I took my first solo trip weeks before I turned 21. In fact, I celebrated my 21st birthday on that trip, surrounded by strangers I had met only a couple of weeks before, and my birthday “cake” was a bundle of sugar cane with candles shoved haphazardly in the middle. Not only was it one of the most thoughtful birthday cakes/presents, I was mildly (read: HIGHLY) obsessed with sugar cane on this trip, but it was one of the most memorable to this day. Several years later, and a few solo adventures under my belt, I’ve learned a thing or two about myself. I don’t collect many souvenirs when I travel, what I do collect though are lessons. Lessons about life, the world, and other people, but most valuable are the lessons I’ve learned about myself.
Solo travel is just that; you, yourself and you, for better or for worse. Sure, you meet people along the way but nobody’s got your back like you do. Not a morning person? Nobody’s making sure you are setting an alarm and awake for that 9 AM tour you booked. Directionally challenged? Start getting really good with that map because there aren’t many people helping with that either. Hungry? You are most likely dining alone, get comfy eating by yourself. It’s awkward doing things by yourself. When I travel alone, I fear what other people will think when I show up to do a tour, or if people see me dining out alone. From my experience though, no one actually cares! The narrative and the story I’m telling myself about doing things alone are always far meaner than what anyone is actually thinking. Once I’m able to get over that fear and that hurdle of being judged by others, what’s waiting on the side is endless possibilities. I do what I want when I want to do it. I can try a restaurant, go to a historical site or monument, wander aimlessly, or take a 5-hour nap, all without worrying or being on someone else’s schedule or timeline. Travel has given me the permission to take up space, to see my ideas, my desires, my likes, and my dislikes, as valuable and worthy of pursuing. It’s taught me that the relationship I have with myself, mainly the time and energy I put into it, is just as important as the time and energy I put into relationships with others.
Whether it be, being pelted by hail on a trek to Machu Picchu, eating a whole box of pastéis de nata in Portugal, or laying on the most beautiful beach in Jamaica, I learnt the power of being present in each moment. How putting down my phone allows me to take in what I see around me, what I smell, what I hear. Putting my phone down, holding off on taking a million pictures of who knows what half the time, actually allowed me to feel so much wonder, so much awe for what I was experiencing while I was actually experiencing it. Being present, fully, while travelling allows me to feel connected to the place I'm visiting. It’s taught me to be present in my day-to-day life. Those fleeting moments of awe don’t have to happen once a year when you go on vacation. They can happen in the simplest, most mundane of moments only if we allow ourselves to open our eyes to what is right in front of us.
Meeting other people is scary but also so exciting. When I went to Machu Picchu, I trekked with ten other people I had never met. There were people from all over, France, Wales, Italy, and the United States. We were going to be spending the next 5 days together. My one worry; what were we going to talk about? What unfolded over the coming days was something I could never have expected. I learned about these people’s lives, their families, and their jobs. We laughed, we cried, and we got angry. The connections I formed with this group of people were special. Had I let this fear of, “what are we going to talk about”, overcome me to the point of being closed off, I would have missed out on the opportunity to meet these really amazing people.
Travel gives us this beautiful glance into other people’s experiences and the opportunity to share and be seen by others, we only have to show up with openness and curiosity in hand.
Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves. I owe so much to my travel experiences. Without it, I wouldn’t have discovered nearly half of all these different sides of myself. With it, I’ve been able to step more confidently and bravely into my most authentic and full self.
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