Why I Continue Traveling Alone Years After My First Solo Trip
My first solo trip to Iceland in December of 2015 forever changed how I view traveling alone in the world. As I've written in a previous essay, I traveled alone for a variety of reasons but mostly because my grandmother died the year prior in 2014 and I'd wanted to a break from my life at that time but unfortunately didn't have the time, money or resources in order to do so. Thus, one year and one mini solo trip to San Francisco later, I left my comfort zone and my life behind to explore another country for around two weeks in winter.
Four years and countless solo trips later as times and perceptions change I'm still wondering why I continue to journey around the world alone. Six months after Iceland I went on a birthday solo trip to Toronto, Canada and continued traveling to more than half a dozen solo trips to various countries over the years. Most recently I went on a month-long trip through Europe, including celebrating the holidays in Vienna and Hogmanay in Edinburgh.
After Iceland, all I saw was the world. All I could breathe was the air of a place on another continent. All I could see were lands waiting to be visited. All I could talk about was the sheer excitement of exploring a new place and the discovery of a new life within. I wanted to see what I hadn't seen, to dive deeply into a new place, to explore everything. There's an entire world out there and there was so much more to be explored. I'd only glimpsed a small fraction of the world and in that fraction the call of adventure buried deep within finally woke up.
I didn't expect to continue traveling the world. In fact, if Iceland had gone poorly, if I hadn't met the three Americans who all joined together on a road trip across the southern coast of Iceland, maybe I wouldn't have thought of traveling continuously. Maybe if I hadn't heard their stories of months of traveling the world and if I hadn't been captivated by the sheer beauty of Iceland, maybe my journey would have ended right then and there.
Thankfully, it didn't. On the contrary, my trip to Iceland sparked the all-consuming need to continue traveling around the world alone by any means possible. So, I'd saved at every opportunity I could. I changed everything about my life to focus on travel. Living in places with cheaper rent, not spending ridiculous amount of money on gum memberships and classes, eating dinner at restaurants less, drinking less and finding friends who prioritized friendship over nights out with alcohol. Dreams of studying and working abroad, traveling the world, applying to scholarships and fellowships and Workaways and entering contests, experiencing different places which at one point in my life seemed so far-fetched, seemed like a total fantasy, had suddenly begun focusing into a concrete reality within my grasp.
Toward the end of my job before I was laid off, I felt like I was dying. I felt bad I didn't enjoy what I was doing and I felt bad that for so long I'd tried to fool myself into thinking I was actually enjoying what I was doing. I've now realized that it felt like I was dying because I was actually dying. That part of my life was ending; it just hadn't happened yet.
When I was laid off from my job in September 2018, part of me was crushed and yet another part, the bigger part, was absolutely elated. I knew I should've been devastated at the idea of my role ending, horrified at the thought of paying bills and rent even though I'd literally just signed my new lease two months prior in July, shocked at the old life I had been living ending and the new life unfolding before me.
I thought of all of the possibilities, the places I'd wanted to experience and places I'd longed to see, the beautiful flower bud that finally had decided to bloom. Traveling the world! Writing all the time! Sharing my stories with people! Continuing to explore my creativity and seeing where my curiosity and intuition take me.
To begin processing the next stage of my life, I decided to renew my soon-to-be expired passport during the month of October to allow time to think during my New York City "staycation." No sense traveling or leaving while waiting the on average 4-6 weeks for my passport to be renewed, or most likely longer because that's how paperwork works. To my shock (and, honestly, wonder at the universe), I checked the mail a few weeks after mailing on October 14, my grandmother's deathiversary, and my renewed passport was there. Even though it was a Sunday, I guess I hadn't checked my mailbox on that Saturday so I checked it that day knowing it was a Sunday. The envelope was there. It was an eerie feeling. At this point I was overanalyzing my trip to Mexico City and I’d made a deal with myself that if I got my passport in time I would book my trip and go. This, still debating through the Sunday before my trip, I booked my ticket to Mexico City and it ended up being one of my favorite experiences.
So, why do I continue traveling? Why do I continue feeling absolutely anxious before a trip, booking flights and doing an absurd amount of research beforehand (or sometimes not enough research), to over-analyze to the point of exhaustion, to talk to friends constantly before my flight leaves and during my trip until I get my bearings (huge thanks, by the way), to meet new people, to imagine the horrific things that could happen, and yet to imagine the beautiful synchronicity of life?
