“Why go from snow to more snow?” Why there?”

Before I travel, I usually have some captivating, clear-cut mission to my trips. This time, I really don’t. There was an opportunity to go, so I went, it’s as simple as that.

I was strongly encouraged to take some time off so well, I did. Booked a ticket to Stockholm and a return in Vilnius and left the rest to fate.By fate, I mean my own laziness, from realising I was flying on the morning of to spending an entire day stuck in Heathrow due to unforeseen weather. The trip took a life of it’s own.As I sit next to a Harrods, watching my flight incrementally get delayed I ask myself what am I even doing right now?

Stop #1 – Stockholm, Sweden

Nearly 12 hours later than expected, I finally reach Stockholm. Through multiple delays and being put on standby, I am finally here around 2:30am local time. Scrambling for some WiFi, I secure a cab and am on route to my AirBnb. Due to the lateness, the host has left the keys inside a plant in front of the building. The issue was – which plant? Its nearly 3am and my driver and I are using our phone flashlights to search for and eventually find the key. Finally I say to myself – “time to finally relax”. I go up and after numerous attempts, the door does not open. My tired, hungry self is just laughing cynically at this point how this crazy commute isn’t quite done yet. As a hailmary, I turn on my roaming to call the host to see numerous message from loved ones worried, I call the host and she says in a nutshell she forget one of the keys so finally at 4am I get in and pass out as soon as I hit the bed. What a start.

The next day immediately made up for the unpredictable start. I met an amazing person in Sussen (without getting lost!) and we hit the town. A full day filled with beautiful sights, deep conversations and fika! Fika basically translates “to have coffee”. A staple of Swedish culture that I wish applied back home.

As I look up and type this in front of the Grand Hotel, I realize how important trust is. Trust in better things coming, trust in people and trust in yourself. You’ll be surprised how often I’m criticized for the places I choose to see. That is until I’m back and the stories defeat the doubt. You truly never know what you can learn. That’s the great thing about travel, it teaches without the need for a curriculum if you allow it to do so.

It’s just insane how in the span of a few days strangers become ingrained in your life. For the longest time I would think on the other side of the spectrum as to how fast people can enter and just leave unexpectedly. It was up until that moment where the guard went down.

For someone who is a stone cold solo travel advocate, I must admit that companionship does add a different element to travel at times. Seeing a city in the eyes of a local really proved Googling is damn near useless this case. I kid you not, I probably learned more about this city than my known, as odd as that may sound. As I board a cruise ship; leaving Stockholm I have a bittersweet feeling wondering how things would be if I did not leave so early. Again, as I’ve said probably a billion times already on this trip to myself, “its all a part of a bigger story”

Stop #2 – Tallinn, Estonia

After staying in a compact, windowless overnight room, shared with a complete stranger overnight, I am in Tallinn. A city and country I know absolutely nothing about. You know what that means? It can only get better from this point onward. As time went by, the unknown was left with knowledge. I know so much I just want to Skype my fellow Torontonians and spit some knowledge (like how Skype was really created by the Estonians, or at least as all the locals say). The majestic feel walking down the streets of the old town was straight out of a Disney fairy-tale. Here as I sit at Revel Cafe I think to myself, “how I could have even lived not knowing this gem of a city even existed?!”

Funny story: Today I saw a wall that said “times we had” which I recognized from seeing on countless Instagram posts, beyond that it just made recollect the times I had in the last year with all its wonderful ups and downs. I really don’t believe I wouldn’t even be here had things not gone the way they did. I stumbled upon this trip, bought it immediately and let the rest fall into place. Now given, I had no idea what places things would fall in and when but all in all so far it’s exceeded anything I could have planned.

Stop #3 – Riga, Latvia

As I walk around the freedom monument with my trademark skip in my step, I realize how blessed I am to be where I am. Sure, I could pick at the little things but why rob myself of the only thing I can control? Happiness. Think about it, as a kid the littlest things would amaze us yet now the same things don’t suffice our ever-growing expectations to enjoyment. Today a Baltic giant of a man randomly screamed at me thinking I’m a Mexican. I’m thinking he’s trying to sell me something or scam me in some way but no. He approaches me and says “Thank you for saying hello, let’s take a picture. It’s Christmas, lets all be happy!” That’s it. Happiness finds you if you let it. Something so simple, in a place I never knew existed left a monumental mark on me just like it. I love it!

While sitting randomly on some couches in the corridor of my hotel room, a fellow traveler comes up to me and we start conversing. This woman has been to 91 countries through her work, regardless of circumstances including separation. Through exchanging stories shes like you have a duty to educate your peers. Her words instantly gave me chills. “You Rahim are an exception. Your not a tourist and the majority won’t ever understand you. They’ll think you’re speaking about problems or adding stress when you share your experiences. You are a traveler. A tourist knows where they’re going, a traveler just goes.” THIS IS IT. My jaw dropped and it was as if time stood still. I’m a f***ing traveler that’s it. She began to explain the hardships she experienced from her support system as a result of traveling and how important quick thinking and being humble has been for her.

Stop #4 – Vilnius, Lithuania

This was the first holiday season I have ever spent away from home. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think I’d feel lonely. I mean the very purpose of the holidays is spending time with your loved ones. What I’ve learned is that loved ones aren’t limited to the friends and the family that you already have. I spent Christmas dinner with an amazing group of Brits, Kiwis, and even some Canadian travelers. We ate traditional Lithuanian food and shared some hilarious conversation; making fun of each others’ countries.

Here we are on the final day of this unpredictable yet unforgettable adventure. As I sit in the Vilnius Cathedral Square, I recollect the past weeks. As I type this in the pouring rain (god bless waterproof cases), I take a deep breath of air, I look forward to applying what I have learned here when I come home. I can’t wait to share the things I have learned about places in which I was ignorant to even know about before. I stand in awe of the Baltics, I stand in awe of the lights, markets and hospitality the people have shared with me across the region.

THE END…WAIT MORE DELAYS

Yes, once again I was met with delays, this time on my way back home which served me some time to recollect the fond memories of my time as well as fill up my passport with so many Danish stamps you would think I’m a local LOL.

Until next time,

Rahim