“Are you alone?” they ask.
“Yes,” you reply.
“Wow! You are so brave,” they say, with a genuine, if slightly condescending smile. And you think, am I? I guess I must be. And then always comes the same follow up question:
This year I took my first extended solo trip. I quit my job, left my boyfriend behind, and flew to Southeast Asia for my dream trip, and a personal growth adventure. And all along the way I had this interaction. The questions, the surprise, the admiration, and sometimes maybe the disapproval. And always the follow up: Why not travel with a friend or significant other? Why travel alone? Isn’t it easier with someone else? Isn’t it scary to be alone?
So I got to thinking. Is it scary to travel alone as a woman? If so why, and why was it so important for me to do this trip alone? Why in fact, do we travel at all?
I like to think of myself as a fairly capable lady. I support myself, I’m educated, well travelled, multilingual, and not afraid of a whole lot. I live in NYC for God’s sake! I’m no stranger to living out of my comfort zone. Still, I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t a bit apprehensive about the whole solo travel thing. As a young woman, safety is always in the back of my mind, even on my own block. But, I set off none the less, backpack packed, glasses wiped, ready to discover the world, and find myself in the process. What I ended up finding was much, much more than that. I found answers to those questions, and to some questions I didn’t even know I had.
Instead of stressful and difficult, I found that being alone is incredibly empowering. I discovered that I didn’t need to find myself. I am already found. I just need to get used to trusting myself. I found that strangers are kind, more often than not. And that gut instinct can be trusted.
Instead of feeling lonely as I feared I might, I made friends with myself. And I made friends from all over the world along the way. I forced myself to learn new skills. I challenged myself to embrace fear instead of avoid it, and to come through it with new insight.
One of the fears I faced was my fear of injuring myself while riding a scooter. As I was zipping around hairpin turns in the mountains of Pai, with another woman behind me, I realized, yeah I guess I am brave. But not for the reasons those unintentionally smug people think.
I discovered that for me, bravery is not, going out into the world despite the fact that someone could hurt me. I have to do that everyday. For me, bravery was learning to be autonomous. Learning to drive a scooter so that I could explore Thailand on my own. To talk to strangers, even though I am socially awkward. And to sit quietly by myself without any distractions. That was the greatest challenge of all: learning to be comfortable in solitude.
When I allowed myself to listen to nothing but my own mind, I found that all kinds of questions emerged. Questions about life, about the world around me, about what I am interested in, about my own convictions. And I got to share my insights with other people, and hear about their thoughts, and fears, and interests.
I discovered that a big part of why I travel is human connection. Whether it is with the man in Laos, who gave me a ride to a guesthouse on his scooter, just because I was lost. Or with the Australian guy I met at a homestay, and travelled with for a week; because we hit it off, and were heading the same direction. Or with the little girl at my homestay in Vietnam, who would jump on people in the morning to get them to come play with her.
That is why I travel. To experience the moments of kindness with no reward but a hug or a smile. To face the moments of struggle that make us grow. And to collect the stories along the way.
And that is why I started this blog. To share my stories, insights, and travel tips. And hopefully to inspire others to face their own fears, and connect shamelessly with strangers, even if you don’t speak the same language.
I also want to collect other people’s stories of kindness and struggle, along their own paths. Sharing stories is one way we learn more about the world.
So if you have a story or a tip, and want to contribute in any way, please reach out! I want to hear them all.
Thanks for reading!