Traveling solo was always stressful, but in a good way. It feels how I think that mysterious drug all kids take in movies would feel—a hypersensitivity to every little thing you’re experiencing; intense joy, wonderment, spontaneity courses through your body all day long. You’re in awe of being in this strange place, yet because you’re acutely aware of how vulnerable you are, that something could go wrong at any moment, your adrenaline is also heightened. At least, that’s how I feel.
Landing at your destination and stepping outside of the airport for the first time is an indescribable rush. It’s when you switch over from traveling passively to traveling actively. No longer are you relying on the pilot, the airport staff, or a taxi driver; this part is all on you and what your trip ends up being is also your responsibility.
One thing I remembered in this state was that when wandering around by myself, the thought constantly in the back of my mind was: Am I prepared enough today?
The organized chaos of traveling solo
So many things these days are dependent on a smartphone that we almost forget how much preparation is necessary when you’re without one. Take, for example, my recent data shortage (how am I possibly hitting that 3GB cap every month so far??). If I want to make the last .5GB stretch for the rest of the month, I cut out using the GPS, which is hard in Austin as a newcomer! I always end up having to look up directions standing outside the door of my apartment, where I could still access wifi, and then take a screenshot. But this is nothing compared to the level of preparedness I had to be while traveling.
I did this every time I stepped out the door. Everywhere I wanted to go for a whole day, I would plan a trajectory or keep notes on free wifi hotspots along the way in case I got lost or changed my mind. That’s what a solo traveler on a budget has to do. Typically, I had to block of 1 to 2 hours each night at the hostel or host apartment, after having returned from the day’s adventures, to plan out what I wanted to see, in what order, and how to get to each of the sights.
There were things that never occurred to me to do until I traveled. For example, I found myself in downtown Istanbul with no idea what the nearest metro stop to Sultanahmet was or how to get to the metro. Or, for the times I couchsurfed, I had to coordinate with my host on times that I would be able to return. Or that time I didn’t know where the nearest Tourist Information Office was so that I could pick up city maps. Yet another time during my Germany trip, I realized I had no idea what any of their common grocery stores were called and what they would look like—were they those kinds of stores just on the street? In a mall? I didn’t know! (Luckily, in this instance, Melanie gave me a helping hand.) During my day trips en route to larger cities, I had to figure out where to stash my backpack because there was no way I was carrying that the whole day.
All of these were just a fraction of the possibilities I had to consider when on the road. Oh, and sunset times. Don’t ever forget sunset times because it’s ridiculously early in Europe in the winter.
Despite all of these little nuances that I always had to think about, none of that mattered because I was on a high while traveling. I was impenetrable. If I could travel to all these places alone without getting too lost, make friends no matter where I was, I could basically do anything! I could conquer the world.
Being back home is… different
Since I’ve been back, I’ve noticed that I’ve forgotten what that traveling high feels like. Each time when I think of taking a quick little jaunt somewhere on the weekends, I feel the same way I felt before I left for my first solo trip to Avignon: nervous, uncertain, completely vulnerable. What happened to the fearless adventurer that blew through Morocco, Istanbul, and Dublin on St. Paddy’s by herself? It seems that I have somehow relearned the pre-trip fears so that now, the thought of traveling alone once again makes me nervous. And that makes me scared. What if I can never push past this fear again?
This fear is probably a bit amplified for me because stay-at-home, non-traveling me is so very different than traveling me. At home, I thrive in the company of my friends, happy to just sit silently in a coffeeshop or someone’s living room while doing my own thing. Everything is better with some friends! is my mantra. However, when traveling, I know not to depend on someone else’s presence on the trip; I know how to entertain myself. But I also knew that solo traveling doesn’t mean friendless travel or even lonely travel—in fact, the number of times I felt truly alone on the 2-month trip was greatly outnumbered by the times when I felt flooded with social activity to where I didn’t even care if I didn’t click with anyone in the London hostels because it’d been too long since I was able to just sit by myself and blog.
Solo Travel is a Muscle
And it’s a muscle I have to use. I remember before taking off for my winter break trip around Germany, I was a bundle of nerves oscillating between excitement and terror. Yet again, before the start of my post-study abroad trip, I found myself staring down the 2 months I’d have to myself and worrying that I wouldn’t like it as much as I thought I would. I worried that it would be a disaster. Most of all, I worried that the world really is a scarier place than I thought it was. But, after a few cities under my belt, I found myself wholly embracing the solo travel lifestyle once more, trailblazing forward with no time for crippling fear.
I like to think that solo travel is just a muscle that I haven’t had the chance of using in a while. Like everything we do in life, there’s always some level of fear attached to it. Getting a job, for example, comes with the fear of not fitting into your office’s culture, not being able to stay within your budget, not enjoying the work that you do, etc. However, we confront these fears daily, which is why pushing past these fears is easier than jumping spontaneously on a plane. These are fears that we’ve pushed against time and time again; and like they always say, practice makes perfect. Solo travel, on the other hand, is something that doesn’t happen often and if it does, there’s a quick acclimation phase before you snowball forward. The time period in which you are actually terrified is very little, which is why it’s a muscle easily weakened.
Even though I know that I’m feeling this way because I haven’t traveled in a while, it’s weird to think how this “solo travel fear” can be so easily picked up again. And it’s completely relevant to broadening your mind. It’s so easy to become set in your ways that you perceive discomfort with the slightest change in your schedule. It’s like those articles on how to develop a new habit; the mind is exactly the same way. I’m scared that if I get into the habit of confining myself to certain spaces, behaviors, and comfort zones, eventually I’ll reach the point where travel is too far outside my comfort zone to ever attain again.
What are your thoughts? Is this something you’ve experienced before?
Welcome to this week’s Travel Tuesday linkup with A Compass Rose!
This week, I’m happy to feature Yalanda and her post “Taipei Three Day Itinerary“! It makes me miss Taiwan so much! Go check it out!
Ready to link up? Let’s get to it!
Here’s how it works:
1. Share a post about travel! From roadtrips to trips abroad and from past travels to dream vacations. You can write about travel tips and tricks, favorite places to stay or anything in between! Just make it about traveling somewhere!
3. Linkup goes live! Every Tuesday at 8 am GMT.
4. Hop around and meet new travel-loving bloggers! Link up will be open for a few days, make sure to check back to visit some of the newer travel posts!
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