Kyla Sweeney, guest writer for this post, is a travel enthusiast who loves to make puns, make friends, and make food in her spare time (in that order).
Yes, I said travel alone, and yes, I said female. Shocking, right?
Americans seem to have an irrational fear of being alone in general, let alone traveling companionless. Then add in the fact that you’re a female, and it’s enough to make most people give you a concerned look. I know because I experienced it prior to my travels last summer.
After graduating college in May, I finally had enough time and freedom to travel. I started making plans in early February, originally planning to travel for a week, then gradually adding more and more stops to the list until I had a full blown two month backpacking trip planned and no one to go with me. My mother just about had a heart attack when I told her. To be fair, I was slightly terrified of traveling by myself too (cue Liam Neeson narrating the kidnap scene from Taken). But—and the following phrase is, I think, the root of many of life’s richest experiences—I did it anyway.
Eight weeks, eight countries, and countless cities later, I returned home a changed woman. Cliché, go ahead and say it. But it’s not because of what I saw, or the people I met, or the cultures I experienced. Don’t get me wrong, all of these things were absolutely breath-taking and inspiring. What changed me, however, was that I went. I just went. I didn’t plan every detail, I didn’t map every route, I didn’t book every hotel room and every flight weeks in advance. I did everything one step at a time. And because of that, I actually looked where I stepped. I was actually present for every moment of those eight weeks. I wasn’t glued to my phone, I wasn’t inside the house, I wasn’t binge watching Game of Thrones, I wasn’t spending time with my same social circle. I was there and I was fully present, for the first time in my life.
That doesn’t mean everything was perfect and beautiful. There were countless times I just wanted to go home. There were a couple of times I had to clutch my purse and walk quickly through an area where I wasn’t comfortable. Sometimes I didn’t want to figure everything out myself. Once I got stuck on a train station and couldn’t get out because I didn’t have the right ticket. I sat on the bench by myself and cried for 10 minutes before someone passed by that could help me. (Worst of all, I had no one to take a picture of me pretending to push over the Leaning Tower. It was truly a travesty).
But I also cried watching the sunset on a bridge in Florence because the beauty of that moment grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I figured out a multifaceted transportation system in Berlin without anyone there to translate or explain it. I clutched my purse so it wouldn’t drop onto a mountain while I went paragliding in Switzerland. I found out that home becomes much more meaningful when you don’t have it for a while. And I made friends in places I would never have expected (friends who would push aside any other tourist to get the perfect angle of me karate kicking the Leaning Tower, no questions asked).
So yes, this trip had risk involved, but so does anything in life. My point is that, female or not, there is value in refusing to succumb to our fears. More value, I would argue, than anything you’ll see on your travels. Because doing something like that sticks with you. It gives you confidence you didn’t know you had. It makes you think twice the next time you hesitate. It gives you something to fall back on when you’re scared to try something new. It reminds you that you can adapt to almost any circumstance that comes your way. It may not always be easy or simple, but you can do it. And it might just be the best thing you’ve ever done.
You can contact Kyla at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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