Espressos and Red Wine.

Caution this may contain, swearing and adult content…

I kid, mostly.

In the holidays I went to Europe. The concept of writing a reflection piece of a trip doesn’t change much from year 2 English.

I have been procrastinating to write this piece, but I generally procrastinate to write most pieces. It’s hard to explain, but imagine how a snow ball turns into an avalanche. It is very similar to ideas in my head, many may say, “Hailee, that’s overthinking in the definition.” You are definitely correct in calling it that. I have been an over thinker since I began to have semi-adult thoughts, but in comparison to this I also under think things. I’m rational and impulsive, thoughtful and conclusive, a people person and many may say a somewhat over achiever. I like to keep busy, even when there’s nothing to be busy about. I can sit still for hours, and the avalanche in my head will have formed.

This is what I have concluded on my holiday. But I’ve also learnt to slow down.

10 books, 9000 kilometres on the train which equates to 4 full days, one night bus, averaging 150,000 steps a week (thanks Mr. Garmin), 6 Netflix shows, 21 total stops, 100’s of new friends, too many coffees and around the same amount in beers. 73 days spent away from Australia, over 50 hours on the plane (there and back) and 1000’s of memories to now sit and contemplate. How can you compress that into one piece of writing, you don’t, this piece isn’t about the trip (as in what happened) if you want that go flick through my Instagram (haileepickering_). Instead it’s about the self growth, both mentally and my waistline.

This trip has changed how I perceive myself, other people, my relationships, my friendships, everything. It has forced me to look at my life at home from the outside. It has taken me away from being in the centre of everything, to becoming a side character to everyone back at home. And at first, it was shit.

I read through some of the (very limited) diary entries that I wrote whilst being over here, and I am so proud of the growth from my first entry to now. The first entry goes something like this, “the urge to vomit is apparent,” “we aren’t in Albion park anymore, i tucked my jumper in so no one could see the awful gravy stain that was left by my turkey lunch,” “no one speaks English.” Since writing that it has been over 70 days. I never cried that day like I said I wanted too in my diary, I never vomited, I also never got to change into my pjs as I longed to do in the entry.

The first day my luggage got lost, I was so panicked I ordered a taxi, walked into a hostel that was actually just a house with a small A4 piece of paper that had the handwritten word “hostel” on it and went to bed. What was I thinking at that point. “Why did I think I could do this.” The only thing I had on me was what I walked onto the plane with.

So basically what I am trying to tell you is, I wore the gravy stained jumper for 3 days straight.

I woke up the next morning and I remember messaging my friend, “I’m scared to go into the dining room because everyone is in there.” Yesterday I walked into the dining room and announced “who wants to grab a beer with me.” The parallels of that person, me, make me proud, make me happy.

I remember I almost canceled the whale watching trip, and to this day, was the best experience of the whole trip. Which I was two seconds away from canceling because I was so overwhelmed. I cried when I saw the first orca. A little insight about me, every whale watching, dolphin watching, any watching cruise that I have been on, I never see anything. So before even going out onto the water I was certain I was never going to see a little black and white animal.

So when I tell you that I saw one, and not just one but 10’s of orcas in pods, by themselves, playing in the waves, coming up to our little boat. I cried, that was the first time I cried on my trip and it wasn’t from stress, or because I was alone in a different continent on the other side of the world. But because as a little girl, from when Dad gave me Sharky, to when I watched Free Willy, I was certain I would see one of these beautiful creatures. I was set on it, and then as I grew older I realised seeing them in captivity wouldn’t do it justice. I made a pack to never see one in captivity after watching the documentary Black Fish. Which then made my dream of seeing an Orca only that much more unattainable. One thing anyone should know about me, when I say I am going to do something I am most likely going to do that thing.

Achieving that life goal, before even turning twenty, well I think it gives me reason to cry. I sat on the boat, crying, looking around and hoping no one would notice. It was at that point I realised, “oh fuck, you are in the middle of the ocean, in the arctic circle, looking at Orca’s playing in the waves.” No matter what happened from that point on, the trip couldn’t be shit, because that is how I started it. Now, not everyday has been like this, but I have moments in each day which make me stop and think, you did it. Here you are in Europe, alone, and loving every minute. Well most minutes.

From the day trip to the Orcas, I made two friends and went to dinner with them. I can’t remember their names, but I do know that we got Indian. I also realised that I easily attract friends, always have done and always will do. I proved that every single day of my trip.

I’m not going to talk about my trip day by day, it’ll go forever and to be honest it all seems a dream. And just because it started on such a high doesn’t mean I didn’t have lows.

As many of you will know before my adventure across the other side of the world I got out of my first relationship. Without the pace of my at home life keeping me busy, for the first time since, I didn’t have anything to distract my thoughts. It all came crashing down. For the first couple of weeks I felt very alone, so I said, if I still feel like this when mum gets here I will just go home with her when she leaves. My little safety net. Well, I’m still here aren’t I.

I had to rebuild and not many people get the opportunity to rebuild without the influence of anybody else. That is exactly what I did.

The first few weeks I partied, drank, I danced on the tables in Amsterdam, biked home at 7am in Copenhagen and stumbled through the streets of Berlin. Meeting people became easy, company at dinner time wasn’t hard to find and I found that I love cocktails.

Thankfully, Mum came to keep me company and I finally got the opportunity to share the small moments with someone. Someone that would appreciate the cobblestoned streets and coloured buildings in the same time as me. And not just someone to grab a drink with at the end of the day. It gave my liver a break and allowed me to enjoy coffee in the morning without longing for some company. We had a great time together, again the occasional argument but I also think our relationship did grow stronger because of the experience.

