By Lashawnda Becoats
This year, I went to Amsterdam to see the world-famous rainbow-colored tulips at Keukenhof Gardens. They were everything I imagined. I loved Amsterdam, but Brussels was the star of this story.
There would be no story if two of my girlfriends hadn’t backed out on our planned trip to Jamaica more than a decade ago.
I was crushed, but I went to Jamaica alone.
I had never done anything like that before. I had an unbelievable time. I luxuriated on the beach. I explored the island with an island boy. I learned not to wait to travel based on someone else.
Until the Jamaica trip, the idea of traveling alone seemed daunting. Traveling alone has made me a better person. Navigating new environments alone has made me more courageous, self-confident and independent. When I travel to non-English speaking countries, it makes me humble and grateful. I have to rely on strangers to help me do simple things, such as ordering off a menu or giving a cab driver directions in another language.
After each trip, I return to Charlotte more patient and empathetic toward people from other countries.
This year was no different. I took a two-hour train ride from Amsterdam to Brussels, where Dutch and French are the primary languages.
I don’t speak a lick of either. I couldn’t resist the idea of Belgian chocolate, Belgian fries, Belgian waffles and fruit-flavored Belgian beer.
I had to read street maps that were written in French and ride buses with signage that was written in Dutch. The bus drivers were patient as I tried to figure out where I was going. Strangers saw the lost look on my face and helped me out.
And you know what? I drank a grape Lambic beer, ate a Belgian waffle, Belgian fries and scarfed down some Belgian chocolate in one day. My stomach is still mad at me.
Guess who’s coming to dinner
In Brussels, my adventure started with a family from whom I rented a room. The couple was very friendly and we hit it off immediately. I loved their young son and daughter. On my first day, they invited me to join them on a day trip to visit Hallerbos Forest.
When we arrived at the forest, I almost fainted. The sight of millions of tiny blue flowers looked like something from a fairy tale. The bluebell flowers appear for a couple of weeks, then die. The forest was so beautiful and the air was so pure.
We explored the forest, took pictures and had a picnic. I thanked God for the breathtaking experience. The trip to the forest with my Brussels family was another reminder to trust my instincts.
Later that night, the couple invited me to a dinner party for one of their friends who was moving to Paris. When we arrived, I never expected to walk into a house filled with about 30 Black people. You don’t see a lot of Black people in Belgium!
I met women who were expats from Chicago, Maryland and Alabama. We laughed, ate, danced and talked for hours about everything from natural hair to traveling to exotic places. Our experiences mirrored each others’ so much that we decided to keep in touch. I still talk to them on Facebook. The instant camaraderie we shared was one of the best nights I’ve ever had abroad.
The only criterion I had on this journey was to stay safe and open to all the possibilities. I went to Brussels and Amsterdam alone, but I was never lonely. I shared fabulous solo experiences and good times with new friends.
Lashawnda’s Travel Tips
- I carry a small travel notebook. I always write the address where I’m staying in case I get lost or my cell phone battery dies. I use this information to show a taxi driver so I can get back to my lodging safely.
- Be sure your credit/debit card has a embedded chip in it before you travel. Businesses in most countries no longer take credit/debit cards without embedded chips.
- Carry a cell phone charger (and the universal plug adapter), battery booster or spare batteries with you while you’re out exploring the city.
- Be sure to keep a copy of your passport and email a copy of your passport and travel itinerary to yourself and someone who you trust in case of an emergency.
- Leave expensive jewelry, handbags and accessories at home. Don’t attract unnecessary attention.
- Pickpockets (one word) are real. Be aware of your surroundings, especially in tourist areas and on public transportation.