I never sleep well the night before a trip. I’m too excited to start my adventure, too nervous that I’ll oversleep or forget something, too tired from running through my checklist in my head for all the things I have to arrange at home before I go. This time, as I lugged my backpack onto the scale for the Icelandair agent, I was sure I would sleep on the plane. I didn’t. I watched movies, read a book, and eagerly chatted with the young woman next to me.
She had just graduated from high school and was studying for a year at a university in Oslo. She had a blond ponytail and bloodshot eyes from lack of sleep, but she was talking in spurts and fits with her contagious enthusiasm. As we flew through the night and eventually into the sunrise, she squealed with excitement and reached across the empty middle seat to karate chop my arm from the side as we glided over the Arctic Ocean toward Oslo. She was taking pictures and writing in her journal.
She paused to ask me where I was going, and I told her I was headed to Oslo. Her eyes got big and said, “Are you by yourself?” I said yes, and she said, “I’ve never been out of the country before, and I had to earn the money to do this so I’ve been saving for a year!”
I told her that I was happy for her, and said when I was her age I traveled to Germany to live for a summer. I mentioned that while it was a difficult thing, it was one of my fondest memories. She said she was worried that she would be homesick or lonely. I said, “Just remember, this is a really short time in the big picture of your life. You’ll look back and realize that it went so fast. There’s really no time to be afraid.”
She gave me a big, toothy grin and asked, “What’s your name?” I told her, and she turned to her journal to write some more. I wish I had asked her name, but I never did. She said she hoped that she had packed enough sweaters, and then turned to me with her eyes wide, “There it is!” she pointed to the lake-strewn land below us. I smiled back, nodding quickly, the thrill of seeing something for the first time coursing through my veins.
“Do you ever feel like you’re sometimes just wandering around lost? Even though you have a plan and you’ve thought things through and it really IS what you want?” She asked, her big green eyes searching mine. I smiled and said, “Every day.” She smiled and I said, “Don’t worry. Really. If I could have had this conversation when I was your age, I would want to know the truth of where my life was headed. But looking back, I would have done much better to have known that I just didn’t need to worry so much.” Then I quickly added, “And date the boring ones, not the exciting ones–they are nothing but trouble!” We both laughed and looked out to the orange sunrise spilling over the land. She took a few more sunrise pictures and leaned her head against the window, looking forward to what would lie ahead. I felt grateful for the conversation with another version of myself, so much time having passed in between. Traveling solo is how I find my people, and my tribe expands.