It seems like just yesterday my team and I parted ways in the Lyon St-Exupéry Airport. I waved goodbye until the very last blue, Biik Kazygurt jacket stepped off the escalator and disappeared into the horizon. My excitement quickly faded with the realization that I was alone. Completely alone. Suddenly my solo voyage across Europe seemed terrifying. After quivering in the corner of the airport for 30 minutes I finally mustered the courage to ask for help.
Since those first few moments of panic, I have traveled to eight different countries and resided with eight different hosts (whose first language was not English). What began as an opportunity to explore different cities and cultures turned into one of the most educational experiences of my life. Yes, I learned how to navigate public transportation, communicate with non-english speakers, and use maps, but my real growth was actually from my hosts themselves.
Thirty-one days, nine planes, seven forms of public transportation, and twenty-three cans of red-kidney beans later, join me as I share some of the most valuable lessons that I learned during this crazy and unpredictable journey across Europe.
Chapter One:You Can Travel the World, Without Traveling At All
Dom was the first host that I would be meeting. We had primarily communicated through messenger so I had very little idea of what to expect. Upon introduction, It didn’t take long to sense Dom's giving and selfless character.
We hadn’t spoken for more than fifteen minutes before he handed me the keys saying, “I have to return to work now but what’s mine is yours, make yourself at home.”
“Wait, what?” I thought to myself. “We just met and he trusts me to not rummage through his entire apartment?”
I heard the front door close and the jingling of keys echo down the stairwell. What an unusual feeling. Here I was sitting in some stranger’s house, drinking some stranger’s tea, wrapped in some stranger’s blanket. As I looked around, I noticed Dom had little trinkets scattered around the apartment. There were drawings from from Russia, miniature sculptures from Korea, postcards and souvenirs from Germany, Russia, Switzerland, Australia, Ukraine, Italy, you name it. I quickly realized that these were all gifts from previous travelers that he had hosted. I took out my Kazakhstan chocolate bars and proudly added them to his vibrant collection.
“Have you had any bad experiences hosting travelers?” I asked once he returned from work. “It seems that you have hosted hundreds, surely they can’t all have been perfect.”
“No not really!” He responded rather enthusiastically. “Maybe once or twice but that’s about it.”
“Do you stay in touch with everyone who has stayed here?”
“Yes, most of the time! Sometimes when I travel for work I stay with the travelers that I have hosted rather than staying in a hotel. It’s nice to have friends all around the world. It’s like traveling, without actually traveling.”
We spent hours talking about his experiences hosting, as well as being hosted. Dom had more friends around the world than I had in real life. By selflessly opening his doors to strangers, he was being rewarded with friendships, experiences, and connections in so many countless ways.
Letting strangers into my home was never an idea that crossed my mind before, but now the crazy thing is, Dom will always have a friend in Kazakhstan too.
My parents might be right, I think I might end up living in Europe.
Vieux Lyon, November 17, 2017.