Until I quit my job, all my travel was within a general comfort zone. As a child, I vacationed in the Caribbean and parts of Europe. I got to know Martinique, Barbados, England, and the Canary Islands. These places were exciting and exotic to me. As a teenager, I lived with a host family in France, studied in Italy, and spent a summer in Switzerland. As an adult, when I finally had my own income and could choose my own vacations, I returned over and over to the Caribbean and the parts of Europe I knew. Even when I worked in France for a year, the most adventurous trips I took were to Norway and Sweden.
Once I gave myself the gift of infinite time to travel, I chose to go places I had never been before. With no limit on how long I could spend in each country, long-haul flights and travel times were no longer an issue. The international travel destinations I chose intimidated me every time, but each of them changed my life forever. Here’s how.
1. I Let Go Of The Need To Plan Out Every Detail Of My Life
Costa Rica was the first place I traveled as a full-time adventurer. Though in some ways it was similar to the Caribbean, it felt wilder. I had no idea what I was doing and treated my first two weeks like a vacation, planning all the details in advance. After that, I felt completely lost, had a meltdown, and then found a better version of myself.
Ironically, there aren’t real street addresses in Costa Rica, so a lot of my journey was spent trying to figure out how to get where I wanted to go -- mas o menos ("more or less"), because nothing was precise. What a great life lesson. Letting go of extensive planning was a beautiful choice that took a lot of anxiety out of my life.
2. I Began Trusting Strangers And Accepting Help
As a single person with a corporate job, I learned to be very self-reliant. I felt that asking for help made one weak and needy. Ironically, I love helping other people and frequently go out of my way to offer directions, give advice, hold doors open, and even flag down taxis for the elderly.
Traveling solo in some of the strangest places, however, I learned to accept help with a grateful heart. Complete strangers helped me find my way, offered me rides, gave me travel advice, and treated me to coffee or a meal. I began to feel blessed instead of needy. I remembered how good I felt helping others, and I reminded myself that I was allowing other people to experience the same feeling.
3. I Found A Place That Feels Like Home
Being a nomad with no fixed residence, I have no home. My first experience living overseas was at age 16. Since then, I haven’t felt truly at home anywhere. Having lost that feeling of belonging, I was struck by the visceral connection I felt to the land and people of Africa. Last year marked my first visit, and yet it felt like I was a part of it.
Knowing there’s a place out there that makes me feel this way keeps me exploring. I wonder if there are other places in the world that would feel to me like home. And having spent most of my life in first-world countries, I’m intrigued that I feel much more drawn to second- and third-world countries.
4. I Saw Community And Love Matter More Than Money
The continents of South America and Africa exposed me to more poverty than I've ever witnessed. People live with less, expect less, and lead much simpler lives than those of us in the northern hemisphere. And yet, more people come together in small communities, helping fellow shop owners and friends. Someone was always reaching out to me, a solo traveler. Even if many hoped I would buy from them, they’d spend ages asking me questions and getting to know me, so I never felt alone. Family values seemed stronger in these communities, and despite the hardships these people faced, they seemed to value love over money.
5. I Gained Self-Confidence And Positive Thinking
Not only have I traveled alone, but I’ve gone to places where I have no language competency. And I speak six languages, so that’s saying a lot! I really stepped outside of my comfort zone traveling to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. Plenty of people there spoke English, but even when they didn’t, we still managed to communicate.
In South America, after one bad experience, I learned to follow my instincts as a solo traveler. Travel has taught me that if I follow my gut, everything will be okay in the end.
6. I Felt The Power Of Presence
One of the benefits of travel is that it keeps you from daydreaming about where you’d rather be and allows you to enjoy being where you are. I’ve had that opportunity for almost three years now, and the feeling of being present is extraordinary. Perhaps it comes from a combination of following my heart to full-time travel, being very aware of my surroundings as a female solo traveler, and learning to trust and go with the flow. Whatever the reason, I feel like I’m living my life instead of watching it go by.
7. I Realized I Didn’t Need A Travel Goal
When I first set out on my travels, I put a lot of pressure on myself to have a specific goal. I believed I needed to have some life or work goal that justified wandering the globe. My first year of travel, I berated myself because the goal didn’t come.
But last year, on Easter Island, I met a young traveler who had been on the road for 18 months. I asked him about his experiences and why he was traveling. He said, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” Those words struck me, and I realized he was absolutely right. I didn’t need a goal or even a destination. I was on a mission to explore the world and experience life as it unfolded.
8. I’ve Made Friends I’ll Never Forget
The nature of my travels is that I’m always in transition, never staying in one place for too long. I‘ve met so many wonderful people. Since I’m always leaving, there are too many goodbyes. Each one tugs at my heart, reminding me of the beautiful experiences I’ve shared with strangers-become-friends. But there’s always the promise that we may see each other again someday.