After much contemplation and analysis, I booked my flight to Berlin. I would have rather gone to Athens, Krakow or Paris of course but for the enormous cost.
My sister who helped me with booking said, “If all you want to do is experience travelling solo, place should not matter. Save your money and go to a place which falls within your budget. Anywhere in Europe warrants an amazing visit for a first timer.”
So flight to Berlin that costs 40 Euro roundabout trip was confirmed. I stayed in a mixed hostel in Berlin. Considering it was my first time travelling solo, I was nervous. Since it is a mixed room, I was not sure who the inmates would be. What if they were all men? Too many thought and worst possible scenario was going through my mind. When I arrived, the room was empty. I was relieved. I refreshed myself. An hour or so later, another lady arrived. I told her a nervous: “Hi.”
She introduced herself cheerfully. “Hi, I’m Funda from Turkey. What about you?” I could feel my inhibitions lift, my smile much more relaxed.
“I’m from India and staying for two days,” I replied.
Funda, 30, is an accountant from an IT company in Cappadocia, Turkey. She is backpacking in Berlin, after visiting her family in Hamburg. “I have always wanted to visit Berlin. My job is not very exciting, this is how I compensate for it,” she said, half-joking. “I’m married to a Polish guy I find solace in travelling solo. My friends think it is wild sex and late night partying is what I travel solo. But that is not the case at all,” she was serious again. She is a seasoned backpacker I realised. Without any wasted moments she unpacked her luggage. Her bag was not huge but she has covered her basics starting from toilettes to party clothes. Funda’s response only confirmed my reckoning.
“I love backpacking and I have been doing it for a long time,” Funda said. Her latest trip was two months in Argentina. “I stayed in a village in Argentina. It was an amazing opportunity to interact with locals and even polish my Spanish. At the end of it, I not only made great friends but managed to become one of them,” she added.
Funda found being journalist an exciting job. “You are in some interesting profession,” she chuckled. It was something I hear time and again. But I did not want to tell her that it was not always interesting and burst her bubble.
As the 30 minute interlude finished, we went our separate ways, she to meet her friend and I, to familiarise with the place. Our schedules never matched and the next time I spoke to her was when I was leaving on Friday morning.
Berlin received thunderstorm just as weather had predicted. I was expecting the worst given the weather anywhere from delay in flight to stalled metro. But thankfully apart from me getting drenched, I reached airport on time. The queue at the check-in counter was long and there was a possibility that flight would be delayed. Since I only had a small carry-on, I was wondering if I need to stand in check-in queue. I inquired a lanky figure with sandy hair donning black shirt and black jeans.
“I don’t know. Even I don’t have to check-in,” he replied. “I don’t think I need to stand in queue. We should be able to go to security,” I thought out loudly. So I cut the queue and approached a helpdesk, who confirmed that it is the security check we need to proceed to. By this time, the guy in black had caught up with me, followed by two or three more, and we moved towards a different terminal for security check.
“I’m Swathi from India,” I said extending my hands.
“I’m Antonio from Mexico. You can just call me Toni,” he responded with an awkward smile.
The conversation flowed. He is a musician in Berlin and was travelling to Brussels to meet his friends over the weekend. He seemed excited to meet his friends. Musicians, as a full-time job, is not everyone’s cup of tea. I was intrigued and he was ready to talk. “Life as a musician is never easy, because you are always short of money,” Toni said.
It was by chance that Toni came to Berlin at 18, to make it big as a musician and shake off small town guy image. He came as a volunteer in a nursery, where he got a meager sum, while practicing music part-time. “I had signed a contract with the nursery which enabled me to work and live in Berlin. It was not a great time. You don’t earn much and it is so hard on you that the first few months. I missed my home very badly,” Toni recalled. Then things began to look up. Now he is a full-time Indie artist, has his own Facebook page and earning enough to get by. “Initially because that’s where I got the offer, housing and job, but if you ask me now, I couldn’t have landed in a better place,” he said, his love for the city apparent.
“Berlin is the most amazing place. I love it here. You meet people from different culture and it is not as expensive as other European countries. There are so many artists who are struggling that you learn to strive hard and get by,” he added.
The courteous Mexican with his charming smile and sunny disposition was an engaging companion during our hour wait. As talk turned to me, he paused when I told him I’m a journalist and said, “Oh that is an interesting profession.” He seemed to get bored though when I started talking about particulars of being a business journalist like financial results and AGMs. I just wanted to laugh so hard then, for not many understand that being a journalist is not all exciting every day.
When announcement came to board our flight to Brussels, we bid our goodbyes. “See you, until next time,” we said and parted not before he gave me link to his music portfolio. Well at least one bright spot on a rainy summer day.
I liked enjoying talking to these people, whom I did not know I would meet. The journey was not as extraordinary as I wanted it be, but they offered me an invaluable experience. These encounters helped me realise that the world is way too big and I haven’t even scratched the surface. Everyone knows it, but to have it stare at your face is something else. Guess that is the very point of travelling solo. Having said that I can’t wait to pack my travel bags again!