Why you should consider travelling alone.
I recently travelled to South America this year. My desires led me to Colombia; from Colombia to Ecuador, and from Ecuador to Peru. Travelling through each country, city-by-city, town-by-town, I’ve seen so much and learned even more. Here’s an expression you’ve probably heard one too many times, “travelling makes you grow.” I don’t believe that wholeheartedly. You see, I don’t believe that when you are travelling with friends, family, or a significant other, you can really personally grow. Yes you may be in a different country, with a language you barely understand, surrounded by locals who are complete strangers. Visiting various sights and meeting new people daily, but from my understanding, it sometimes leaves you in a bubble.
Are you ever really uncomfortable? Nervous? Awkward? Shy? I doubt it! Want to know why? Because you haven’t actually left your comfort zone. I mean you think you have because it’s foreign and different. But let’s be completely honest here, you have one, two, or three people you can lean on and depend on. You have a piece of home with you. That’s like GOLD.
Imagine yourself walking down a busy path in a city you’ve never visited before.
In scenario one, you are with some friends. You guys are laughing, smiling, and enjoying every bit of the time you are spending with each other, and creating new experiences.
Scenario two, you are alone walking down the very same path. You are loving every minute of your new adventure, from the smells to the smiles; it’s all new and exciting.
Did you notice that beautiful mural on a brick wall outside of a sweets shop? The seniors playing cards on a picnic table? How the locals interact with each other, and the differences in culture? Did you talk to any locals?
I’m putting my bet on that solo traveller having a greater experience. You?
Okay, lets get back to my story. I met up with my best friend in Colombia. It wasn’t our first time travelling together, we have been on several trips together. I hadn’t seen him in almost two months, so you can imagine how happy we both were to reunite, especially in Colombia. HELLO…magical…anyone? Travelling as a couple is supposed to be perfect, right? Visiting romantic, exotic places together, sharing new dishes by the beach, and climbing the Andean mountains or walking down the busiest streets hand-in-hand.
We ate a lot, laughed a lot, listened to Latin music a lot, and translated Spanish to English a lot. You get the gist. We did lots. We experienced some firsts together too, including me learning to surf. Having someone you love to share these experiences with is invaluable.
But then, you guessed it, we decided to travel separately in Peru. I left to the big city Lima, and he stayed behind in Huaraz. Now two months before that, I would have never done it. At first I wasn’t alone, I was with a friend I met at a bus terminal in Mancora, Peru. I didn’t know it then, but Lexi played a huge part in my Peruvian experience. After a nine-hour night bus ride, we spent the next two weeks inseparable. We joked about how a complete stranger can become your family; how when traveling, knowing someone for a week can feel like a lifetime.
Look it’s Lexi 🙂
I remember meeting an Israeli female in Salento, Colombia, who in a short time left a lasting impression. Over dinner, she stressed to me that women should not fear travelling alone, and how important she felt it was for women to do so. I was afraid to travel alone in South America, mainly because I didn’t speak Spanish. I was barely getting my feet wet at this point, having only been there two weeks. I couldn’t fathom it then, but man, was she right.
I was in Cusco, staying in a hostel where I knew no one. I felt vulnerable and alone. I also felt free and liberated. At this point I was suffering from anxiety, a lower than usual self-esteem, and a depreciating level of confidence. Though I felt I was vulnerable, I later realized I was the strongest I had ever been. This wasn’t like being the new kid at school. I say this because when we are kids we have this fearless attitude we slowly lose in adulthood. I guess I stole it back in Peru.
I stayed in a ten-bed dorm room; three Australians and one Canadian (that’s me) were the only ones checked into the room.
First step in making new friends: Talk to your bunkmates. There’s one of them.
They were friendly and inviting. None of us knew each other, but it didn’t matter. I forced myself away from shyness, and found a new person, hiding inside. Only until I had no one else to rely on for companionship, did I truly find myself.
It was the first time on my trip that I felt free enough to do anything. What I mean is, I no longer had another person making decisions or having to compromise with (something you learn to get better at when travelling with others). I could stay in bed for as long as I wanted, people-watch for as long as I wanted, eat the food I wanted. This may sound stupid but it felt exhilarating, and also a relief that I no longer had to compromise and bicker about the things I wanted to do. Every single decision was now up to me.
I remember my friends’ reactions back home. “What? You are by yourself? Aren’t you scared? Why are you so crazy, go back to your boyfriend,” they said. Ladies, let’s not doubt each other, most importantly, let’s not doubt ourselves.
Here are 5 new changes I noticed in myself in just a few weeks:
- I’ve always believed I was directionally challenged. I probably believed this because I never really tried; hence I always depended on someone else to read a map. I am now a map master!!!
- I am usually shit at making new friends. At times I can be awkward (yes that awkward Canadian) and lack the confidence to put myself out there. I forced myself to talk to locals in broken Spanish, and make new friends in the hostel. I now have different squads on different continents. I’ve picked up a new habit of talking to strangers. The confidence I’ve gained in myself is monumental.
- I no longer feel uncomfortable talking about myself, something I have struggled with for years. My weaknesses are now my strengths. I am now an interview killer!!!
- I’ve learned to trust my instincts. Back home, I most likely wouldn’t accept an invitation to go out with complete strangers alone. I would probably bring a safety net to tag along just in case I need backup in a Kung-Fu fighting match. Trusting my gut, I found that I’m more approachable when alone, and it leads me to unique conversations I wouldn’t normally have.
- No phone, no friends, no family, and no distractions, I was left with my thoughts. It gave me the opportunity to realize what makes me happy and what doesn’t. It forced me to look inside and seek happiness from within. I reflected on my personal goals, and the relationships in my life. Being so far away, and disconnected from my home life. I came to the realization that most of the things I thought were important to me really aren’t. They are mere distractions. Lord Jesus there’s a fire.
My greatest takeaway from this trip is the independence I gained, and I became more self-sufficient. I learned that I am capable. Relying only on self, I saw my true potential.
It’s safe to say, my next trip I’m going SOLO.