“I know my limits, that’s why I’m beyond”. Serge Gainsbourg
When I was 17, sitting in a French class, a teacher barged in and asked out of the blue if anyone with a good level of English would be interested in a French language assisting job in a British school. At the time, I had been a great pupil for seven years in the same school and had no clue what to do next. Possibly because our education was kind of strict and set for us in a private French school, not much room for independance. When I heard the offer I had a rush of adrenaline and thought: BINGO! I knew I wanted in.
So long story short I had the job, I was very young, usually their assistants had Bachelor degrees and I only graduated from high school, but I always spoke English fluently, since my mother raised me reading bed time stories in English or singing lullabies. I also spoke German because I had lived in Germany when I was 6. I had visited the school I would work at and it seemed to me like I was in Harry Potter, because anything British and fancy, the kids in their uniforms, for instance, reminded me of Hogwarts. For a whole year I worked in that place and discovered about English culture. I started going to the pub with my friends after school, I tried new food (was not really impressed by the way), I discovered the South West of England and fell in love with Cornwall.
What I loved the most about England was the countryside, the little villages, the architecture. I had never seen so many houses covered in bricks. Each time I saw a little cottage with garden flowers and a dog, it filled my heart with joy. I have always adored England ever since. When I travel and tell people: “Oh but English people are my favourite” they usually chuckle and tell me I’m not making any sense. They say “We are loud, we drink too much, we fight, we are rude, we have the shittiest weather on the planet”! That’s funny because these are all the things that make my soft spot for English culture. I don’t know how to explain it better than : England feels like home. Of course they do everything wrong like driving on the other side of the road and they cannot cook potatoes properly, but that’s ok. I mean they can’t have it all. They steal our French words and our cooking, but that’s only because they love us.
What I am trying to say is: that experience was my first on my own and I have never felt shy or uncomfortable in a foreign land ever again. (Ok maybe once I was a little bit intimidated by Russians in St Petersburg, but that’s another story). I got out of school, I knew nothing (ironical isn’t it?) and I got out of my comfort zone, left home, left everyone and I was confronted to the world and myself. It was a revelation.
The benefits of being a loner
I enjoy being alone, I am a day-dreamer, I never get bored because I have my own imagination. As a kid I would observe other children for a long while before talking to them. I didn’t mind hanging out with pets or cattle, anybody could be my friend I made no difference between humans or animals. That’s actually an excellent thing because, you are never alone. You have the clouds, the birds, the bees to keep you company. You don’t have to talk to humans all the time.
So you can imagine that travelling for me is a source of inspiration for my observation hobby. I am one of those French people who sits at a café facing the street and I look at the passers-by. It’s not unusual in France. What a pleasant way to kill time.
When you travel, being alone allows you to take your time, no need to stress because you have to care for someone else. When I travel with friends they are usually independant people like me, they are laid-back and like to do things slowly, without pressure. However when I am completely alone is the best. I can observe the tiny details, I can talk to whomever I want, I can get up whenever I want, I can go with my own flow. And I like it.
I am very social, I have friends from allover the world, I talk to strangers on a plane for hours (I know it sounds annoying but believe me, no one ever complained) and that’s how I meet the most amazing people ever. Think about it, you are on a plane for let’s say, six hours, are you really going to listen to music for six hours or read a book or watch a movie? Ok, maybe. I don’t work like that. Talking makes time go by faster. I have made great friends just through random talks on the plane or the bus. I even met an Australian man whose wife worked with Steve Irwin and we talked about wildlife for hours. I just love meeting new people, it stimulates my brain, it makes me happy. And then I get back to my travelling alone and repeat! Who would think that as a kid I was painfully shy. Now I break the ice in two seconds and people are taken aback but they love it, because they want to hear my stories and they want to tell their story!
And if I make friends and I want to stick around for a while I can, but whenever I need to keep going on my own I have no obligation either. I love this kind of freedom. Travelling on your own is pure freedom. When you are confronted to hard situations, you might have to deal with it on your own and it will teach you a lesson, always. Let us be honest, though, most people aren’t “bad” people and if you need help they will be glad to help you. I became very ill in Laos and my health was at stake, well, the owner of my hostel took care of me like my own mother would and I was stunned with how much kindness people can show you, without even knowing you, without even seeing you again. Yes, there are shitty people out there too, they might try to take advantage of you. So try to take a step back and not rush into decisions while you’re abroad. If your instincts, your guts tell you there is even the tiniest doubt about someone, trust your judgement and tread carefully.
You will never really get to know what you can achieve, what your limits are, who you can be, different aspects of yourself, if you never try to travel alone. Travel is introspection. It’s important to face life on your own sometimes. That’s a part of being adventurous. I have discovered so much about myself, while travelling. And that’s nothing, I met a guy in Takaka (New Zealand) who’s a jungle guide. A 24 year old guy from a posh part of England who became a guide in Belize and had to survive on his own for 4 months in the rainforest, to prove he was ready for the job. I mean, come on! How adventurous! Don’t you want to live an adventure? Make it your own. Acquiring knowledge and experience is part of the human life. And discovering new cultures, new lands, new languages, new people, new food is what makes you a traveller. (How sweet a feeling it is to enjoy a meal on your own)! And with a name like mine (Julia Walks), what else can I do than walk the line?
I know I hate routine and staying in one place, I’m a wanderer. Are you?
Timber Timbre is a really good Canadian band, I love this song particularly. “Every heart is a lonesome hunter…” It has been with me during my travels.