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As I write this, I’m slowly hurtling from an old home to a current one in a truly fabulous sleeper train. It’s 12:52 am and I can hear the person in the bunk next to mine through the wall. They’re snoring. I can’t sleep because my brain still thinks I’m in America, even though this will be my third time in a row without a proper night’s rest.

It’s also possible that I can’t sleep because I can’t stop thinking.

Before I started this blog, I was in my first year of university in London. I was every bit your typical midwestern girl, just moved to the Big City bright eyed and bushy tailed. Everything was new and sparkling and so much better than the small town I had called home for the first eighteen years of my life.

But like most of these stories go, it didn’t take long for the Big City to chew me up and spit me back out again.

I’ve had a problem with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember.

Of course, I know that’s not the truth. I was every bit your cherub-cheeked happy child, but as middle and high school wore on, I constantly struggled with keeping my emotions in check and looking on the bright side of things.

But it had never been as bad as the last months that I spent in London.

I can pinpoint the exact moment that I realized I wasn’t happy. I had just walked a friend who was visiting to the bus stop and found myself absentmindedly looking at the website for her university — a little place in Scotland I had never heard of before she talked about it.

The summer before we started our first years, we were both excited for our moves across the pond and what they held in store for us. In January, she was the only one who was excited about her return. She loved it there. You could tell in the way her eyes lit up when she talked about the place — even the classes that she didn’t love.

A few weeks later, I found myself on a train going to visit her — and the university that she had fallen in love with. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with it too, and I filled out an application the second I got back to London.

While I waited to hear back, I did my best to stick it out to the end of the year. But the fact that, if I got into this university, the year I spent at the first one wouldn’t matter combined with the fact that I was really and truly the most unhappy I have been in my entire life meant that I knew I had to leave.

At first, I thought I would go traveling. That had always been my plan for the Easter holidays. A few weeks hopping around hostels in Europe would be cheaper than a plane ticket home, after all. I would just push up my plans a few weeks.

But over the course of a week, I really started to deteriorate. I was on the phone with one parent or the other every night, not even trying to hold back the tears and I explained to them that I. Couldn’t. Breathe.

I flew home that Sunday.

Since that flight home, I’ve been working on recovering. Getting into that university I fell in love with helped. So did spending the next year there falling more and more in love with it every day. A lot.  But since I fled in the early morning one weekend in March, I had never returned to London. Until yesterday.

Wanting to avoid an overnight flight, I figured that it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to fly into London and spend a day or two there before I went up to Scotland. It made logical sense, since it is literally impossible to take anything but an overnight flight from my home airport to Edinburgh. So I booked the tickets. I didn’t think much about them again until a few weeks before I was due to return to university.

And then, of course, I started to panic.

I tend to start panicking when I’m nervous about a situation. It’s what I do.

Through the following weeks, the sinking feeling in my stomach only worsened. What was I supposed to do with my day in London? See old friends? There weren’t many of those to begin with, and the few who are left I haven’t spoken to in over a year. See the sights? Feels strange in a place that I once called home. But then again, London is a big city, and there are still millions of corners of it that I haven’t explored. But I wasn’t prepared to do any of those things. Not yet, and certainly not alone.

So I let my day sit open for weeks while I waited for the courage to make a decision. The day before I left, my dad suggested going on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. Considering Harry Potter’s world has always felt like a home away from home, it seemed like the most comfortable option. I booked a ticket.

Today, I ate breakfast and listened to the accents of the hotel employees that reminded me of old flatmates. As I rode the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow into Central London, I watched as we stopped at my old station and people filled in and out. If I had never left, I would have been returning for my third and final year of university. I would have gotten off at this station, taken a short bus ride, and have been home.

But instead, I kept riding the Piccadilly Line.

That university may have been home once, but those memories have long since been soured — thrown out and replaced with better ones and a university that I am really, truly, head-over-heels in love with. I’m returning for my second year. I have three more years left there that I’m sure I’m going to love just as much as I have loved the first.

I switched for the Victoria line, grabbed lunch and dropped off my luggage in Euston station. Then I took another train to Watford Junction. I was pelted with short, violent bursts of rain as I waited in line for the bus that would take me to the studios. That rain reminded me why I appreciate living by the coast now. There’s still rain, but a lot less of it.

My time exploring the film sets of Harry Potter was easily one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Having been immersed in the world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry since I was eight years old, it was everything I could have dreamed of and more. But that all felt like a side note compared to the time I spent on the tube.

Harry Potter Studio Tour Great Hall

I returned to Euston station an hour before my train was set to depart. I never even set foot in London proper, but it still feels like I made a big step today. Maybe one day I’ll return to London to revisit my old haunts and find some new ones. But today was not that day, and I’m okay with that. At least I’m going to tell myself that I am.

I’d much rather be on a train from London to my own personal Hogwarts — even if my lessons involve German grammar, rather than Charms or Transfiguration.


Addie Gray is a recent college grad and a passionate solo female traveler. Having traveled to more than 20 countries, she now shares her knowledge on budget travel, solo female travel, and travel photography.

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