“Our lives improve only when we take chances and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.” ~Walter Anderson
I recently returned from four weeks of traveling by myself in Europe. No, I’m not bragging, although it was pretty awesome.
What made it amazing, besides the lovely scenery, tasty food, cultural experiences, and wine, was that I had a few great opportunities to re-visit some lessons that I think many of us could resonate with.
1. It is awesome to make decisions based on what supports our goals, not our fearful feelings.
Let me explain: My main goal in traveling alone was, well, to get comfortable traveling alone!
At the start of my trip I stayed with a great friend in Germany, and the plan was to catch up with her for three days before going on to Berlin (and the rest of my trip) on my own. The day before I was to leave her, I received an email from the person I was renting the Berlin room from. They informed me they had a family emergency and the room would not be available.
At first, I wanted to take it as a sign that I shouldn’t go on to Berlin. Every part of me that was unhappy about traveling alone screamed, “Stay here, it’s easy and comfortable, don’t go…”
I spent about five minutes wondering if it was a sign not to travel on, and then I got over it. I got online and very quickly found a great Berlin apartment to rent for the amount I had been prepared to spend on only a room. Sweet!
If we look back over our lives, many of us would recognize that there are all sorts of things we would not have done if we’d listened to our feelings.
How about not applying to our dream school because we didn’t feel smart enough? Or not asking out that hot guy or gal due to fear of rejection? Or, oh man, not singing karaoke because we don’t want to be laughed at (which is actually what’s supposed to happen when we sing karaoke)?
We would have missed out on some pretty fun and fabulous experiences if we hadn’t sometimes put our feelings aside and taken a bit of a leap.
2. Hanging solo is totally freeing.
It was nice to connect with other travelers, and even better to meet and chat with locals. I suspect the friends I made in Paris will be in my life for a long time. However, I had days where I literally had no more conversation then “cafe latte, si vous plait,” and it was great.
I had plenty of time with my thoughts; I didn’t have to deal with social niceties; and I did whatever I wanted, exactly when I wanted to do it. It was the best.
The first time I had the opportunity to commune with a fellow traveler and chose to hang alone instead was hard. Initially, it seemed much easier to spend time with someone else then to explore the city on my own.
However, once I did it, I found being alone was fine, and in fact, I preferred it.
I do think we are social animals, and we do feel comfort in groups, especially in unfamiliar surroundings. And those experiences can be really wonderful, when we connect with new people and find common ground.
However, the self-esteem I built in traveling to and around four foreign cities, finding my way, using public transportation, and hanging out in museums, at monuments, and in restaurants and cafes by myself, was invaluable to me.
I learned how self-sufficient and independent I am capable of being, and more importantly, that I am content with that state of being.
3. It’s cool to walk our own road.
When telling people about my upcoming trip, I heard a lot of “you must go to…” and “well don’t do…” comments. I also chatted with some people who seemed to enjoy debating the “traveler vs. tourist” question, which places more value on some experiences then others.
I was told that tour buses and fanny packs are for tourists, while eating from street carts and avoiding monuments are traveler behaviors.
While I am not a fan of fanny packs, I’m less of a fan of doing what other people think I should do. If I had taken any of those comments to heart, and did what I thought was expected of me, I not only would’ve missed out on some great experiences, but I also would have not been true to me.
We all want to be cool, and to be accepted, and to be well thought of. (And no one wants to be thought of as a fanny pack-wearing tourist.) However, spending time trying to fit into someone else’s version of what should be is an exercise in futility.
It is an exercise in self-trust when we are growing comfort in doing what we want to do, or what we feel is best for us, regardless of what others think. I’ll take self-trust over others’ perceptions of me any day.
I am so appreciative of the multiple opportunities I was given to push myself outside of my comfort zone.
What kinds of things do you do to push yourself outside of your box? Let me know in the comments section!
Photo by breahn