It has been 3 weeks since I got back from my first solo travel experience, how insane. It’s one of those things that feels like it was literally yesterday and also a million years ago. If you follow me on instagram then you’ll know I recently went to Edinburgh for a couple of days all by myself (like a big girl). I know it’s not like I have gone on a road trip across America or done a year in Australia by myself, but for me this was a very big deal. I am an incredibly anxious person, while some of this might just be my natural disposition some of it also comes from having an incredibly overprotective mother; whom I love dearly, but who likes too wrap us in cotton wool. This has furthered a general fear of many things, even at the age of 21, primarily doing things alone, because I have always had someone there with me. However on this occasion I was not able to find anyone to come with me up to Edinburgh, partly because it was a mid week trip and people have to work, and partly because it is a city I strongly associate with my ex- boyfriend and would find very hard to go there with anyone else.
I had just started doing other things for and by myself, I had gone to Leeds alone to get a tattoo and had managed that just fine, albeit having been very scared like 90% of the time. But I had done it. So I thought why not, I could go to Edinburgh, a city I have gone to countless times and felt more than safe in alone, for two nights, why not? I booked in for a tattoo while I was there as an added incentive and made a list of all of the things I was looking forward to doing and wanted to do while I was there to try and make this wholly positive in my head. I booked my train tickets and my hotel and I was basically on my way. In the run up to it I was looking forward to it and was happy enough about it, but then in the final week I started to get very anxious and think of everything that could possibly go wrong. From train connections, to hotel room mix ups, to walking about alone and in the dark, to getting unwell after my tattoo, just about everything was causing me fairly major panic.
Long panic and anxiety story short, I pushed myself and I got on the first train. The panic continued until I had successfully got to my reserved seat on the second train- think searching for the floorplan of the connecting train station so you can mentally plan your route to the next platform and work out if you will make it in time. From that point on it finally felt real. The first hour when I was in Edinburgh was not the best, it began raining as soon as I got off the train, I tripped over my own feet and almost fell flat on my face and I went for a meal alone and knocked everything off the table next to me because of my gigantic rucksack. I was feeling overwhelmed and like I had had made a huge mistake, I just wanted to go home. I finished my meal and decided to go up to Carlton Hill, where the observatory and several monuments sit looking down over Princes Street and the rest of the city. I was going to go up there and call my mum and tell her I wanted to come home. As I was climbing the steps to the top of the hill, my earphones that I had been relying on to calm me down ran out of battery and cut out on me. After some initial panic I went and sat on a bench around the side of the observatory, no headphones, just silence, and looked out over the city I loved and had been so excited to visit again. I sat like that for about an hour. I had planned a packed itinerary for my time in Edinburgh and this just about blew it out of the water but I honestly didn’t care. It was possibly the quickest and most valuable hour of my year. It was contemplative and calming, and I felt my chest stop being tight, and my heart rate slow back down, and I started to feel content and not quite as terrified. I felt for the first time like I could actually do this.
The rest of my day did not follow the plan, but I hadn’t wanted it too, I had terrorised myself for the 2 weeks before I set off planning everything down to the minute and in doing so had ruined it for myself. I walked along Princes Street, I needed to go into Swatch and get the batteries changed in all of mine and my mum’s copious watches. On walking in I found the Swatch watch of dreams, an Edinburgh watch. Navy blue, and decorated with tartan, thistles and the Princes Street monument, it was perfect. So I blew most of my budget for the trip on that without a second thought. Super proud of that rational decision I made all by myself. *insert eye roll here*. Things only picked up from here. I went to the Starbucks I have always gone to when in Edinburgh, the big one on Princes Street with the beautiful bay windows that look out over the castle. I have never been able to sit in the window before, and it has always been a little dream of mine to be able to do so. Low and behold, when I got up those stairs, the window seat was free, and in brilliant sunshine. I NEEDED to sit down immediately, at the cost of my politeness to the pro barista my order was rushed and I ran (yes, ran) to the seat before anybody else could, without even getting any milk for my tea. It was a good call. The contentedness I had felt at Carlton Hill was back, and I wrote in the sun, looking out over the clear blue sky and castle, as the bustle of busses and pedestrians walked below the window. I sat there for maybe two and a half hours. I was loathed to leave but it was beginning to get dark and I did not want to be on my own alone in the dark, despite the successes of the day I didn’t want to push it. I walked back home via Princes Street Gardens and stared at the park as it began turning into its autumnal colours.
