IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: Tomorrow is my birthday
Yes I am going to be 27 and still get excited about birthdays. What can I say? Body of a (nearly) 27 year old, mind of a 6 year old.
But, jokes aside, it seems crazy that it was 5 years ago that I graduated university and applied for an Irish visa rather than a career-type job. And that, in the years since, I still regularly avoid the monotonous 9-5 grind and save my money for plane tickets rather than a car or a downpayment on a house.
To many, my way of life at 27 years old probably seems pretty juvenile. But as I look back at everything I’ve done and seen over the past couple of years, I can’t help but disagree. Solo travel has taught me a lot, both about myself and about life in general. Important lessons that I probably wouldn’t have learned quite as well in a normal everyday life. While there have no doubt been dozens, these are the ones that stand out and have been my biggest takeaways.
1) I CAN Adult
I’ve never considered myself to be irresponsible but it definitely took travelling around the world alone to realize that I needed to smarten up. I didn’t have my mom to remind me to make sure that my alarm was set to catch the early morning train. Or to ask me if I was sure that I was flying out of the same airport as I flew into. And there was nobody to help me out when my bank account was claimed fraudulent in Prague, or when my visa was compromised in Thailand. No, that was all on me. So when things went wrong, and they did (many times), I only had myself to blame and figure out a fix. It may have taken a few mistakes but I’ve learned to be more responsible with my time, my responsibilities, my belongings, and my budget.
2) I’m a Whole Lot Braver Than I Thought
Travelling alone has meant I have had to do a whole lot of things I never imagined myself doing. The word’s “I can’t” and “I won’t” frequently flit through my mind but, being alone, I have no other choice. So when things get sketchy I’ve learned to figure things out, even when plans go awry (how was I supposed to know that faking Spanish wouldn’t work?!). And when things get gross, I’ve learned to suck it up; even when faced with the world’s most disgusting, cesspool of a toilet. Conquering some of the scariest and most disgusting things I have come across has only made me braver, stronger, and more determined. And a fleet-footed-squatting-ninja!
3. Kindness is Key
There’s nothing like being alone to appreciate the power a kind ‘hello’, or an honest ‘are you okay?’. As the queen of getting lost, anyone who asks if I need help reading my map becomes my personal superhero.The receptionist at my hostel in Berlin who slipped me a couple free drink vouchers after an epically awful day was my guardian angel. Sometimes being alone gets, well lonely, and I can’t tell you how many times even a friendly smile has made my day. Because of this, I’m also more aware and attuned to others around who may need that warm smile or friendly hello to better their day, and I’m happy to provide it because I know the difference it can make.
4. It’s Okay to Trust Strangers…
Being independent is awesome, but sometimes it just plain sucks. Especially when travelling on the other side of world where I know nobody and nothing about the area. Travelling solo has allowed me to break down barriers, put aside my fears, and learn to trust others. Sometimes it’s for simple things like taking a local’s advice on where to go (or avoid) for dinner. But sometimes it’s more daunting. Should I follow the Italian man to the ‘new’ vaporetto station? Should I spend the day with my new hostel mates and head off the grid? As a little girl, my mom always said don’t talk to strangers, but I’ve learned that the majority of people only want the best for me; to protect me, ensure that I’m happy and safe, and make sure that I see the best of what a destination has to offer.
5. But I Should Always Trust Myself First
While I do firmly believe that the majority of people only want the best for me, I also know that are some who go against that and would take advantage. My most uncomfortable travel situation in 2011 proved that, and I’m thankful I was able to recognize that things were weird early on and try to find a way out. That incident only strengthened by confidence in my intuition. If something seems off, or something seems to good to be true I know I need to get out. I make the effort to research popular scams ahead of time, but it’s impossible to plan for everything. My go to: if it’s not something I would do at home, then it’s probably not something I should do abroad.
6. Being Alone, and Disconnected, is Pretty Awesome
I used to hate being alone, so it surprised many when I took off on my own. While I definitely used (and continue to use) my phone as a security blanket, I learned that I actually liked being alone. And even more, I liked being disconnected. Sometimes its really good to just get away from it all; to have a lazy afternoon with a book in a hammock overlooking the jungle, or watch the sunset from a rock on a tropical beach. Not everything needs to be shared or documented to be enjoyed. And some of my favourite memories are the times I’ve just lived in the moment; no phones, no cameras, just me and a once in a lifetime experience.
7. The World isn’t Nearly as Scary as it’s Made Out to Be
There’s a lot of fear surrounding the idea of being alone in a strange part of the world, especially for women. But, the more I travel solo the more I realize that, although I do need to be careful, most of the so-called warnings are really just misconceptions. The only Thai man that chased me across the street only did it to tell me that I forgot to zip up my bag. The mother with her children that approached me in Riga just wanted to make sure I knew where I was going. And 95% of the young men who approach me don’t do it to harass me, but rather want to know if I could take their photo.
The negative stories are so sensationalized that we, as travellers, have allowed ourselves to think that everyone is out to get us, but that’s not at all the case. Yes, the world is a big place, but the people in it are inherently kind. It doesn’t take long to see the magic in being alone and how going solo, as scary as it might be to start, is really the best way to experience the good in the world.