Why Everyone Should Travel Alone At Least Once in a Lifetime
I have been traveling since I was six months old, yes, you read that right. My family lives overseas,more specifically in London, England. My parents moved to America several years before I was born, and of course my extended family wanted to meet the newest member of the family. Obviously I don't remember my first trip, however there are many memories from other trips as a child I vividly remember. I consider myself very lucky that at a young age I was able to travel, most of my life we went yearly.
At age 12 I traveled to London alone for the first time, where I spent the summer. I stayed with my grandparents, and was able to spend time with both family and friends. I was allowed to explore the city and go shopping with friends without an adult, and I realized how big of a responsibility this was at this age. I can remember trying on clothes at Miss Selfridges and having a grand old time with my friend giving each other fashion shows. This was long before cell phones or social media. What I didn't know at 12, was how much this trip would lead me to fall in love with traveling and exploring even more.
I became really great friends with someone online, who like myself, was an avid equestrian. We became pen pals, and eventually our parents agreed for us to meet. The only kicker is that I was in New Hampshire and she was in Pennsylvania. So, I got on a plane and flew to Pennsylvania for a week during summer break, and then again the following Christmas. I am lucky! I know! I have parents who have always trusted me and allowed me the opportunity for some really amazing experiences. I can remember the feeling of amazement and wonder each time I would see a new place. My first trip to Pennsylvania is also when I first experienced dancing at a club (for those under 18,) a very country fair where my friend and I adopted a rat from one of the game vendors (yes, we saved it from inevitable death and animal cruelty,) I saw Amish workers in their horse and buggy on the main road, and at the biggest flea market in Ohio where they sold their handmade goods. I didn't know it then, but this was also a pivitol moment that made me realize how much there was to learn, see, and experience. Not just domestically but internationally also.
I traveled to London at 22 solo, and explored it in a totally new way. This time, I didn't stay with family, and I lived in a hotel as a tourist. The freedom was amazing. After this it would be some time before I was able to solo travel again. I took plenty of trips, I saw parts of New York I didn't know existed, spent time in South Carolina, Washington DC, and Vermont, and the Dominican Republic, to name a few.
Of course these trips were not entirely "solo" as I met up with people I knew, however these trips lead up to me taking a chance and heading out on my first solo trip. I travelled to Chicago, IL, Jacksonville, FL, and Minneapolis, MN solo between August 2016 and February 2018. I graduated in March of 2018 with my masters in Clinical Psychology, which left me with an abundance of time and a burning desire to explore more. Naturally I started making lists of places I wanted to visit, a travel bucket list of sorts.
Since I was a child I have always wanted to go to Thailand, Thai food has always been my favorite. I also have always had a strong interest in Buddha and Thai culture. It made sense to take the biggest solo trip of my life, to the one place I had always wanted to visit. I did research, I went back and fourth questioning my ability to do the trip alone, or at all. Living with chronic illness I was fearful that something would go wrong, but I reminded myself that I don't live in fear, and that I am more than capable of whatever I put my mind to. Thus, the trip was booked, and the excitement set in.
Two years ago I flew across the globe solo onto what was one of my most unbelievable experiences of my life. I remember working all day, and being so excited and nervous to not just fly to Thailand, but to travel that far alone. Traveling is one of the best things you can spend money on, you become rich with knowledge, learn to appreciate things more, learn about yourself, different cultures, and have experiences and opportunities that often are considered "once in a lifetime." The weeks prior I was a ball of anxiety, mostly due to the fear of the unknown.
The moment I got to the airport the anxiety was gone. It was pure excitement and joy, and an unexpected, overwhelming feeling of freedom. I was ready, I was more than ready, and what I learned on this solo trip, what I took back with me, and what I hold onto to this day can not be bought, it can't be experienced second hand, and it can't truly be shared.
