What Backpacking Through Europe Taught Me About Myself
Sean Pressley Photography

On the last day of my travels through Europe, I felt small. It was a realization that this world is massive and I have so much more to explore. I didn’t feel defeated. I felt empowered. When I planned to spend 110 days in Europe, I admittedly expected that the experience would change me in a drastic Oprah aha-moment type of way. During the second half of the trip, as I stared off into the picturesque scenery from the Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris, I realized I wasn’t a disastrous person in need of great change. I was an eager person itching to experience more.

One of the key things I learned about myself during my journey was that I needed to let go. I couldn’t control nor dictate everything, and that was okay. It made life a little easier. During my third month in London, I accidentally moved into a flat that was Council Housing (read equivalent to projects in the US). I had five roommates and quickly realized that the toilet, as well as the shower, didn’t work properly, they were not tidy people, and the neighbors fought so much I wanted to call the police. But I didn’t let the chaos or dirty conditions get to a neat freak like me. Instead I planned weekend trips to Edinburgh, Scotland and Amsterdam, Netherlands, where I fell in love with both cities.

As my trip crept to a close, my family met me in London and we spent 11 days on the run, like Beyoncé and Jay Z, traveling to Paris, France, Venice, Italy, and Rome. All I had this time was a backpack of essentials and a map. One backpack held a smaller amount of clothes than this clean freak and part-time diva was used to. But I adapted and wore my fashionable clothes  over and over again like a true globetrotting backpacker. I wasn’t extremely familiar with any of the cities that we traveled to, but I quickly realized that my internal map was exceptional. I grabbed the reigns and navigated us through the subways of Paris, waterways of Venice, and the organized chaos of Rome. I took charge like Spartacus and lead with confidence. I decided to trust myself a little more.

When we arrived in Venice—via boat because that was the only way in and out—I kept feeling as though the locals were looking at us. It was as if we did not belong. At one restaurant the staff treated the non-Black Americans as though they were royalty, and my family as an afterthought. Normally I would not tolerate this behavior. I would have left if I were in the US, or at least said something. But this was unfamiliar territory. This was the first time I felt out of place during my entire experience. I was disgusted and disappointed. Everything in me was ready to leave the tiny insulated city. I caught more than one uncomfortable stare and realized from the expression on some faces that they weren’t used to seeing Black Americans vacationing in their city. I could have counted on one hand how many of us I saw.

Feeling singled out upset me at first. Then I had to make a conscious decision to redirect my energy and change the mood. I couldn’t let someone else and their ignorance spoil my experience in such a gorgeous city. So I overlooked the petty behavior and accomplished my mission to get lost licking on gelato in the quaint streets of Venice.

Having traveled to six countries, completely out of my element, I now feel like I can take on the world. The trepidation of traveling solo no longer lives in me. I now have the confidence of experience on my side. After trekking up a narrow path on the side of a steep mountain in Scotland I learned that I could meditate to control my fears. I had to dig deep to silence my inner voices to make it to the top, but I did it. Even going through the grilling of customs and almost being denied admittance back into London—days before I was set to head back to the US—couldn’t shake me. After clearing up the misunderstanding with the nice agent,

I politely took my lifeline (otherwise known as my passport) back from her and said, “Thanks for the bit of advice for next time.” She replied in her British accent, “Anytime. I’ll see you back here when you’re a millionaire from your successful novel.” But she doesn’t even know my work, or me I thought to myself. I just smiled and decided to receive it. “You got it, because I will be back.”

Ahyiana Angel is a former sports entertainment publicist at the National Basketball Association (NBA). Ups and downs with dating, love, and friendships inspired her to create the popular blog “Life According To Her.” Her debut novel Preseason Love (Strebor Books) will be released October 21, 2014. Keep up with her adventures on Twitter and Instagram