I was in my late 20s when I decided I was going to make a huge leap into the unknown: I was going to travel solo for the first time. There were a few factors that lead me to make this quite frankly scary decision. I was in my late 20s with a stable job in a big marketing firm. I was just offered a managerial position that will not only fast track my climb up the corporate ladder but will make me the youngest manager in the company’s history. Everything at home was working fine. I have a great relationship with my family, a strong support system from my friends, and the care and love from a long-term relationship. But despite all these, I felt close to being empty. I had everything right going for me and many have said they envy the life I live but hearing them say this only made me feel worse about my situation.
You see, my whole life I have always done the right thing. In high school, I got good grades because that was the right thing to do. I didn’t party on weekends or skipped classes because to me that was wrong. After college, the right thing would be to look for a job and when I landed the job the right thing would be to start building up my career. I lived my life following a set of checklist and once that list was completed I came to the stark realization that I might have made a mistake. I was at the very top and I can clearly see where I’m going in life and I suddenly had the urge to forge a different path.
I needed a change and I need it fast, and what’s a better way to reset your life than to do something completely out of your comfort zone. So I packed my backpack, bought the cheapest ticket to somewhere with no visa requirement for my passport, which was Thailand, bid my boyfriend, friends and family goodbye and set off to an adventure I will later realize will have a profound effect on my life.
- Loneliness is a Real Thing
People might say I was crazy, and they were right. I was doing something that really went against my character. I was shaking when the plane in Bangkok and I was very much tempted to book a return flight right then and there. I forced myself to get into a cab and set off for my hostel. I got there, unpacked, and then loneliness set in. It hit hard. I found myself in an unfamiliar city and I had no one to turn to. I wanted to eat but there was no one to share a meal with. I wanted to go explore the city but who was I going to go exploring with? That first night I didn’t even stray more than a block away from the hostel. But as I got used to my current situation, I realized that loneliness doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely. It took me the better part of my 20s and one plane ride to learn the joy and solitude of being just by yourself. It was freeing and addictive. I now know things about myself I only just realized now that I’m left with no one but myself.
- You will Get Lost
I can’t count the number of times I was led by my technologically advanced phone to somewhere completely not where I want to be. It was annoying and frustrating. Strangers on the streets looked at me, the foreigner, sighing in frustration and speaking in broken English just so I’m understood by the locals. It was only towards the end of my trip that I realized some of the best moments happened when I got lost. I got lost looking for this highly rated street food vendor only to discover a seedy and dark place where the locals were loud but the food was great. My friends and I once got lost going back to our hostel in Manila and ended up spending the night at a beachside boulevard only to wake up to the most spectacular sunrise I’ve ever seen. You don’t always get what you want in life but you end up getting exactly what you needed.
- Your Backpack will Weigh you down
Traveling solo means there’s no one to share the load. What you want to take, you will have to carry. I had a giant pack when I started. I wanted to err on the side of safety and so I overpacked and over-prepared. And because of this decision, I suffered my first week traveling. My back hurt and my shoulders ached from carrying my pack everywhere. That was when another realization hit me; I don’t need to be carrying this much on me. I could just take the essentials and leave the rest behind. I gave away all the excess items I packed to my hostel roommates and whatever I think I might need I can buy at the closest store. I even learned to make do without certain amenities I was used to. Of course, some of the travel blogs too taught me the basic hacks; click for more info about those tips and hacks; I swear you will be thinking about a few! I learned to pack less clothing and do my own laundry more. I gave away all of my shampoos and lotions and only brought my favorite ones. In the end, I became a far more efficient traveler and I learned to appreciate the joys of living minimally.
- Getting Scammed is a Possibility
Whether you are traveling into a big city or a rural area, people will try to take advantage of you, the stranger. It doesn’t matter if you get duped out of a few changes or a few hundred dollars; chances are it can happen especially when you’re traveling alone. I got scammed in my travels twice that really stuck out in my memory. The first was I was coerced to ride on this “local ride” in Bangkok to a nearby temple only to be brought into a jewelry store where attendants hounded me to buy their merchandise. I immediately realized what was happening and left without even paying the driver. I walked back to the hostel. The second time was being approached by a guy on the streets of Yangon in Myanmar claiming to offer a better alternative to traveling to another city, Bagan. He sent a taxi to my hostel the next day and I was taken to this questionable garage where vans of an even more doubtful maker were parked. I endured a five-hour van ride on, in my opinion, one of the most treacherous roads on the planet. I prayed the whole time thinking the van was going to fall off the side of the mountain. I survived, obviously. I patted myself on the back for having gone through those two bad experiences on my own. I realized I had a lot more spine on my back than I thought in the past. Nothing last forever, you either find a way to get yourself out or you just have to suck it up and let it run its course.
- You will Change
There is no denying this fact. Traveling in any form will change how you think for yourself and how you perceive the world. But traveling solo, in my opinion, has a more profound effect in life. Three months of traveling has given me a lifetime’s worth of realization. I still took the managerial position offer when I got back. I still see my friends and I still have a loving and supportive boyfriend right by my side. I see my parents regularly and cured their worry with hundreds of pictures on my travels. From a stranger’s perspective, nothing much had changed about myself and how I live my life. But for me, I wasn’t the same person that left my comfort zone all those months ago. I forced myself to step out of my sanctuary and came back with a fresh set of eyes and a more open mind. I realized I have far more strength and resilience than I give myself credit for. I learned that when push comes to shove, I have an enduring determination to get through any problem I’m faced with. But far more importantly, I got to know myself far better. In a weird way, I left alone but came home with a close friend. All those days and nights I was left with just my self and my own thoughts lead me to appreciate the person that I am. I learned to cherish my own relationship with myself and promised to nurture it even when I get back.
Coming home, I wished I was one of those people who experienced such profound realizations in their travels that they sought to make drastic changes in their lives from then on. I wasn’t one of those people, unfortunately. On the outside, a few things had changed in my life. What my travels taught me, however, was pure and simple. I have a great life. I worked hard for it. What traveling made me come to terms with is to be okay with all of it. I came back with a lot more appreciation on what I have, the people around me, and most importantly, with whom I am as a person.
Lily Brooks is a passionate travel & outdoor blogger who loves to travel and write about her experience. She spends her free time hiking, swimming, camping and spending time with her family. She is currently working with Pursuing Outdoors, which offers ultimate guides and tips on fishing, outdoor, survival, bushcraft, and hunting.