Today is March 7 … exactly four years ago today I boarded a flight to London and embarked on a seven-month solo backpacking adventure through Europe and parts of Africa.
For months before I booked the trip, I teetered … I dreamed of traveling, but was it the right time to quit my job, mid-career, to hop on a plane across the Atlantic?
As I grew more miserable in my job, my career, the answer became clear: GO.
So, around Christmas 2009, I got on the phone with United and arranged for my solo backpacking trip.
Four years later, I know beyond a doubt it was the right decision. The perfect decision. The decision which gave me the strength, the courage, to forge the past 48 months of my life. It lead me back to Vegas, it lead me to Thailand to volunteer with elephants, and ultimately, it led me to life as an expat in Chiang Mai.
In those seven months, I visited London, Ireland, Spain, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Amsterdam, Spain again, Portugal, Spain again, Rwanda, Spain again, Morocco, Spain again (I had a love affair with the country, what can I say?), Turkey, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Bosnia and Croatia.
The things I learned about myself, about life, have fueled me to this day. It was life-altering. What did I learn?
1. Leap. Leap far.
There were so many moments during my travels when I was scared. Hell, even the night before London, there was terror creeping into my blood. What had I done? I quit my job in the middle of a recession to travel the world? To write? At 30, was this really a risk I wanted to take? You bet. When I was offered a week in Rwanda, I wasn’t sure. It was expensive. But. It. Was. Rwanda. And, when on earth would I have the opportunity to trek with gorillas again? So, I leaped. I leaped, and leaped and leaped. Coming back to America, I leaped again. Travel taught me leaping is OK. That if I leap, I will land on my feet, because there isn’t really another option.
2. It is OK to be fearful.
Fear is one of the main things holding us back. Fear of leaving what we know. Fear of taking a chance. Fear of the unknown. Travel makes you shut up that fear. It makes you look fear in the face and tell it to fuck off. Traveling solo, there are ample opportunities to be fearful. Walking alone at night. Arriving to a new country, a new city, and not being able to speak the language. Fear is OK, being scared is OK, so long as you don’t let it paralyze you. Once you can get past the fear, you can experience beauty and a world you never imagined.
3. Everywhere you go, there you are.
My mom used to always say that to me. She would always tell me my desire to travel was because I was running, but I could never run from myself. She was 100 percent accurate. And, when I left, I didn’t want to be running. But, there were times when the unhappiness crept back in to my life during my trip. Being alone in Budapest and being exhausted. Being sick in various countries. Meeting amazing people and then getting on a bus in opposite directions the next day. It is those moments, when alone, you realize you are only as strong as you think you are, and to travel solo, you have to muster up that strength to be strong. Traveling doesn’t solve problems. Actually, it can create a whole new set. But, it does get you much more connected with yourself. It taught me to really look at my life and see what I want. It gave me permission to chase my dreams and catch them, versus just talking about the things I wished I could do.
4. Clarity comes in the least expected of places.
There I was, standing on a rooftop of a medina in the dizzying city of Marrakesh when the realization of what I wanted to do came to light with a boom: to travel and write. Sure, I knew this, but there was something about being in the overwhelming Moroccan city, the mint tea, the snake charmers calling in the distance, that just made it all seem so much more clear. In that moment, I knew I wasn’t just traveling, I was setting the path for the rest of my life.
5. Roll with it. And, if you can’t roll with it, don’t leave your house.
Traveling to foreign countries delivers such unexpected twists and turns — some wonderful and some downright shitty. You miss a flight, you get on the wrong bus, you end up landing at one airport and having to catch a flight at the main airport across the city … you have to be prepared to just roll with it. Never has a lesson taught me the importance of patience, of smiling, of sucking it up and remembering the world does not revolve around me. It also taught me to be nicer — both in travel life and in real life.
6. Go with your gut.
When I was in Kusadasi, I had a bad feeling about the hotel owner I was working for. Bad enough, where a few hours before he came after me, I had already snuck down the block and spoke with another hotel and asked if they had rooms. Trust your gut. If it screams “get out of here!” then listen. Don’t brush it off. After I met with a shaman in Vegas, my gut told me to quit my job (again). So, I did. And then, I ended up in Chiang Mai. Things happen for a reason — sometimes you have to be the catalyst in making a change.
7. The only person in the world you should truly count on is yourself.
If I had waited to go to Europe until someone else could go with me, I’d be sitting here four years later, likely still waiting. During my trip, I realized that if I wanted to go somewhere, to do something, it was up to me to simply just do it. Yes, I put trust in my friends, but I know now that if there is something that means something to me, it might not have the same meaning to someone else. It is up to me to create my happiness; relying on others to do so doesn’t work in the long-term.
8. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
I’m not big into taking physical risks, and yet for some reason, I decided to paraglide in Turkey. Only, instead of paragliding, I toppled down a cliff. Shaken (read: hysterical), I sat on a boulder on a tiny road with nothing below it but a valley way, way down. As tears erupted from my eyes, I realized I was lucky to have lived. And while the tour outfit encouraged me to try again (hell! no!), I did manage to stand up, wipe my tears and keep going with my trip. When I returned to America, it was hard. Anyone who says re-entry is easy is far more stoic than I am. But, I powered through it. Now, I live life with this thought. I see a challenge (albeit not really physical ones) and I face it. I deal with issues and I become stronger for it.
9. Believe in yourself.
Going out into the world of solo travel is a brave, brave decision. Not everyone can do it. It is hard. It is stressful, but it is also incredibly rewarding. On the flight back from Europe, I felt so satisfied. I. Did. It. I believed in myself enough to accomplish seven months of being in foreign countries, navigating transportation, hauling a backpack on my back, meeting new people … Believing in yourself opens the world to you. It certainly did for me.
10. And, the most important thing I learned: If you want it, you can get it.
Throughout life, people have told me there are rules to follow in order to be successful. That in order to get what I want, I have to go through X, Y and Z. You know what? That’s not true. At least for me. If there is something I want, if I believe I can attain it, I can. It is all in the power of my mind, and can be in the power of your mind, too. Take the chance. Go after what you want. And get it. It’s the reason I am here in Thailand. It’s the reason I quit my job four years ago and embarked on a solo travel adventure. It’s the reason I ended up back in Vegas. Want something bad enough and you can get it.
Have you traveled solo? What did you learn?