discomfort of finally being “alone” and going along with them.
And for that exact reason, I decided to stay.
Lesson 6: Never settle because of loneliness. You will remain lonely. Stay on your path, reconnect
with yourself, and carry on YOUR journey; not someone else’s.
The tour ended and I found myself alone, standing in the rain outside of the train station. It was 5pm and Salisbury was already dark. The cobblestone streets were dead; Everything was closed. There was
nothing but quiet.
My panic level rose again as it dawned on me that I had no place to stay for the night and no idea of
where to go. I pulled out my phone and the nasty reminder that I had no wifi (and also was now holding my phone in the rain,) felt as though the sky was crying for me.
I began to walk. I found a pizza place and ate an entire pizza to myself that was definitely not meant to be individual. #merica. I connected to their wifi and quickly booked a room at an inn. I memorized the directions and found my way down yet another dark and empty cobblestone street to the location. As I followed the road around a big stone wall, I could see a breathtaking gothic cathedral towering above me. I felt the same strange overpowering feeling I did at Stonehenge earlier that day.
It’s the feeling you get when you look at a painting of a massive ship in the angry sea, being thrown about like a flower in a hurricane. It’s that feeling of fear, of life and death, a loss of control, and the knowing that there is a power or an energy that is greater than you. And in the middle of all of it, an equal if not greater feeling of absolute calm and resolve. There is no responsibility, only trust. When we are able to go inward and experience all that truly matters.
My friend, Steve has shared with me that places such as these are also known as Thin Places and they can be found all around the world.
After settling into my room, I decided to grab a nightcap at the bar downstairs and see what I could hear from the locals if there were any. The only people who wandered in were also American. One man approached the bartender for a beer and told him how he would stay at the inn next time because he was interested in the stories he had heard. Turns out, the Inn was rumored to be haunted by a former king who had tunnels from the cathedral to his mistress’ room. His ghost was sometimes spotted there. When the man asked which room, I prayed it wasn’t mine. It was not. But the bartender said the tunnels were still there, they had just been drywalled over. I slept with the lights on.
Lesson 7: It’s ok to be scared. It doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of going through something. It’s also ok if you sleep with the lights on.
After one week by myself, I was thankful that my father would be joining me. He had last been in London before I was born and had hardly been abroad since. After the great airfare deal I had gotten, my mother and I agreed it would be a great gift for him to join me. I stressed however that I truly did need to be on my own for a bit. When that time was up, I was certainly eager for his company.
Lesson 9: Be ok with not having to do it all yourself.
We spent the next few days in Worthing as I finished my program. The last day there, my father went to Birmingham while I finished class and we had planned to meet on a traincar headed to Edinburgh later that evening. As lack of wifi, travel prices, and the fact that the days completely end at 5pm would have it, our plans weren’t working out.
I was on a train without wifi on my way towards Gatwick airport, unable to get ahold of my father and not knowing if I should buy a plane ticket to Edinburgh or not. I have never before in my life sat at an airport, connected to wifi, bought a plane ticket outside of check-in and found myself on a flight an hour and a half later. Talk about flying by the seat of your pants.
Lesson 10: Plans change. Don't dwell. Do.
I landed in Edinburgh and quickly caught a Tram (which is like a cross between a train and a trolley) and waited for my stop. My hotel was just under a mile’s walk from there, which for a New Yorker, is nothing. UNLESS every stop on the tram only has two benches, one light, and weird little paved paths that disappear into the pitch black woods. This started to feel like a theme for me. I walked alone down the quiet, winding path with the dark swaying branches looming above and around me. It was cold and not uncommon for U.K. weather, it was raining as well. My only solace was that someone would have to be really committed in these conditions to be waiting in the bushes to jump someone walking from the Tram. After the longest .7 miles of my life, I arrived safely.
Let it be noted that I was once attacked on a quiet street in New York City in a very unsuspecting part of town. Although I was incredibly fortunate with the outcome of the incident, it has haunted me since to walk alone at night. It had victimized me and made me, a strong and "fearless" woman, feel weak. Which naturally, turned to anger that I had a difficult time letting go of. Understandably, not everyone will relate to my fear and hesitation during these moments on my journey but they are some that for me, were the most challenging. Ultimately, not having much of a choice in the matter, these instances became very empowering for me. It was something I desperately needed to face. Something I could only face alone.
(More on that story in a future entry!)
The next morning, I figured out which bus I needed to take to get to something called The Royal Mile. In all of my haste and confusion of whether or not I was going, I didn’t actually do any research as to what I wanted to see once I was in the city. I just knew, I wanted to be there. I ended up taking a free walking tour, having main points of interest pointed out to me, and then walking on mushy graves. I saw the two buildings that inspired J.K. Rowling to write Harry Potter and realized there were numerous tours devoted to Harry Potter fans. You learn something new everyday.
Lesson 11: Value your time. Try to do your research so you see what you want to. And if you can’t, smell the air, feel the ground, observe, explore, people-watch, listen and ask questions.
Also, read the Harry Potter series.
My father and I met again in London later that day, both exhausted. Which led us to enjoy a couple of nightcaps back in the basement of the Wombat City Hostel. And through all of my travels the previous two weeks, there was nothing I loved more than connecting with my father and expressing our gratitude for the entire craziness of the trip and for always finding home in the company of loved ones.
Overall, solo traveler time in the U.K. showed me my own potential and the possibilities that come with it.
It taught me spontaneity and that no matter what happens, I’m going to be ok. Which is a very good lesson to bring back to the life I lead in the big city. And more often than not, that spontaneity leads to amazing experiences and stories I would never have had otherwise. I have pushed myself far beyond my comfort zone when it comes to making friends, hearing stories from strangers, asking for directions, and ultimately finding my own way by asking myself, “What do I want to do” rather than wait for the easiest option to present itself as the only option (as I’ve so easily taken it for in the past). It has taught me to recognize there is always another possibility that may not always be within my comfort zone. Nevertheless, it exists and is worth considering seriously. I always have the option to go my own way.
The universe will always provide. We will not only be ok, we will be better when we can take a moment to trust in ourselves and grant ourselves with greater possibility.
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