Last week, I made a post titled ‘6 Lessons learned while living abroad‘. Quite frankly, I had many others, but my thinking & writing time was limited. In that post, I’ve briefly covered the difference between living / traveling abroad. Both experiences shaped my personality, values and views on various topics. I’m particularly fond of traveling solo, something I would encourage everyone to do, but who am I to tell you how to live your life…so it is just something I’ll continue encouraging my friends/little sister to do.
Something that people tell me when I suggest they should take off on their own is ‘I can’t do that! I am not like you. I’m afraid, and have a hard time making friends.’ Well, guess what so do I. I am scared shitless of everything. I am scared of flying, no matter how many planes I’ve been on. I am scared of the dark, and of the unknown, I am scared of getting hit by a car in a foreign city and not getting proper health care, I am scared of choking, and of getting kidnapped. I am scared of getting lost somewhere and never finding my way home and of losing my wallet/ having my money stolen and not having any money to do anything about it. I am scared of having an allergic reaction to something I never even knew I was allergic to! Of course I am scared, I am full of fears and various neuroses They keep me awake at night, and yes I often need reassurance, but I just cannot let them stop me from exploring the world and what life has to offer. So I just suck it up and go.
I remember the first trip I took alone, I had no clue what I was doing. It was what you could call ‘a leap of faith’, I had no one to travel with, and I certainly wasn’t not going to go. And so I went. I remember flying into Prague from London. It was about 5 years ago. I’ve traveled many times before, but never truly alone. The plane was delayed, and so I arrived in Prague at 12:30 AM. I was so tired that I did something I never thought capable of : lose the directions to the hostel, but even worse – lose the hostel address! I couldn’t even remember the name of the hostel. I know that sounds ridiculous, but as many who travel will know, when you are going from place to place, you rarely ever know them all by heart. I somehow made it to the centretown area. From then on I proceeded to wander around the streets with my backpack, finally stumbling upon another hostel where I was able to use their computer to retrieve the information. I remember how scared I was, but in hindsight, it really wasn’t that bad.
Something that I did experience at first was loneliness. It is inevitable I think. As extroverted as I appear to many, I am also quite timid when I’m outside my comfort zone, so I don’t find it particularly easy to bond with people. People who know me think always feel surprised when I voice out how anxious I get in social situations. ‘You don’t seem it’ I guess all those years of theatre really payed off! When I am outside my comfort zone, I feel like I’m about to autocombust. My head feels fuzzy, I feel flushed, and yes, quite frankly I feel embarrassed that I’m walking this world on my own. I remember sitting in many cafés where I’d have to ask the waiter for a table for one. I remember thinking that I should take up smoking, because for some reason, that seemed more purposeful. I felt as if the world doesn’t cater out to the ‘table for one’ types like me. At first, all of your childhood nightmares come back to haunt you. You feel like the kid eating his lunch alone in the cafeteria full of people. You observe. You wish you had someone to share that moment with.
And then eventually, after days or weeks of tables for one, something magical happens – you no longer care. You are hungry from walking all day, and damn right you will sit on that beautiful terrace and eat your bowl of pasta, and drink a pint all on your own.
We aren’t born courageous. We just become it by exposing ourselves to situations that make us feel uneasy. And so I sincerely believe that we all have that capacity, it just takes a push.
Soon enough I met tons of people, on all of the trips I decided to take alone. I would meet them on walking tours, near landmarks, in hostels, through other people, etc. Some of them are still good friends, and we meet up here and there in the world. That is one of the greatest things of traveling – you will meet likely minded people, and will connect with them very quickly. And yes, perhaps you will never see them again, but you also just may! For example, I met one of my friends in Budapest. She was from New Zealand traveling through Europe. A few years later she moved to Scotland, and I visited her. Another friend, from Argentina, whom I met in Paris, came to visit years later while I lived in London. I’ve seen so many of those people I’ve met elsewhere in the world, and it was always such a treat.
All those encounters, as well as all that alone time taught me so much. Being on my own enabled me to free myself of my own preconceptions of loneliness. It enabled me to find comfort in walking this world on my own, and acceptance about my own thoughts. I surprised myself in many circumstances. Parts of your personality that you would leave dormant would surface. You are braver thank you think you are, you are more outgoing than you think you are, and you are certainly more capable than you think you are. If there is one thing I’ve learned, is to never let my own thought patterns limit what I choose to do.
When you travel alone, you only have yourself to count on. There is only you to please, but also only you to disappoint. No one else will solve your dilemmas, nor will they make your decisions for you. You will see exactly what you want to see and what you need to see. The travels will guide you in many unplanned directions. I have willfully missed trains and flights – because plans, just like life deviate!
The people you meet will be the type of people you will exactly be in the mood to meet in a given setting. Neither of you will need to compromise, after all, that is not what traveling solo is about. You will share experiences and see places, share stories, and share beautiful moments that will turn into memories. Then you will always eventually part ways. That will teach you the beauty of a goodbye, and of impermanence. The rainy streets you biked, Gothic buildings, the sea, the warm weather, local children playing in a park- some of the things you will always remember.
One day, you will sit across another person, sharing the stories that shaped you into the person you will be. And they will listen with a care that can only come from someone who has traveled solo too.