How does it feel to travel alone to a country where you don’t speak the language and know no one? And the only language you bring is your own?
When I traveled in Denmark, stopping a random person on the street for help was easy. I didn’t face a language barrier because most Danish people and travelers or tourists I bumped into spoke English until I met Cecelia.
When Cecelia came to our dorm, I was glad to find out I was not the only new person settling in the room that day. There was an awkward silence before we finally said hello to each other in unison.
Cecelia flew from France and I learnt that English was not her best language. What was interesting about her was she had never traveled outside of France and that day was her first. And she was doing it alone.
It was difficult to get what Cecelia was saying even when she uttered just a word in English like “good”, “dinner”, “plane”, “hungry”, but that didn’t stop us from getting to know each other.
Our communication process was quite unique. I had to use Google Translate and she would use her French-English dictionary or she would draw something on paper. One of the questions I asked was Combien de temps allez-vous voyager à Copenhague? (How long will you be travelling in Copenhagen?) And this is her story.
There was no specific date and there was no plan. The farthest she had traveled from home was to Paris where her sister lived. It took her about two hours to reach Copenhagen and she only booked one-way ticket. At the airport, she went through some difficulties but finally took a metro to the city centre and walked to the hostel, where she faced another language barrier at the reception desk.
It was difficult to travel when no one understood her and she couldn’t speak English. She was aware of that. She was not sure whether she would enjoy the trip but she was definitely nervous and scared. She wanted to try Danish dish and she would meet with someone the next day.
The next morning, she woke up quite early for her appointment but ended up not meeting that someone for reasons known only to her. She decided to pack her bag and bought one-way ticket to Paris. Would she travel again? Not soon. She understood English was her weakness and was even very bad at it during her school years. She wanted to learn English and she noted that not knowing the universal language made her trip difficult.
I learnt all this from our word-by-word conversation. I don’t know whether Cecelia enjoyed her overnight trip but she had definitely challenged herself, stepped out of her comfort zone, had her first Danish food, saw as much as she could in just a short time, had conversation with a stranger, and survived. She can now strike travel solo to a foreign country off her list.