1. The world is not a scary place.
Before I left on my trip, I honestly laid wide awake in bed at night, dreaming up every sort of horrible situation I might find myself in on my travels–I’d obviously be mugged, beaten, raped, and probably murdered because the world is a scary and horrible place and people aren’t as civilized in other countries as they are in the United States, right? I knew this wasn’t the case because it wasn’t my first rodeo abroad, but it somehow felt scary on an epic scale probably because I was lugging my entire life along with me for several months on the road. I don’t even want to dare to think about how many hours I lost on those sleepless nights, panic-ridden, guts in a knot, and on the verge of the cold sweats. And even when I would finally get some rest, something would wake me mid-sleep and then it would start all over again.
The truth is though, that I was being utterly ridiculous. The world really isn’t that scary. It’s true that, as a person who constantly lives in my head and overthinks every possible situation, I did feel uneasy on a few occasions while traveling, but I didn’t experience anything scarier in a foreign land than I have on my own soil. In fact, I’d say I’ve experienced scarier things in Philadelphia and Baltimore than I did in Morocco, South Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe combined.
Don’t let the fear of the unknown scare you to the point where you don’t do something. The media likes to perpetuate stereotypes and employ outrageous scare tactics, and our government likes to issue travel warnings that sometimes border on the ridiculous. I’m not saying that you should ignore all of these things and head into the hot zone, but exercise some free thinking and do some of your own research before ruling a place out and deciding that the world is too scary to explore. It’s not.
2. I am actually pretty confident. (See what I did there–not totally, but pretty.)
Confidence is something I’ve always lacked. I sort of know where it comes from–for most of my life, I was made to feel less-than and like I was incapable of success because of my looks, weight, or interest in the arts over most other things. One shouldn’t hear these types of things from anyone, let alone a person who is supposed to be your cheerleader and who is supposed to have your back through everything. But such is life sometimes, and even though I am now the ripe old age of 30, I still battle with those moments of insecurity and self-doubt.
Travel has helped with that. Starting with my very first trip abroad at 22 and spanning until my most recent three months on the road, I have learned to come into my own. I feel much better about speaking up about things, about voicing my opinion when necessary, and I have learned to rely on myself for absolutely everything. When you travel solo, it’s amazing what you’ll find yourself doing out of necessity and anonymity. I think travel is such a valuable thing to invest in for any number of things, but especially to learn to come into your own and to find your voice in this world. (And while solo travel is terrifying for an insecure person such as myself, I think it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done because it’s made me a stronger person.)
3. People are kind.
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the world is scary. Because what makes the world scary (you know, besides natural disasters)? People–crime; wars; random acts of violence. I won’t sugar coat this and say there aren’t bad people in the world. There absolutely are. But they aren’t the rule–they’re the exception. For every one sort-of-horrible person I’ve met, I’ve met a hundred kind ones.
When you’re in a foreign country and every sense is heightened because of the unknown, you’d be surprised how willing locals are to help you out with almost anything. Need directions? A restaurant recommendation? Want to know when the next train arrives? Chances are, someone will not only tell you what you want to know, but will also want to strike up a conversation with you about where you’re from, what you’re doing in their country, what you think of it, etc. Not only that, but they may even invite you in for tea or over for dinner later.
Of course you should always be cautious and not let your guard down, but I think you’ll find that people really are good. Not everyone is out to get you. We just watch way too many crime shows.
4. Being alone is kind of awesome.
There are times when traveling solo can get a bit lonely, and those are the times when you step outside of yourself and try to make friends with someone in your hostel or someone at the same event you’re attending. But generally, being alone is pretty awesome. Here’s why: You can do anything you want whenever you want. I mean, just think about that. Do you want to stay in bed until noon? Cool. Do you want to spend an entire day wandering around a museum? Go for it. Do you want to skip dinner in lieu of taking a long stroll and then eating cookies in bed at midnight? That’s your prerogative. (And a damn fine one, might I add.)
The freedom was a bit hard for me to get accustomed to because I was so used to having a schedule and constantly having people around. But when I finally realized that I didn’t have to answer to anyone, please anyone, or take into consideration anyone else (and their feelings), I felt like the world had been lifted off my shoulders. I could do exactly what would make me happiest at every moment of every single day. Try it sometime. (Just be aware that going back to the “real world” afterward is incredibly difficult after that freedom goes to your head.)
5. The world moves on without you.
To be completely honest, this is one of the hardest life lessons I’ve ever had to learn. I am one of those people who holds dearly onto the past, nostalgic for those old times and eager to reminisce about them. I think this is why it’s always been difficult for me to think about the fact that life goes on without me around. It’s a fact of life–I cannot fault people for it. But it was still a painful realization that things didn’t just pause while I was gone.
Friends and family move on and do amazing things with their lives, just as you are with your own. Sadly, you drift apart and don’t have as many things to talk about anymore because perhaps your lives are so different. Another issue is that sometimes they just don’t care about your travels and it’s something you’re so excited about and proud of, but you can’t share it with them. It’s sad, but true.
Just as life won’t wait for you to travel, the world won’t wait for you as you travel. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that everything will be “normal” again when you return. It won’t. Places will have changed. Friends and family will have changed. And most importantly, you will have changed. Change doesn’t have to be bad.