Photo by Sabrina Stone
I used to think a “Damsel in Distress” was a bad thing to be. I wanted to be a badass in my own right. I wanted to be able to support myself, make my own decisions, fight my own battles. I wanted to be a cowboy, mermaid, ninja warrior princess, which was, no joke, my Halloween costume three years running.
Traveling has since taught me that you can absolutely be your own champion, while also, occasionally, asking for help. Sometimes reaching out like that even brings new, wonderful people into your life.
A year ago, I was trekking through Europe, climbing spires in Switzerland and hanging with monks in Germany. I made my way to Salzburg, that gorgeous little town in Austria where The Sound of Music took place. I had been there for a few hours and found myself strolling around at dusk – the most romantic, most dangerous of times. And by “strolling”, I mean: I was lost.
After wandering through the fourth picturesque square in a row, my sense of charm and wonderment started shifting into a feeling of minor concern. It was getting dark and kinda buggy, so I sat down on a bench, spread my belongings around me, took out a hoodie, sprayed on insect repellant, re-tied my shoes, repacked my bag and looked up to an unpleasant surprise. Two homeless drunkards, lacking full sets of teeth, had crept suspiciously close to me and had the look of sharks sniffing the water for blood. Upon catching my eye, the male of the pair began to drown me in small talk while the female edged closer to my backpack. Survival instinct kicked in and I leapt up, shouting, “Sorry I have to meet my friend!”
I then ran over to a tall, thin blonde man sporting a white t-shirt, green shorts and red shoes. He had the essence of a sexy Christmas elf. Without asking permission, I linked my arm in his and started to rush out of the square blurting, “I’m really sorry. I know I don’t know you but please pretend I do because right now, all alone, I look like a target and I feel kinda scared and vulnerable and amped up all at once and my hostel is on the top of that mountain and I don’t really know how to get there, or if I have the energy or wherewithal to do it on my own and those people seemed dangerous and they definitely had my number and… and… and…” He stopped me mid-rant, put his hands on my shoulders, pushed me out to arm’s length and said, in a warm tone, “English is not my first language but I’d like to help, so tell me your story again, slowly.”
For the next 4 hours we talked about everything as we made it up the mountain. The trip should have taken about 30 minutes but we were enjoying each other’s company and, as it turns out, he was even more turned around than I was. We walked by a castle, through the garden of a monastery, up and down old stone steps. We caught the sunset, took photos, found a little old lady with a drink stand and picnic tables in the middle of nowhere, which I’m still rather certain, was a mirage. By the time we got to my hostel, neither of us could imagine the rest of our journey without the other one in it.
We spent our time in tandem in Salzburg, then combined our itineraries so we could be together in Budapest. When I got injured by laughing so hard that I fell into a rose bush in the royal garden, he helped me treat it. When the wound took its sweet time healing, he assisted in carrying my bags. When he wasn’t sure what to do or where to stay in Hungary, my obsessive compulsive research and hotel points covered us both. I had someone to share stories with, to dare me to do brave (if slightly stupid) things, to remind me later of all the moments I almost forgot, and, most importantly, to take photos of me that weren’t selfies.
I learned a lot about myself by traveling on my own. I wouldn’t have given that portion of the trip up for anything. But it was nice to have an interlude with company and it was even nicer to know that I could reach out into the universe for help when I needed it and that there would be someone reaching back.