Where nobody knows your name

The liberating anonymity of travelling

A hand holding a globe
Photo: Pexels

After being in the Netherlands for eight months and almost completing one-third of my university education, I suddenly felt panic. Am I wasting a big opportunity? I am right in the middle of Europe and the most travelling I had done until then had been to take transit flights from Cologne. So, I decided to look for cheap tickets, organise my friends, and see somewhere new. 

People always say that travelling broadens your horizons and makes you a world citizen. It is generally supposed to acquaint you with some novel and invaluable experience. We have a saying in my language that goes: “Those who travel a lot know a lot.” Having travelled only a few times, I was a bit skeptical, but quite hopeful about what type of epiphany awaited me.

Yet, as most things we build up in our heads go, travelling impacted me in a completely unexpected way. Travelling through the overcrowded and touristy but insanely beautiful cities of Europe, I could not help but feel that something was missing. Because of the cities' fame, I felt like I was not engaging with something authentic. Instead, I was being offered a catered experience. Going through museums, eating the food the blogs on the internet say we won’t want to miss out on! — it all made me feel kind of hollow.

But, the part that was a very obvious epiphany came some time after. I realised I was in a place where, for the first time in my life, absolutely no one knew me or cared about me. Not that in the cities I have lived in, everyone was involved with each other. Since it was my community and the way word travels around, every interaction or action felt very significant and consequential. Being hyper-aware of the fact that I’m completely unknown and most likely will never be in these cities, filled me with liberation. Not kicking-down-trash-cans and acting-rude-to-strangers-type of liberation—but rather feeling-free-to-express-myself-and-talk-to-people-without-any-presuppositions-or-anxiety kind. 

This feeling opened me up to the experiences that were advertised to me. I was not hesitant to continue the conversation when a stranger on the train approached us to ask something or to chat with a lovely waiter our age who told us about his university. The reason we travel, the reason we aim to see other cultures is the human element, I believe. Somewhere along the way, this got overshadowed by selling you an “experience,” marketing you the streets you must see and the paintings you must stand in front of. The important part is to actually see the painting, talk to the people on the street, and understand the life there. 

I loved being anonymous because it was the time I got to be myself the most. University is a time where we cultivate our personality, and figure out exactly who we are. Travelling helped me in doing that, away from any real or imagined judgment, and any constructs I built in my head that prevented me from being myself in my cities. Next time you see a bus ticket for a couple of euros, take it.