I only have two weeks left in my three month France adventure, and it’s a sort of scary thought. This trip has been everything I could have asked for, and I will be returning home a different, more confident guy than I was when I left.
I’ll write more in detail over the next several weeks about what I’ve learned about France by living in Marseille, Bordeaux, and Lyon for a month each. Today, though, I wanted to write a bit about what I’ve learned about myself, and the effect this experience has had on me.
One of my biggest fears about taking this journey was that I would isolate myself, something I have the tendency to do even at home. (Mental illness is a rough thing to deal with, and isolation is a defense mechanism.) After all, I was renting small studio/one bedroom apartments, so there would be nobody around. Well, I think I’ve done pretty well, although as a caveat I have only had one depressed period in my eleven weeks here, and that only for about three days. I’ve allowed myself a single day each week to remain indoors in my PJs – typically coinciding with a need to write – and been pretty good about getting out of the apartment each other day, even if only to walk to a grocery store or boulangerie for a fresh croissant. In addition, I have made friends, at least in Marseille, and had social experiences. I attended a meet-up photography group here in Lyon. I’ve always been capable of being social, but it bodes well for a potential life of travel that I have been able to have at least a minimal social life here in another country where my language skills are lacking.
It should also be noted here that I’ve done a reasonably good job keeping in touch with family and friends back home. Technology makes this aspect of life so much easier, and I don’t know that I’d be able to have this experience without such communication.
Another worry was being able to largely stay within a fairly tight budget. While I have exceeded it in places (going out to meals with friends I’ve met was an unanticipated expense line), I have mostly been good about not living like an extravagant tourist. I have cooked most meals at home, saving money. I have had most of my museums comped by tourism boards. The largest line item other than housing has been intercity buses and trains for my side trips, and those expenses would be lessened under different circumstances (like visiting a cheaper country, spending less time in a given city so as not to have much time for side trips, or giving them up altogether). While I still hope for additional freelance writing income, I am stable-adjacent with the income I currently have, as long as I take some months to recoup the small losses I incur while abroad.
Finally, I have learned that I am able to adapt to new cultural norms, a new (I took French in high school but my spoken ability was pretty close to nil coming in) language, and new geography. I’ve rarely gotten lost and had to rely on google maps to save me. I’ve adapted reasonably well to French culture – except the excessive smoking – and I don’t think I stick out as a tourist unless trying to speak French, and even that has gotten easier, although most people will respond to me in English rather than continue to hear me butcher their beloved language. I grant that this experience would be more challenging in a place like East Asia, where I obviously look like a foreigner and know zero of the language, but I am still happy with where I am.
Above all, I am thrilled that I’ve been able to not only have this experience, but to thrive in it. It has been good for my mental health and stability, as I am consistently forced to spend more energy observing life around me and therefore have less remaining to wallow in my negative thoughts. I realize that I am incredibly lucky to have a life that allows this and a family/friends group that has supported me in my endeavor. I look forward to seeing how my reintroduction to American life goes in a couple weeks, and what that will in turn teach me.
One more thank you here: thank you to everyone who has read my blog. Writing gives me a focal point for my life, and knowing that you are out there reading means the world. You have all been part of this journey with me, and I would not be able to do it without you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Me at Calanque de Sugiton in Marseille. One of the downsides of traveling solo is a lack of pictures of myself.