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Everything I Did Except Take My First Solo Trip in 2020

Because my trip was rightfully cancelled, the year of prep I put into planning formed the building blocks to a new lifestyle. And the biggest facilitator of my knowledge was YouTube.

some weird thing I did with an Empire Records screenshot and YouTube logo

I haven’t been on YouTube this much since I was in middle school. I started planning my first solo trip in February 2019 and I returned to that world for research on everything. I searched “what luggage to buy” (I bought the 30L Porter but I plan to sell that and get a carry-on suitcase cause my back just can’t), “how to navigate hostel culture” and then gravitated towards travelling YouTubers (some of which were “digital nomads”). Through them I crafted a meticulous folder in my Google Drive labelled “Trip”: there’s links with minimalist packing tutorials and “Notes” that featured important reminders on budget, transportation and cultural tips. I haven’t touched that folder since March 2020 and now I use my microfibre towel like an everyday item, its “brand new travel item” grandeur completely rubbed out. My current state in life, like my towel, is not as exciting as the plans I had for it.

Instead of travelling through London, Budapest and Porto, taking cooking classes and trying to socialize, I’m doom scrolling through Toronto studios I can’t afford and using apartment tours on YouTube to plot my home decor style.

From left to right: That Sunday Kind of Love, Carrie Carrollo

I took my first trip when I graduated from university in 2017 with a friend to Amsterdam and Paris. I booked the tickets in the middle of the day at my internship and didn’t tell my family until close to the departure date. We had a layover in Ireland where my hair (faux locs at the time) was ridiculed for potentially being a place to hide things and I had a cold for a majority of the trip but I don’t remember it for that. I do remember over packing and pretty much wearing the same outfit almost everyday, thus my research into a minimalist capsule wardrobe this time. But all that would be dashed aside when countries closed their borders and quarantine kicked in. My planning stopped. Though I worried about the future of my trip, I had much bigger concerns at the time: the heroic posturing of essential workers (like my mom) and the rising death toll.

We’ve all been forced to find a way to get by. For Nylah Burton that meant, “I turned my head away from what I thought my 20s would be defined by and towards what it will be: Survival.” And so I find myself grateful for my family’s good health (my aunt in the US got COVID and recovered. She now sends us pictures of Sunday dinners in the family WhatsApp). But, unlike the folks in Facebook travel groups, I have no intention of engaging in leisurely international travel anytime soon. Actually I was grossed out by the comments inquiring when they could travel again: “Don’t they know their economy relies on us?” That was my cue to take a break from Facebook and I stopped watching travel vlogs all together. Feeling hopeless, I banished all fantasies of travel but found myself incorporating the practices I had studied for the trip into my daily life. They started as coping mechanisms, distractions, then I was galvanized into action.

First, let me explain that I missed the emergence of YouTube personalities. When I returned to YouTube I became totally immersed in its influencer drama (I spent my lunch break investigating the Tati Westbrook scandal and who James Charles was), film critique and many “best moments.” I then shifted into binging apartment tours, where I realized people are a lot more obsessed with aesthetic than functionality. I dived into DIY decor, which guided me through the first DIY I actually completed; chalk painting my dresser. I’d lost interest in travel discourse and was feeling hopeless but distracted by the infinite possibilities offered by YouTube. And then I cooked a lot.

Before and after invasive shots of my home and the side dresser. This is my FIRST DIY, pls let your judgement be merciful

I know everybody cooked a lot but the thing is, I planned to take cooking classes to force myself to socialize in case I couldn’t make friends. Inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s culinary travels but realistic about costs and my timid social skills, I was going to make cooking an important element of my trip. The plan was to stay at hostels, create easy and budget friendly meals while trying cultural cuisine and take cooking classes. I fantasized making meals for people at the hostel once they saw how good I was and pretty much hoped for a reality similar to Sohla El-Waylly’s, who, “after graduation, she backpacked around Europe. She had a lot of social anxiety, but food was the way she connected with people. ‘I’d do a big English breakfast for everyone at the hostel and then they would be my friend.’”

I’m used to my own company, and often prefer it over company for company’s sake, but I hate feeling left out. A part of the reason I was handling the cancellation of the trip so well was my anxiety about making friends. As the trip date approached, I got more nervous and felt a slight sense of relief when it was cancelled. Instead, I enjoyed my mother’s large kitchen and further fuelled my homely fantasies of one day hosting dinner parties, offering weed and a bevy of dishes to my old and new friends that I would’ve made once I developed better social skills.

I’m improving my fried chicken recipe and made Jamaican rum cake(s) for the first time

And remember that capsule wardrobe I was going for? It served three purposes; fulfilling my momentary obsession with minimalism, finding my style and decluttering to prepare me for my future apartment. My apartment tour binges made me realize how much downsizing I had to do and since I’ve been decluttering for almost 3 years now (it’s a serial process that requires constant reconsiderations and reflection) I was off to a good start. Through the process I realized I am not a minimalist. I just like everything to have a function and for the space to not be crowded. But I also realized how my attachment to certain clothes was wrapped up in fatphobic visuals of myself. Instead of styling and embracing the parts of me I was convinced I had to hide, I was aspirational shopping and hoping things I love would fit me later. Decluttering meant abandoning aspirational shopping in favour of choosing items that suited my body and new style. I got rid of clothes I hoped would fit me when I lost weight and actively chose to love my body the way it is and the way it will be (we’re always changing). Abandoning aspirational shopping takes a lot of unlearning, self-discipline and enforced boundaries (towards people or spaces that make you feel like something is wrong with your body) but if I remain consistent, when the time comes to travel again I hope to place myself in front of the camera with a confidence that the self-assured me designed.

I could make a list of everything this trip was supposed to be: the origins of a one-cooking-class-per-trip tradition, a definitive moment in my 20s, the gap before the storm of further capitalist pressure (aka finding a full-time job), the beginning of my insecurities dissipating and my social skills improving. If anything, this culminates to the “finding yourself” theme typically attached to solo travel. I cringe writing that out loud but it’s true. Clearly I expected a major transformation and this all very well could’ve happened but Angelica Ross made a great point on the Black and Abroad segment of her show, Turning Point. She spoke on the “escapism” myth and how, instead of focusing on travel to change us, we actually need to be doing the work on ourselves. “Maybe if I go here and experience this something will ignite in me. But then [I realized] everywhere I go there I am…same person, so you’re bringing the same baggage with you in all these different places.”

By staying indoors and taking the pause that capitalist culture explicitly doesn’t allow, my coping mechanisms became a lifestyle that forced me to confront my baggage. It’s not like I’m walking around my apartment totally enlightened. I’m mostly lounging on my couch trying to subdue the guilty feeling on my chest (why aren’t I doing more?), masturbating and binging YouTube videos; the source of all my new knowledge. Months ago, I avoided the platform or else be reminded of all the travel vlogs I watched while preparing for my solo trip. Now, I find myself slowly gravitating towards the genre again, with more Black women vloggers being recommended (without having to type “Black/Black women”) and feeling slightly less ashamed of that fear I felt approaching with the trip’s launch. In fact, I’m looking forward to that feeling. Whenever that’ll be. It’s like a new layer of me has been exposed and I’m eager to test it outside my comfort zone, even if it means being scared the whole time. Reminds me of lining up for a new roller coaster.



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