It was after she left and I didn’t have the energy to party like I had in the start that I had to re find my solo groove. I’m thankful for Naples because the people in that hostel were family, and they showed me it was okay to be alone again. It was here I realised eating in the common room, on the couch, in loungewear is exactly like home if you treat it with the same mindset. Since Naples I have been so comfortable in hostels. Eventually once you accept them as your home for a few days, coming and going becomes easy, making friends becomes easy and the day to day stress limits itself.

I have realised that for some reason, people listen to what I say. Which can be a powerful tool. I don’t have too much to say and I generally don’t have answers to anything important. But it has been nice to provide advice to other solo traveler’s just starting out their adventures with the knowledge that I have now.

Mostly it starts with, “expect most things to go wrong, but don’t be overwhelmed by this because you are never truly stuck in any situation.” As I have found, all of my major sticky situations were on public transport. Things get delayed, canceled and/or arrive early. You can’t control that. Most of the time being proactive doesn’t work in these situations so you need to get good at being reactive under pressure without getting overwhelmed.

Something fever ridden Hailee learnt in Warsaw. The four trains I had to catch were delayed that day, I had temperatures so high that I slept the whole trip. I felt so sorry for myself that day. I pulled into Amsterdam at midnight, I’d left Warsaw at 7am, all I wanted was food and the best the hostel had to offer was a frozen toasted sandwich. Honestly, it was a good sandwich.

I will look to this day in my trip as the turning point of my outlook on most situations. There is always another train, you aren’t stranded, you will get to the hostel. This calmness under pressure only strengthened when travel days became an excuse for things to go wrong, take booking the Paris train for example, or when France had a train strike on the day I needed to get to Barcelona. Shit just happens, and you just have to “roll with the punches.”

Another strikingly obvious issue that I was soon to overcome was a fear of loneliness. Did you know most people come in twos, which makes sense, as humans we generally yearn the company of others. I began to notice this from the first day of my trip. It began to worry me less after a few weeks. I had my first breakdown about being alone in Madrid, (which was about 8 weeks into my trip). It’s funny how something which became normal to me manifested into me crying in the famous chocolate shop in the heart of Madrid. It wasn’t a great time either, because I couldn’t get the oil from the churros off my hands to wipe my eyes. Yes you can cry, even when eating the best chocolate of your life. It was my first real breakdown of the trip and something that I just assumed would never happen. It was at this point I honestly just wanted to go home, but I continued on. I had had moment’s like this before but I also knew how to shake them, generally I would go back to the hostel put on a nice outfit and grab a coffee. Strip me back down to the core, you’ll find that when I’m alone places I’ll go to find happiness are clothing stores and coffee shops. I enjoy feeling pretty, I enjoy looking unique and I enjoy the warmth that coffee brings me.

In Madrid I felt it coming on so I went to my hostel put on a new outfit, had a shower and set out for the chocolate shop. I was the only person sitting alone, in a room full of hundreds. I sobbed for an hour, and I’ll admit to it. I am a strong person, but I am allowed to have moments. So I let myself feel the moment, and essentially break down dramatically in the busy streets on Madrid. I have learnt that feeling the emotion, as hard as it is, is better than suppressing it.

I went home, watched Netflix went to sleep and told myself tomorrow would be a new day and I would fucking slay. I did indeed, slay.

I got really drunk and made an impulsive decision to get a new tattoo, not in that order (sorry mum).

Someone once asked me, “how do you meet new people every single day, create a really great connection and then leave them at the end of the night knowing you will probably never meet again.” I replied, “you just get used to it.”

Except after Madrid I missed the friend I made and it wasn’t something easy to get use too. I genuinely have a fear of people leaving, but when you meet people at such a fast rate, it becomes normal to swap instagram names and say goodbye.

I have friends in each corner of the globe now, I have heard stories from each walk of life. The rich, the poor and the broke travellers. It is the stories of other people that has built my perspective. Strangers, turned to friends, turned to stories I flick through on Instagram. They are the people that have imprinted on me whilst I have been away from my usual crowd.

Whilst being away, most assume I am in my mid twenties, when these people find my real age they assume my parents paid for my trip. Someone even said, “yes you best take a photo to show your parents since they are the ones paying for it all.” For anyone reading, whom has assumed this, I have saved and worked for a long time with the dream that one day I would go to Europe. I was able to do it so young because of my determination and wits that managed to get me here, right now, writing in a bar in Portugal.

The ones that don’t assume, generally say something like, “you are so brave,” or “you should be proud of yourself,” or the real tear jerker, “you’re inspiring.” And I’m not saying these things to parade my ego. But because it took me a while to understand what these people saw in me. I didn’t feel any of these things mostly because I hadn’t stopped to think. Now that I’m stopping and I’m thinking, yes I am proud of myself and yes I am brave. Inspiring is a stretch. I have met hundreds of solo travellers, but no one my age. And overall not many people do solo travel. I did, I am and I will. This experience has changed me, my outlook, my way of living and how I persevere things. I’m grateful to be given the opportunity to travel, and travel so young. This isn’t the end of this adventure, I won’t come home from this and settle down. This taste test of the world is just that, a taster. And if I have learnt anything in Europe, you have a small breakfast, a large late lunch and an even later dinner. This is then followed by drinking into the early hours of the morning.

Europe was my small breakfast, and of course you need snacks before lunch.

So for now, I’ll sip my red wine followed by a nip of espresso awaiting the comfort of home life routine.

If you’ve made it this far, then please, let me convince you to take a solo trip. It is more fun.

Wish me luck for when I have to pack my bags for the airport, the thought sends me into spirals.

I will see most of you who are reading this sooner than you think, but for now can someone give Klooney a scratch behind the ear and Storm a belly rub.

Attached is a photo gallery of me over the 73 days, enjoy them.

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