That’s a great question.
Two weeks ago, I condensed a bedroom full of old French assignments and used CDs into a single backpack. Somehow, my belongings went from filling 10 square meters to 50 liters.
But why, Hailey?
In the months before that, halfway into my time working as an au pair in Paris, I realized that I was not ready to go home. At the same time, I was not sure that I wanted to stay in Paris. I knew one thing: I could not work another year as an au pair. As much as I learned in 11 months of rushing to the little girl’s school and practicing French potty humor, I knew that while I would never have done this year differently, I also never want to do it again.
When I go back to the United States and if I find a job, I know it will be very difficult to get myself to leave again. Because I get absorbed. When I am in a place, I find too much to do, even if it is making masks out of garbage. So, I knew that I needed to take advantage of being away while I still could.
I looked for jobs. I could stay in Europe and work, maybe. It became clear that yes, it is possible to work abroad, but finding an entry-level job as a person who is not perfect at the local language is downright difficult (I will not even get into the visa requirements). Another possibility was to enroll as a student, be it in a language course or a master’s program. While master’s degrees are like bachelor’s degrees in Europe (as in you just need to get one), I was not ready to commit to years of studying only for the sake of staying.
Staying, and not being an au pair, would require one thing for sure: paying rent. Here, that is as much as $700 a month. School would not be extremely expensive, but even with a part-time job, expenses would be high and income would be low. I started to think about where else that money could go.
Cue the eye-rolls
Here is the plan I went with; the most cliché white-girl plan available; the plan that makes people’s eyes roll and attracts questions like why? How? But what about … ?
I bought a backpack. Fifty liters of freedom. I take that back — that also sounds cliché. I bought a backpack and filled it with a camera, a laptop, a bag of clothes and two pairs of shoes: the black sneakers I wore to look cool in Paris and my running shoes.
Right now, the bag is also full of passion fruit from Portugal, a wet swimsuit, the book Beloved by Toni Morrison, and a zip-lock full of colorful used metro tickets. Maybe that gives you an idea of what I am doing: buying my way across Europe as cheaply as possible.
My plan is a bit too loose. So far, I have been to two countries and only planned one step ahead at a time. I am trying to make use of the friends I made this year in France and to stay with them in the various places they come from. In other places, I am staying in hostels or Airbnbs. How long will I stay? Up to as long as my passport allows, which is 90 days. But, of course, my planning has not gotten that far.
The goal was to take trains everywhere, but already I have taken a bus across the countryside in the middle of the night. Plus, my friends’ parents have been kind enough to chauffeur me around.
I know I am able to do this because of the privilege afforded me: my socioeconomic background and a bit of saving I was able to do because of that. Does writing that make it any better? No.
So, where am I now?
That’s a great question. Literally, Barcelona. Specifically, in a café called La Danesa near Avinguda Diagonal. My friend Albert lives here and he is showing me around the city.
I have nothing authoritative to say. It took a lot of time for me to say anything strong about Paris, and I was there for 11 months. So, rather than making conclusions about Barcelona, I will try to answer the question of why are you doing this? in a few words:
Answer 1: I am doing this because I can, and if I do not do it now, I do not think I ever will. I am trying to take advantage of the time, the resources, the lack of expenses and the lack of direction I have in my life to see places I would never otherwise get to see — and maybe learn, and write, a little something along the way.
Answer 2: Why not do this?
Photos from the last two weeks
So far, I have been to Coimbra, Portugal; and Barcelona, Spain. I failed at writing about Coimbra, but I hope to do that next.