By: Paola Vega / @paolavegaa
It might seem scary at first. Traveling on your own to unknown destinations for a long time is something that many would think twice about. The truth is you are (almost) never alone. You keep meeting people as you go. No matter where you may find yourself, there will be fellow travelers wandering around, expats or locals that in some way or another end up interacting with you. Before you know it small talk develops into deep conversations, and strangers become meaningful friends of all sorts of nationalities, backgrounds, professions and ages. The fear of loneliness soon disappears and you find yourself socializing most of the time. Thus, the little moments you are on your own you truly appreciate them.
When you make the decision to step out of the zone of stability and comfort, and adventure into a humble nomadic life (a.k.a low-budget backpacking) you start appreciating the little things that are taken for granted on a daily basis. When you wander around from hostel to hostel and eat from street food stands on a constant basis, things like a closet or a stove have more value than you could’ve imagined.
One thing is for sure, you learn to be more simple and this manifests in the realization that you don’t need much to be content. Comfort is an expensive privilege unless you lower the bar for your standards. Your mindset adapts and therefore, your perception of cleanliness and comfort scale down dramatically (from sheets to pillows, to toilets, to showers, to buses… even to your own clothes, or your hair). This trait can only be to your advantage because next time you go to a clean and neat place (which might happen once a month, maybe less) you really feel privileged and even out of place with that same old t-shirt that you’ve been wearing for one week (or was it two?)
This mentality translates to your possessions as well. You start carrying only the essentials, and buying the minimum. Eventually you learn that in reality, you only need a fraction of the things you own and most of the stuff you normally buy is completely unnecessary. Trust me, when you have to carry all of your possessions on your own back you want to have as little as possible. Breaking free from the cycle of materialistic consumerism is a great relief. As a result, you start to collect memories, not things.
With all this shedding of clutter, you soon realize that your mind opens up. Only until you live and experience different realities and different cultures will your perspective widen and your understanding of the world will expand in such a way that it will make you see the world through a different lens. This happens naturally when you meet all types of different people and especially when you engage with the locals. By truly connecting with people (who might seem so different from you) you break the culture boundaries and mental obstacles that have been imprinted on you by our discriminating and judgmental society. The gap of separation closes when tolerance and understanding for others become your rule of conduct. In the end, we are all one race sharing this planet.
The open-mindedness and simplicity will also lead you to a third aspect you’ll learn along the way: to go with the flow. This so-called “flow” has no schedules, routes or plans. It is not solid, it is completely fluid and you have to learn to fully immerse into the stream and let it take you wherever it goes. Traveling with no return ticket is the most liberating experience you can have. But if you do have one just do yourself a favor and try to plan as little as possible. Be open to change your mind, to change your route, to skip a place, or to extend your stay. But also be open to sudden changes, from a simple bus breakdown, to unexpected flooding or downpours. A wonderful aspect of solo traveling is that you are free to do whatever you please. You learn to trust your instincts and most of the times you make the decisions based solely on emotions and not logic. There will be moments, of course, where you wish you’d planned ahead but most of the times you don’t even stick to the plan you had in mind initially. Be open to improvisation. This goes as a life lesson too; If you plan every detail of it, you won’t give the universe a chance to surprise you and take you where you’d never expected.
Another valuable lesson you comprehend when you wander long enough is that life in its nature is impermanent. You have to accept that your surrounding environment will be in constant change. You have no base, no steady ground, no place to call home. This is not a bad thing because you realize that the feeling of “being at home” comes from within and you can create a sense of belonging wherever you go. This goes for the places you visit as well as for the people who you cross paths with. This is the best part of traveling: the lovely souls that in just a few days become life-long friends. Yet it is also the hardest one when it’s time to say goodbye and you don’t know when you’ll see them again. You just have to hope you will. After all, this trains you to make the most out of every day, every place and every person around you.
Traveling solo for long is an experience everyone should try once in their life. It’s not necessarily easy but it is incredibly rewarding. And even though there are tough moments it is all part of the experience. One thing is for certain; you grow and evolve like you never thought would be possible, and the person who once left home will never be back just the same.
And remember there is no finish line. There is no final destination. It is not about arriving somewhere it’s about ‘getting there’. After all, happiness it’s not a destination it’s a journey.