A few months before I left for my trip, my friends would joke that this was going to be one of those “eat, pray, love” things. I did my best to not be offended by that kind of talk, knowing that I was already in my perfect, final adult form. I didn’t have any soul searching or “finding myself” to do. I was just going to explore and have a great time in a bunch of foreign countries. But it turned out that they were more right than I was. Kinda. I mean, I did eat a lot. And while I didn’t really do those other two things, I’ve actually learned a ton about life. So here we go, in no particular order: 8 things I learned because I travelled the world alone for 130 days.
1: Just jump.
I’ve always been a pretty brave person, but sometimes I have to talk myself into the weirdest things. I have no trouble jumping off of cliffs and waterfalls and will climb to the top of the most precarious tree or building, but sometimes something as simple as sitting down at a table of strangers seems like it’s impossible. It’s been quite a while since the days of choosing a table in the cafeteria, but even back then it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world for me. But when you’re all by yourself and have no one to talk to, you kind of have to get good at just jumping into a potentially awkward social situation. And by the end of this trip, striking up conversation with a random stranger or dancing with people that I just met 15 minutes earlier is as easy for me as jumping off a cliff. And by now I’ve met people from every continent, heard amazing stories and gotten extremely interesting cultural perspectives from all over the globe. I long ago got sick of telling my own story over and over, so I’ve also gotten really good at just asking questions and letting people talk. Look at me improving my social skills finally!
2: Eat alone.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I learned that it’s actually super important to just embrace being alone. I’ve never really done things like eat dinner at a restaurant or go to a movie by myself. I have always really liked having a night alone at home on my own occasionally, and going on a hike or walking around a city alone is no problem at all for me. But it was weirdly uncomfortable for me at first to just pull up a chair at the bar or sit at a table by myself and be alright with knowing that I was probably just going to be sitting there in silence until my drink or food was finished. Yes, some places have Wi-Fi, but it’s actually a pretty fun challenge to just see if you can enjoy people watching and avoid playing on your phone for a while.
Speaking of avoiding the phone, I’ve also been trying this thing where I don’t even look at the damn thing for a few hours at a time. It is actually horrifying how hard this is. I used to be so good at just looking at a map and memorizing where I needed to go without constantly checking Google Maps. I didn’t even have a cell phone until I was 22, so it’s kind of crazy to realize how addicted I’ve gotten to it. But now it’s nice to not have a cellular plan abroad because it makes it easier to just let go of it while I’m on a hike or walking around the city. You observe more of your surroundings, you walk into way fewer street signs, and it’s probably better for your mental health not to be constantly looking at people’s Instagram stories.
4: Patience is a virtue.
You may notice while trying to navigate transportation hubs that not everyone has their shit together. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been stuck in ticket lines behind the person that has a thousand questions, or waited around for trains that are 45 minutes late, or gotten pushed from a train onto a bus unceremoniously because the train tracks were being worked on. These things can make you late, but usually everything is fine. And anyway, what the hell are we all in such a hurry for? I am always running from place to place and trying to press for things to get done quickly, but when I think about it, there’s not a great reason for it. I’m just stressing myself out and giving myself upper back knots so that I can get to a destination a few minutes earlier. When you practice going with the flow and calming down, everything becomes significantly more enjoyable. But that slow ticket clerk and the idiot in front of me in line that made me miss my train in Ventimigla can still go straight to hell.
5: Don’t dwell on setbacks.
And sometimes missing that train is your fault because reading military time is hard or you get drunk before your departure and go to the wrong station. Sometimes you don’t lock your hostel locker at night and your passport and credit card mysteriously disappear by the time you wake up. Sometimes you seem to remember someone telling you that there’s a 7-day grace period on your visa in Sri Lanka, so don’t even worry about renewing it, plus the people that work at the passport desk at the airport are super lenient so you can just charm your way through if they ask you about it. And then instead of that you ended up paying $150 dollars in fees and getting detained in their little airport holding cell for a few hours. When you’re traveling for this long and only have yourself to rely on, you’re bound to make a few mistakes. And oh my god have I made some mistakes. You’re exhausted, you’re human, and it’s a sheer odds game. It will happen a few times. Just stay calm, learn from the mistake, and remember that it will make a funny story someday. When you get frustrated and beat yourself up for your own errors, you just waste time that could be spent enjoying yourself. Just use it to become a better you and laugh it off!
6: Be grateful
I can be a real whiner sometimes, turns out. Here I am traveling the world, not really working, seeing sights that many only dream of, and I still find time to bitch about being tired, lonely, sad, sweaty, whatever. I am extraordinarily lucky to be doing what I’m doing. I worked hard to get myself to this point, yes, but not very many people get to do this kind of thing. It took me a few months to improve at the art of just enjoying the moment and not worrying about the future, the past, what my friends and family are doing back home, what our asshole president is ruining while I’m not paying attention, etc. Sometimes it’s important to drop everything for family or friends, but most of that stuff will still be there when the trip is over, and it can be dealt with then. But as much as possible, just enjoy your damn vacation, no matter how long it is.
7: Let it go
I am super laid back for the most part, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have certain expectations, goals and habits that are tough to let go of while traveling for a long time. For example: at home I eat pretty healthily and exercise pretty much every day, but when you’re traveling the way that I am, both of those things can be very tough to do. I wasted a lot of time at first trying to find the exact thing I wanted to eat. And I’ve done a decent job of finding gyms and doing body weight workouts, but I am not really keeping up with things the way I was at home. It used to cause me a decent amount of stress, but after a while, I just had to let go of it and tell myself I’d worry about it when I’m done. So in the mean time, I’ll just enjoy all this bread and pasta!
8: I like nature. A lot.
This isn’t really new information. But I’ve always thought of myself as a city person who enjoys getting out into nature sometimes. But it turns out maybe it’s the other way around. I imagined I was going to love endlessly wandering around the ancient cities of Europe, never getting sick of museums, churches and windy streets filled with cool old buildings. And while I’ve enjoyed all of that a ton, I’ve also noticed that more often than not, I’m drawn to the parks, woods, mountains and bodies of water near the cities. It’s definitely surprised me how often I’ve been escaping to these places of natural beauty rather than just sticking to the cities, but I’ve definitely been loving it. And this realization has really helped steer me towards a new career goal. But more on that later. This post is already getting pretty long.