Traveling is exciting, it makes the butterflies in our stomachs churn and tumble. Let’s be honest the feeling of stepping off a plane and landing in a new country is one of the most exhilarating experiences we can have. Even now, I am as excited as a puppy when I plan a trip, lying awake at night thinking about all the new flavors, smells, sights, people and cultures. It makes my hair stand upright. But I only ever truly appreciated this magic until I traveled on my own, this act of bravery stripped me clean of all my masks and showed me the wonders of the world through an unfiltered lens.
Going to a new country is a mix of anxiety and excitement, there are all these feelings and emotions and they are very different and similar at the same time, so identifying each feeling is difficult. Doing it on your own, makes these emotions even more intense, to me at least it felt like I was going to have an anxiety attack before the plane even landed. Now when I look back I laugh and wonder to myself “why were you so afraid, this is going to be the experience you have been yearning for”. And it was, it truly forced me to become a better person, it forced me to be more open-minded, it forced me to make friends, it forced me to do things I would never have done before. And the reason for this is because traveling alone leaves you naked and sort of unprotected. Which is actually a good thing. Think about it, when you are traveling with friends, family or partners, it’s easy to feel safe, they lull you into a completely unintended sense of safety and in doing this they are holding you back. The best way to find yourself is to go and be yourself. This means going out alone, without that sense of safety, without that comfort zone.
My oh my, what wonders the world reveals when you leave your comfort zone. Just you wait and see the magic that happens when you bare yourself to the world, the world answers back, not only do you see the world the way it really was meant to be, but now you appreciate it. You see the unbeaten track and race towards the new adventure with confidence. And when you leave that comfort zone and start venturing into the unknown, that’s when you will start to learn more about yourself, it makes it easier to immerse yourself in the new culture, it forces you to find companions to share meals with. It leaves you with good and bad experiences, captivating and memorable stories. Most importantly it shows us how traveling was supposed to be done. It shows us that staying off the beaten track is where the unfound wonders are found. It tells us that the real magic is in the people, the culture, or even just the food of those countries.
Seeing the real world means going down the back alleys of Asia, up to the heart of Africa and into the soul of India. It’s about staying away from the touristy places and venturing off into the new and unknown. This is best done alone, you can do it with people, but they will unfortunately and totally unintended hold you back. Because when you are in that cradle of safety, cocooned into a comfort zone, you won’t be able to completely immerse yourself. You will stick to the things you already know, you will compromise. Doing it alone, now that’s a different story and oh so rewarding.
When I first started traveling, I stuck to my friends for the first few months. To be honest I was afraid of going out on my own. But it was holding me back, so I decided to go to Laos on my own. At the beginning it was a challenge, I was very lonely and afraid. But it forced me to grow up, to become stronger, to make friends of my own and to live in the moment. During that month I made a lot of friends, saw the most beautiful mountains, explored unguarded caves, went river rafting, and so many more memories, but the best part of it all was that I wasn’t afraid of solo-traveling anymore. I was excited to travel unguarded, unsafe, completely naked but totally free. I decided to go back to every country I have ever been to, but this time I would do it on my own. I was apprehensive about going back to places that were sort of familiar to me, but only this time everything looked different, the smells, culture, food, people everything was real to me now. I held no intentions and I held no mask. I was the real me and this was the world, the real world.
Since then the whole world has changed for me, and I have too. But, that’s the point, every time you leave a country you should leave with a piece of its culture in your heart, unforgettable memories and endless stories. Can this be done by sticking to the touristy areas? No, it can’t, if you went to the resort’s pool every day and partied with the other wealthy travelers, you would have the same stories, like everybody else on the plane out of the country. Traveling is one of the things in life that you pay for that actually makes you richer. The best advice I have to give anybody is to never stick to the plan too much, and really don’t set the intention of ever arriving. Find that bravery to go and do it on your own. It might feel safe to follow the crowds, but just imagine what beauties you will see when you go off the beaten track.