4 Unintentional, Yet Valuable Lessons from Traveling the World Solo
When I told my boss I was going away to travel for a few months, he laughed at me, asking “are you going away to find yourself?”. I laughed back. I was 37 and already had a pretty good idea of who I was, thank you very much. It was true, I didn’t go travelling to learn about myself, I went travelling to explore the world. Yet six months later and now back home to London, I realise that along with discovering new places, I somehow, totally unintentionally, learnt some valuable lessons about myself, other people and life. Dammit.
Here are four of my realisations that are worth remembering:
People are kind, accept their help
Being a Londoner, the Don’t-Smile-Or-Talk-To-Strangers rule is pretty well embedded in my brain. Being a single female Londoner who lives alone also means I’ve learnt to do most things by myself, and am proud of my independence. This independence enabled me to travel alone, to not be scared of my own company and to not rely on other people to help me out – even as far as refusing the offers of strangers to carry my heavy backpack for me. I don’t need them.
Yet the more I travelled, the more I discovered that actually, maybe I should give strangers more time; they invited me to join them for dinner when they spotted me eating alone; they gave me a jumper when I lost mine; they leant me money when I couldn’t get to an ATM, and when the narrow Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam seemed absolutely terrifying to me, the patience and reassurance of strangers got me through it. My London defences crumbled. Travelling alone isn’t lonely when you’re constantly shown that people are good, strangers are kind and making friends is easy when you just learn to smile. The next time someone offers to carry my ridiculously heavy bag, they can have it.
Be honest with yourself
Travelling is a time to be truly yourself and relish in it, good and bad. You can’t run away from yourself, and pretending to be someone you’re not won’t get you anywhere. Try new things that interest you but also don’t be afraid to say no to things.
I met people who said yes to activities they had absolutely no desire to do, for fear of missing out; people who chose to spend time with those who upset them or drained them, because they didn’t know how to say no. Denying who you really are will keep you from the real joy that comes with travelling, and rather than relaxing and enjoying the moments, you’ll create fake moments. It’s so important to be comfortable in your own company and decisions, and say no to experiences you know will drain you just as much as you say yes to experiences that are new. You do you.
People don’t have to like you, they choose to like you
You can’t buy friendship, and that is especially true when travelling. When you’re on the road, people flit in and out of your life for a few weeks, days, or hours. You can choose who you spend time with just as much as they can, so choose to spend time with people who interest you, inspire you and make you laugh. Most importantly, know that they choose you in return. The people you connect with when travelling are not your friend out of any obligation, they are actively choosing to be your friend. If you’re lucky, some will stay close to you even when you head off to different continents. Hold on to these people, as those connections are rare and special. Recognise this truth about your friends back home also, and take comfort in the knowledge that they too choose to be your friend. Believe your friends when they text to say they miss you and can’t wait to see you. Remember you are amazing.
You don’t have to bargain for happiness
When you travel you consistently choose to live your life in a way that makes you happy. You’re not living for the end of the work day, or the weekend or a holiday. You are not bargaining for your happiness with the “if I finish X I will reward myself with Y” mentality of your daily home life. Instead, you make daily choices to be happy and somehow you have the ability to recognise that even if what you are doing at the time totally sucks (i.e. waking up at 3am to get on an eight-hour bus journey), the end result will be worth it. When we travel, we’re somehow able to tap into this apparently abundant resource of happiness. How many times in your life have you laughed while in the throes of food poisoning? Only the once, when I was also having to drive 4 hours across France to get to the magnificent Carcassonne. When did sitting on a coach driving through twisting mountain roads in the dead of night not become terrifying? When I was finally able to listen to a podcast I hadn’t had any time for before.
Yes, I realise travelling is not the same as working a 9 to 5, and it can be hard to motivate yourself to wake up early when the reward is only a sweaty tube. I know that weeks can seem long and tedious when working on a never ending project as opposed to visiting new, exciting places everyday. But I also know that if I can choose to laugh while freaking out when nearly driving into a canal (due to a misguided sat-nav), I can also choose to find happiness in my life off the road. I don’t have to reward myself with happiness, I have the capability to choose happiness. Hell, if I can quit my job to go travelling, learn to smile at strangers, make friends with people from across the world and laugh at my bikini bottoms coming off while diving into a pool in front of crowd of people, anything is possible.
Let us know if you're ready for your next solo travel adventure!
Lots of love from V. and T.!