Vanessa Romero | Integrations Specialist
Let me start off by saying that I am a born and raised Texas girl. I grew up in a large, multi-generational household where Spanish and English were commonly spoken, but our Mexican heritage was never really embraced. This is why my first solo trip was nothing I could have ever expected but everything I could have hoped for.
It was a three-leg trip from Rome to London to Paris and back. I had a layover in Spain and as I was in line to board my flight, I couldn’t help but stare at the man waiting ahead of me. He looked like he was from Texas- cowboy boots, washed-out jeans, big ole belt buckle, and a cowboy hat. I smiled because I thought it was ironic that I would leave home, only to find this.
I saw the woman with him begin to stare at me, then turned to him and said “Que bonita. Me gusta su vestido.” (How pretty! I like her dress.)
To which, I responded “gracias”. (Thanks!)
Her eyes lit up as she asked “¿Hablas español?” (Do you speak Spanish?) and I responded “Sí.” (Yes.)
We started chatting about our trips. She was traveling with her family from Mexico. I was traveling alone but meeting up with coworkers later. As we were talking, someone interrupted our conversation to ask about the airport. She switched to English and I was shocked to hear a thick, British accent. I immediately asked, “how did that happen?” She laughed and clarified that she was half Mexican, half British and all her life she’d lived back and forth between both countries. She shared how she currently lived in London and that’s where she was headed after Rome. I told her I was too, so we could meet up there. We didn’t get a chance to exchange numbers, but we both agreed to meet at the baggage claim once we landed.
On the flight, I sat next to two Irishmen and, as luck would have it, we were all staying at the same hostel. I was relieved because we were going to be arriving in Rome late at night and I didn’t want to be walking by myself. We talked about the things we would do in Rome and like many Latinx I know, out of excitement, they grew a little loud. This caused a misunderstanding with the flight crew, which almost got one of them kicked off the plane. I quickly clarified in Spanish that it was his first time traveling to Rome and my new friend was excited. We chatted all the way to the baggage claim, and at which point, I realized that I missed my opportunity to connect with my new British friend, Lucy.
Once at the hostel, I was sharing a room with three other Latinx—two Argentinians and one Uruguayan. Same as with Lucy, we all really hit it off. We even joked that the hostel purposefully put all the Latinas in the same room. On the last night of our stay in Rome, we had dinner at a restaurant nearby. We were sitting outside when I heard a British accent loudly ask, “Is that Vanessa?” I immediately turned around and saw Lucy walking towards me. I asked her how she knew it was me. She said that they were just walking back to their hotel when she saw a woman on the street whose dress she really liked. We quickly added each other on Facebook. I promised her I would reach out before I left London and that’s what happened. On my last day there, my coworkers and I met up with Lucy for brunch at the Breakfast Club.
So, what did I learn from this trip? The world is not a big scary place, because there are friendly people around every corner. In Latinx culture, it’s very natural to turn coworkers, friends, acquaintances into family. Maybe it’s the shared language, shared culture, or similar life experiences, but there’s something that breaks through boundaries and borders and builds bridges.
¿Qué más aprendí? (What else did I learn?) I know more Spanish than I give myself credit for. It’s been three years since that trip and since then I’ve blasted Latinx radio every chance I get, watched Spanish soap operas, and spoken Spanish with my grandparents every day. Growing up, I remember how important it was for them that their grandkids were bilingual, but I’ve only come to appreciate it now, as an adult, and I’m glad I did. Traveling opened my eyes to how beautiful, universal, and unifying the Spanish language can be.
If you’re thinking about a solo trip, here are my top five tips:
Download WhatsApp. Depending on your cellphone carrier, international coverage costs can start to add up. Free WiFi is easy to come by so download an app that makes it easy to stay in touch with family back home.
Pack a portable charger. When you’ve been walking around all day and using your phone for directions, it drains your battery. Carry a portable charger with you to keep the day going.
Bring reading material. Traveling also offers the rare opportunity to unplug from technology. I’ve made it a tradition to buy a new book before a trip so I can read on the flight or bring with me to a café.
Connect with a local contact. Ask on your social media if anyone knows someone that lives where you’re traveling to. You’d be surprised on how large your network really is. Reach out to family, coworkers, alumni, or professional chapters in the area.
Find your comfort zone. It can be overwhelming exploring a different country by yourself and things aren’t going as planned. When this happens, do something that’s familiar to you. For me, this means grabbing Starbucks, going to an art museum, or even getting a manicure.
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