Travel continues to change everything about my life. Travel continues to break my heart and continues to heal my heart and I'm stronger because of it. I am able to feel the full depths of my emotions without being embarrassed. Travel breaks my mind, body and soul. Travel destroys my spirit. I thought about the soul-crushing moments during my travels, the times when I felt so lost and so lonely I'd wanted to give up. Those times when I didn't know what I was doing. In Reykjavik while coming to terms with the one year mark of my grandmother's sudden death. When I'd cried in the rain in Dublin while thinking about an old apartment back in New York City. When I walked alone in darkness following a group of people to the train station to find a train back to Copenhagen yet the machine wouldn't take my card or my cash. When I sat in a park on a sunny afternoon in Amsterdam, heartbroken in a crowd full of people. When I climbed up hundreds of steps at Arc de Triomphe to the watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle in the evening... and then waited another hour in the cold to see it sparkle again because I was afraid of my life moving on without me. The weeks wandering around Europe after the shock of being laid off from my job and not knowing what was going to happen next.
And yet, I'd also come to terms with the happiest moments. Learning how to navigate a new city on my own, climbing hundreds of steps for a stunning view of a city, renting a car with a friend and driving to a concert by complete chance where we didn't know the language but could follow along the songs in English. The tiny details of being present. The moments I'd figure out my place in the world. Dining solo on a canal in Amsterdam. Meeting groups of friends all over the world (and continuing to stay in touch with said friends). My first solo trip after being laid off to Mexico City and finding a group of people at the hostel turned family at that time. Finding a deep peace in the Highlands of Scotland. Meeting strangers on the street who turned into fast friends as night turned into dawn. Watching Franz Ferdinand and counting down to the new year and watching fireworks light up the sky and singing and dancing and still having the motivation to keep on going, to keep on living life.
Through the tears, I found a deep power within in acknowledging I could travel and do this alone. I could book my own hostels, flights, trains, excursions, dinners and everything in between. I could manage to wander around a new city alone, again and again, where I didn't know the language, the customs, the full extent of the history. I could find a hostel to stay in for New Year's Eve the day before, reschedule missed trains, change flights and book a flight that same day to Vienna (and Edinburgh... and London). I could sit in my hostel common area, already checked out of my room, and listen to my intuition and trust what it had to say. That insane trust led me to Hogmanay in Scotland, to exploring a deep love for Edinburgh, for booking a day trip to the Highlands and receiving a music list I adore from the Scottish bus driver.
Over the years, I've met other solo travelers on their own respective journeys and swapped stories. We met on planes, walking tours, hostel rooms, hostel rooftops, breakfasts, bar crawls, bathrooms, concerts, on the street and splitting cabs to and from the airport. We shared pints of beer, bottles of wine, cups of coffee, shots of mescal, shots of baby Guinness and shots of things I don't remember. We hiked to the tops of pyramids, explored castles and museums, gardens and bars, cemeteries and festivals. We met up months after we initially met, in New York City, Chicago, Paris, England and Scotland. We shared stories of our lives, explaining who we are and where we came from, baring our souls in words and stories in conversations that spanned hours and days, extending over months and months as we caught up on our lives. I've had romances and dalliances and I continue on and on because that's what has to be done. To be fair, one person in particular had a significant impact in my travels and in finding peace and while I've continued to travel and learn about different cultures, maybe the biggest lesson of all was learning how to navigate emotional depths, find a deep appreciation for a place and learn how to keep going.
When I was in Amsterdam last spring, I spent the day at the Keukenhof Gardens. At the walking tour, my guide said the tulips weren't blooming but when I went there, they had come out of their buds and bloomed in the sunny spring light. As usual, I wandered and explored and eventually needed a break so I ordered a cup of coffee and wrote in my journal and a kind old man across the seat from me, next to his wife, noticed I was left-handed and struck up a conversation. After relaying a story to me about I believe it was his son who was also left-handed, he asked about what I was doing and I said I was a writer and then told him my dreams of writing. He said, in effect of what happens when releasing writing out into the world, "Luck will come to you."
I don't really know what luck has in store for me, but all I know is that I am giving it everything I have, even if it feels like I am breaking down in the process. Every emotion, every thought, every word. I have the freedom to travel... yet I'm still attached to my apartment and need to focus on paying health care and bills. I have the time to travel... yet I need to devote a significant amount of time to writing, research, pitching and planning the next stage of my life.
I have only one life to explore this world and I intend to see as much as possible. I plan on figuring it out as I go along and will do anything to see this dream through on to the very end.
In short, I continue traveling because deep down that’s what I need to do. I need to go, to explore the world and dive deep within.
Cheers to the unknown, the path that makes itself known and the adventure ahead!