Sow hat have I learned? Firstly, I learned to be even more mindful and aware of myself and my settings. Practicing mindfulness is something I learned to incorporate into my life years ago- but it's call the practice of mindfulness and meditation because we are constantly learning and growing, as long as we allow ourselves too. I learned to really sit with myself, my thoughts, and to let them come and go, only taking what I truly needed. I realized that I don't need anyone else, that I enjoy my own company, and you don't need another body with you to have fun. I learned to be more patient, each country, each city, each town, they move at their own paces, have their own values and beliefs, cultures, and ways of life. I stepped out of the comfort zone, almost to the point of being in panic zone a few times, and in doing so I learned that I can overcome anything, I learned to thrive off of fear instead of hide from it.
In these travels I became more aware of what's actually needed within my travels and life, to live more simply. Often times less is more. Less baggage, less food, less clothing, less souvenirs. In embracing another culture, we allow ourselves the opportunity for knowledge, and to see things from another perspective. I spoke to new people, from all over the world, from all walks of life. If you take the time to listen, everyone has a story. I became more curious, the more I saw, the more I wanted to see, to learn, to explore. I learned what freedom really feels like, the ability to live 100% on your own agenda. Eat when you want, sleep when you want, walk as many miles as you want, see everything you want to see rather than what others think you should see. There is no peer influence on your decisions, if you don't want to go to the most touristy places, and enjoy things off the beaten path, you are free to do so. I'm not saying you can't do this if you are in a group or with another travel partner, but it is less likely you will get to do everything you want to, as there will need to be a level of compromise. You become more in tune with your intuition- listen to it, it's usually right. There is no one with you telling you which way to go, therefore you are at a crossroad. Follow that intuition. Of course, stay safe, and if you need to ask for directions do so, and make sure if you are a solo female traveler, you know where is and isn't safe depending on the city or country. You truly begin to realize what's important to you, and what really doesn't matter at all. Sights, smells, flavors, habits, values, perhaps you even have an epiphany and realize you have more goals and more ambition than you one thought.
Things you thought were important, the cute shoes or new outfit, may find their way to the bottom of the pack as you choose comfort over being trendy or trying to fit in. Souvenirs may look different for you. Rather than buy something perhaps you collect a rock, a shell, or sea glass from places you travel. Maybe those photos are all you need to reflect now and then of the experience you had and the memories you hold close. After both my trip to the Dominican and my trip to Thailand I choose to make photo books with the highlights of my trip. The things that meant the most to me. I am in the works of making another from this summers advantages. The moments that perhaps I caught on camera, or candid moments, moments that brought me to a place of true peace and joy.
You may also find out who in your life is most supportive of you and your travels. Those who are excited for you, rather than those who question "why would you ever want to go there?" or "why would you want to go alone?" they aren't the people who understand and truly get you. True, they may still care, but they may be the same people who don't care to hear about your trip, adventures, experiences. That's okay, the new you, the worldly traveler with new knowledge and experience are more than welcome to share your stories, and plenty of people will be happy to hear all about them. Not sure about the rest of you, but I have no time for hates, jealousy, or relationships that aren't equal and giving something beneficial to both parties involved. You learn, or maybe you already knew, that you hold the key to your own happiness and destiny. You have missed taxis, sat on long layovers, underestimated or overestimated travel time, forgot to check into flights, taken red eyes, lost room keys, or maybe taken one to many with you by accident. You are responsible for you, no one else is to blame when you make a mistake, you own them, you learn from them, and sometimes they become funny travel stories. Either way, you learn to maneuver through these mistakes with your head held high, with grace, and dignity, and move on.
With each trip you become stronger, mentally and maybe physically as well. You become more confident in yourself, in your abilities, and your goals. You learn to be a better communicator, having to ask for directions, maybe every 10 minutes! you learn to ask what's in a dish, the best local hang outs, what's safe, where to eat, or where the closest restroom is. Sure, some of this you could google, but part of the experience is the human connection, learning to ask questions, connect, and grow.
The globe is our oyster, and the possibilities are endless. While the Pandemic stopped travel in 2020, and likely for 2021, I am excited to see what life has in store, and where, when it's safe, I might end up next.