Until the age of twenty-four, I had only vacationed with family or friends. The thought of ever traveling on my own terrified me. I was scared of missing flights and getting lost. I was even scared that I wouldn’t make the most of it, and that would somehow constitute a failure.
But mostly, I was scared of being lonely. I imagined going sightseeing on my own, going out to eat on my own, going out to party on my own. It seemed awful. I knew I couldn’t go into a club one night and leave with a bunch of new friends, like friends of mine might. It was much more likely I’d try things I didn’t want to do and leave feeling even more alone and unsatisfied.
However, it was for these reasons that traveling alone seemed like exactly the challenge I needed. I was at a point in my life at which I could afford to spend money even on a trip that I might not “make the most of” (and with these travel hacks, finding cheap flights is easier than ever).
So at twenty-four I took my first solo trip. It turned out to be the first of many. Traveling alone was indeed a huge challenge, and it still is difficult, but it has changed my life for the better.
Alone Here vs. Alone There
As an introvert, I spend plenty of time alone. Way more than is healthy. I enjoy going to some events, and I know I need to keep up a healthy social life, but sometimes I choose to stay home and watch movies the whole weekend.
Traveling alone scared me because I knew I’d feel lonely, and assumed that that meant I’d need to make new friends. After all, if I spent all my time alone somewhere else, I was just engaging in the same unhealthy behavior, right?
Actually, being alone in another city or country is an entirely different experience for me. Whereas at home I can settle into my home comforts and avoid any actual self-care, when away I need to actually take care of myself. When that existential loneliness that terrifies every one of us arrives, I can’t just cuddle up in front of my TV. It is more frightening than ever, but that ensures I use my own internal resources to confront it.
In other words, I either find safety within myself or not at all. The effect is exhilarating. After the initial fear, I am able to be more present than ever. I begin doing things appreciatively, rather than begrudgingly. I become more confident to try new things.
It is exactly what I need for my self-growth.
Build New Skills
This newfound confidence makes it much easier for me to work on new skills. Skills I don’t usually see in myself. I am more comfortable trying to make friends, because I no longer feel like I need to do so. I am braver, and stretch my comfort zone, because I am confident in my own self-worth. I know that I am a complete person, rather than someone who is defined by the people and things that usually surround me.
Traveling alone is still uncomfortable at times, and it will never be anxiety-free. I’ve accepted that. But it is well-worth the energy. It has helped me grow, without forcing me to be someone I’m not.