“Home” was the beautiful Hotel Indigo on York Place, where I showered, and ordered room service and sat in a robe watching Bake Off while face timing my mum who was doing the same. Before bed I wrote my mum the letter I had been planning for a couple of weeks, to tell her how grateful I was for her, and how much I loved her and all those other soppy things you don’t want to hear about, but she needed to. Something I would never have written while I was sat upstairs and her downstairs; I needed to be 400 miles away and experiencing things that I wish she was there to experience with me, to be able to truly express that gratitude. Shortly after that I had a little cry. I guess it was letting out the stress of the day, the emotion of the letter and the relief that I had managed my first day with little to no drama on my scale of things.
The night didn’t go so well from a sleeping side of things. I do not like the dark and the room was dark dark. But with the bathroom light on or the TV it was too bright to sleep, do you see my problem? Eventually exhaustion took over and I just slept, but it had been a fitful night. So when I woke up the next morning it was hard to get out of bed, even though I was so excited to go and get this tattoo I had been daydreaming about the whole time this had been planned. I took full advantage of the all you could eat breakfast at the hotel, and left bloated but happy to the bus stop to travel into Leith where Insider Tattoo Studio is. Holy shit is it beautiful there. By there I mean both the actual studio and Leith itself. I predictably (despite being late) got to Leith 45 minutes before I could reasonably go and knock on the door. I spent that time walking around Leith. To the front of the water, and the little independent shops down the small side streets, the people who all smiled at you and the dogs I saw in pyjama style onesies. It was incredible, and I couldn’t be happier to have made it there. The sky was clear blue, and I mean completely clear blue, and the sun was so warm when it graced where you happened to be stood; but the air was cold and crisp. The “brings a colour to your cheeks” kind of bite in the air, which felt so much fresher and cleaner than I was used to.
Then ensued 5 hours of being tattooed, by the wonderful Wes Vaughn; including my calf which was actually far less painful than I was anticipating- more on this on another post. I bought my mum a print from a little art shop, and then got the bus back into Edinburgh. I got off outside Urban Outfitters and went and took a series of embarrassing solo photographs in the photo booth for my mum, grandma and I to keep to commemorate this momentous occasion. I decided against room service pizza for a second night in a row so went to the faithful Prezzo I have also visited every time I have come to Edinburgh (yes, I am a creature of habit) and was waited on by the loveliest waiter who seemed to instantly recognise my bewildered state (its not hard) and looked after me while I filled up on salmon, chips and bruschetta. Then I had to make it home in time to get another early night, I had to be up at 5am the next day to get a train back to Hull in time for my lectures at Uni.
I mastered the lighting situation- keeping the torch on my phone on, on the other side of the room (must remember to take a night light in future), and slept well for the first time in a long time, contented, if in a little leg tattoo based pain. The train journey back was a very cringe contemplative one, the kind you see in a film where they stare out of the window and watch the sun rise over the coastal path and the fog rise, and they race away from the city they fell in love in and with. That was me. Except I was in an aisle seat so it was much more awkward for the kind lady sat next to me, who kept leaning out of the way of my unwavering sunrise gaze.
I had done it. I had gone to a city 400 miles away, all by myself, for 3 days. I had done it. I hadn’t hurt myself, I hadn’t cried (in public), I hadn’t damaged anything, or been robbed or assaulted. I had reached this mini milestone. It was only Scotland, it was only for a couple of days, and it wasn’t a big deal to most people, a lot of whom do this for their actual real life adult jobs; like my dad. But for me, I had conquered my own little world. I had opened the door to something that I knew I would now feel comfortable and love doing forever. I instantly wanted more of this, to go further afield and explore alone. I could do it at my own pace this way, do the things I wanted to do without anyone huffing and puffing that they had had enough of sitting on a hill and wanted to go and do something “fun”. I had total control of my own life for those two days, which is something I very rarely feel like I have. I could wake up and go to sleep when I wanted to, but I was capable of making sensible decisions about it rather than staying up late and waking up later- wasting my day. I could feed myself and eat alone in public without having a panic attack; fuck you eating disorder). I could do this. I had done this. And I would do this again, because I could. I fucking could. It might have taken my insatiable desire for more tattoos to give me the motivation to go, but I had. I know I will make more solo travel plans now, like I have always dreamed of, irrespective of (but likely including) tattoos.