There’s always a point before you do something big when you realise it’s all real, and there’s no going back, and from that point onward you’d have to just let go, and give yourself completely to the experience.
For some, it’s after announcing the big thing to the world via a Facebook status, or a strategically timed Instagram post. For me, it was entering an all-girl hostel room in Toronto and being greeted by the sight of a sleeping man wearing nothing but his boxers.
Scandalous, huh?! I’ll back up a little…
Thursday, 2.00pm, a WestJet aeroplane, departing London Gatwick airport. I’d just begun my second solo transatlantic trip, and I was nervous.
Soon, I’d be in Toronto, Canada – somewhere I’ve wanted to experience for as long as I could remember – but I had a growing pit of doubt in my stomach. And it made no sense, because I’d already done this before – remember how much you loved New York?
It was a whole 11 months ago, but the high of exploring somewhere for the first time, so far away from home, had stayed with me and I’d known then that I’d do it again. So it was up to me to push all those same worries of whether I’d be lonely, or whether I’d run out of things to do, or not make the most of the trip, or whether I’d disappoint those who are helping to hear fun stories, away. Just suck it up and have the best time possible.
After some friendly chit-chat with the skater boi next to me, I put on my headphones and tried to sleep through 14-month-old ‘Penelope’ crying and kicking the back of my chair from the seat behind. (And no, lightning didn’t strike twice – the closest I got to flirting with this neighbour was snoring in his face.)
The plane landed at Toronto Pearson International in the middle of Thursday afternoon and after encountering a very haughty security officer (Where are you staying? Why did you come here? What kind of tourist activities will you be doing? And what else? Any friends here? CHILL, LADY.), the holiday had officially begun.
A short train ride took me to downtown Toronto. First impression of the outside world…good! The buildings were tall, and with a clearly expensive hotel right across the street, I felt like I was in The Parent Trap or something. After picking up some essentials from the nearby convenience store (toothpaste, face wipes, Gummi worms) I wheeled myself along the street to the hostel, and prayed I’d arrive before the rain clouds circling above decided it was time to empty.
I arrived at the hostel and paid my five-night fee, then excitedly hopped in the lift up to my 4-bed, female only dorm, ready to meet my first new faces. Having stayed in a mixed dormitory in New York, I was excited to be in an all-girl space, this time around. Though my male roommates had been perfectly friendly, there’s a sort of comfort you have when being in all-female company. No tour book’s necessarily going to recommend a woman to stay in a room with stranger men, y’know?
So, then, you might imagine my utter surprise when I walk into the dorm and my first sight is one of a sleeping man, wearing nothing but his boxers.
The sound of my internal shock must have woke him, because he soon sprang to life and began talking to me. He introduced himself: a Brazilian, who was exploring Canada for 30 days, and told me my accent was difficult to understand. Despite my initial caution, I actually liked him immediately – I later found out that he’s also a dedicated member of the BeyHive: days later, he flew to the States to catch the last leg of the Formation tour. (Beyoncé fans get an instant trust pass with me – don’t @ me about it.)
Nevertheless, why the hell were we sleeping in the same room?!
He soon mentioned another roommate we were staying with – another guy – and internally I was that emoji with the cold sweats: 😰
I put my bags down, and took myself downstairs to enquire about HOW EXACTLY THEY’D PUT A SINGLE WOMAN IN A ROOM WITH AT LEAST TWO MEN. Is that not a safety violation of some sort? I was prepared to put on my finest posh voice to tell them a little something about themselves…but a quick check of my emails revealed that the only one to blame was… you guessed it! Me.
How I selected mixed, when I meant WOMEN ONLY, is still a mystery to me. In a four-bed room too? Somehow, the fact that there were fewer of us made me more uncomfortable than before – weirdly intimate. I’d be able to hear, smell, and see everything much clearer…
Every woman I’ve told about this since asked me how I managed to sleep that night, and the sad truth is – I can fall asleep anywhere. Clubs, taxis, and around strangers. But in all seriousness, I realised that I had to believe that the people I was staying with weren’t automatically bad, or untrustworthy just because they were men. Where do we really get when we just assume the worst from everyone, right? And who knows – a stranger today could turn out to be a friend tomorrow…
So with a tentative prayer, I went to bed – and the next morning, I woke up completely unscathed and halfway rested to the sound of the bells from the cathedral across the street. Oh, and to the sight of the fourth roommate coming out of the en-suite shower room – another dude, confirming that I’d not only be spending each night with three men (wheeeey), but I probably wouldn’t ever get any female solidarity in the room. Great.
With a walking tour scheduled for 11am, my early rise meant I had four hours to get ready and, most importantly, get breakfast. Thank God for Google Maps – with no travel book to guide me, I simply typed ‘breakfast’ and was directed to an all-day brunch spot with a 4.2* rating. The sun was shining, the temperature was mild, and I was about to have a bellyful of Canadian bacon omelette. This day’s going to be perfect! I thought.
Oh, how wrong I was…