I had always wanted to travel since I was young but as soon as I was actually in a position to do it I couldn’t find anyone who would come with me. I figured if it was ever going to happen I just had to do it by myself. So aged 19 I booked my first trip alone to Thailand and I’ve been on many solo trips since. And it’s been quite the learning experience. Here are 5 lessons life has given me in the past four and a half years:
Life is what you make it
Since I got back from my first solo trip it was my dream to move abroad. I imagined how different life would be away from boring Dundee and I imagined all the freedom I’d have. But after moving to Canada earlier this year and finding a job there I found that the reality was quite different. Seeing new places and exploring was obviously great but day-to-day life was pretty much exactly the same as it was at home- stress, spending most of my time doing things I didn’t want to do, waiting for days off so I could enjoy my life…
This made me realise that it wasn’t Dundee that I wanted to get away from. I wanted to get away from the ‘living for the weekend’ kind of life. I wanted to spend my time doing things I actually enjoy. So I quit my job and spent the rest of my money having fun before I came home. And I realised that I don’t need to change my location, my job, my relationship status or my bank balance to be happy. I just needed to change my mindset. To be present, be mindful and make the most of what’s happening right now. I’ve become really detached from material possessions and am spending more time appreciating the things that are actually important in life. I’m still not sure of my long-term plans but for now I’m enjoying the journey and I’ve never been happier.
I didn’t ever think I’d be able to travel alone, especially being a pretty shy person, but I really love the sense of accomplishment it gives me. With all of the plane, bus and train rides I’ve taken alone across different countries I’ve started to really enjoy my own company. Sometimes it is nice to be around other people though and finding company whilst travelling alone has never been an issue for me. That’s what I love most about lone travel- you can be by yourself and do your own thing when you want to but it’s also super easy to meet up with other travelers if you want some company. I’ve made good friends on aeroplanes, at the beach, in laundry rooms and even just walking down the street. But the majority of my travel friends were my roommates in hostels. Hostels really aren’t as bad as everyone seems to think and I’ve found they’re a great way to meet people you’d never normally interact with, which makes for lots of learning opportunities and some very interesting conversations.
The world isn’t a bad place
When I told people I was going to Cambodia I was told “be careful”. When I said I was going to Miami I was told “watch out, there’s a lot of crime there”. And when I told a taxi driver I was going to Mexico he felt the need to tell me stories about drug, violence and rape statistics as if I hadn’t heard it all already. I’m not ignorant to the horrible things that happen in the world, I know they do and can happen, but I also feel the overall safety of certain places is completely exaggerated by the media. In my experience as long as you use common sense you’ll be fine- anywhere can be dangerous if you’re not being cautious. I’ve been to 20 countries including some that are considered super dangerous but have never had anything bad happen to me personally. The only crimes I’ve ever been victim to were in Dundee which ironically I’ve never considered unsafe.
I also notice that the most ‘dangerous’ places are where I meet the friendliest people. Many times I’ve been able to travel with locals and experience things that I never would’ve been able to as a tourist. I believe that most people truly are good people and we are all the same regardless of culture, religion or language.
The importance of gratitude
Whilst in Asia I learned that 80% of the world population lives in poverty. And there I was, travelling across the world like it was no big deal. In Cambodia we visited a small village (built on a garbage dump) and a young boy there wanted to show us around. The houses there were made of sticks and cloth and some had up to 10 people living in a room the size of my bedroom. There were no lights and there were kids walking around huge puddles of dirty water in bare feet. But this boy showing us around was so proud of his village, and was so friendly and welcoming. After we left I found out that his family had been killed in a mine explosion 5 days earlier and my heart broke. How could he still be so happy and kind after going through all of that? Travelling helps me to see life through different eyes and reminds me to be grateful for everything I have. And these types of people teach me that there’s never an excuse not to be nice to others.
How to go with the flow
Experiencing different cultures, different norms, different ideas of beauty, new food… it all helps me to be more open-minded. I was offered curried goat in Ghana and ate snails in France. I learned that Fiji time is a real thing, the importance of tipping in North America and that massages in Thailand are not actually very relaxing. I’ve also had strangers ask to take pictures with me (because I’m white) in some parts of the world. These things were very weird and different to me at first but I think it’s pretty cool to be able to experience a different way of life. Instead of judging everything I’ve found it’s better to just embrace it.
The past few months especially I’ve learned to judge less and just accept things as they are. I was scared to come home because that would mean admitting my Canadian dream didn’t work out as planned. But I know it was the right decision for now and I’m feeling positive about what’s to come. I’ve been really trying to find the good in every situation and stop thinking about negative things if I can’t change them. I’ve learned to just go with the flow of life and only do something if I feel good about doing it. I’ve stopped trying to make things happen because I feel they should and instead just let them happen naturally.