It's been a funny few weeks - I won't go into too many details but let's just say a few things have happened lately that have really forced me to step up and act like an adult. It's pretty easy when travelling to feel like you're 18 and invincible, that nothing can touch you and that somehow you're just evading all the bad things in life. Often you're just so overwhelmed by the goodness and kindness of people that you wonder if you had them all wrong when you were back home working that 9-5 job and getting stressed out constantly by the behaviour of others. I'm not going to deny that bad things ever happen when you're travelling, but to be honest they don't very often - at least nowhere near as often as people warn you that they do. But when they do, it's a shock, it brings you back down to earth with a bump after months of soaring along with your head in the clouds. Don't worry, everyone, including myself are okay - if anything, I'm being a bit dramatic. Why? Well it all goes back to a conversation I had the other week with a friend about the situation, something she said really struck me and made me think.
When asked about life back at home, I told her that I don't really get homesick - yes I miss the people, the moments and the history, but I don't think I have once spent a day pining for home. I know some find homesickness a real problem when travelling and I've had friends who can be down for days on end if something sets off those feelings, but that's just not me. I was never homesick when I went to university either, I think I'm just used to dealing with the feeling of being separate and I'm a very logical person who will always reason with herself that family and friends are always at the end of the phone. My friend, who does get homesick and has been missing home lately, commented on how independent I was and seemed surprised by it. Especially when she realised that I had travelled so far across the world by myself and was unafraid to tackle Asia and Australia solo. I've had this reaction multiple times since planning my travels and setting out - it's something that just seems odd to me and perhaps highlights that it is still thought of as unusual for a young woman to be "brave" enough to be on her own and to be completely independent. Don't worry - I'm not going to start quoting Beyoncé songs to you, but I do want to make the point that I think it is a huge compliment to say that someone is so very independent.
Independence is vastly underrated - whether is financial, emotional, physical or even mental, there is nothing more valuable than the ability to be on your own and still be happy. Too many people in this world are relying on the behaviour of others to make them happy, but wonder why they are always left disappointed. They don't seem to appreciate that you have no control over the behaviour of others, ultimately if they want to mess you around or treat you badly, you can't do anything about it except adjust your own attitude. I've forgiven people for some pretty horrid behaviour over the years and sometimes I'm asked why - I always respond, because it doesn't have any impact on me beyond being upset. That person has to live with the knowledge of how they have treated me and my hating them for it will only make me unhappy and bitter - why would I want to introduce that unhappiness into my own life? As I said on my Facebook page the other day - not relying on others to make you happy is the greatest power of all. By being able to make yourself happy through fulfilling your own goals, setting your own challenges and comforting yourself in times of strife, you give yourself the key to happiness. Solo travel is a great way to learn that, but it's something we should all learn in our own lives - other people can make your life better but only you can make it great.Of course we need others to bring light into our lives in other ways - to put a smile on our face after a hard day, to crack a joke when we're mad, or do thoughtful things, but what happens on the day when they aren't there? You need to be able to build yourself back up instead of just expecting others to do it for you. I've always been a very independent person, but before coming travelling I was a lot more emotionally dependent on others. Travelling solo has given me the space and the time to get to know myself better, it has meant learning to look after myself when times are tough and boy, have they been tough sometimes. I remember being pulled out of a crashed minibus which was half buried in a ditch, I'd been thrown against the windscreen and would have gone through it if it weren't for the driver grabbing hold of me. I stood on the side of the road with blood pouring from my legs, with a group of Cambodians who spoke barely any English, and remember thinking, I genuinely don't know if I'll make it out of this one. Being in a situation like that, being forced to look after yourself and to get yourself to safety in a city that is still a hundred miles away is quite a challenge. But I did it, and I'm a stronger person for it. Now I don't want anyone to go through anything like that, but there are ways to teach yourself the value of independence without putting yourself in danger.
Just taking a tiny step outside your comfort zone and doing it all by yourself is the most valuable experience of all - it can mean disappearing off one day and exploring a place you've never been before, forcing yourself to eat out alone, dealing with something complicated all by yourself instead of seeking help from parents or a partner. All of these are things I do on a daily basis now - I love to eat out alone, I love the satisfaction of managing to deal with a problem completely by myself or turning up in a place where no-one knows me and no-one in the world knows where I am. Some people call that brave, I call it just living my life one step at a time and taking chances. So far it's paid off better than I ever could have imagined and it could be the same for everyone. Being independent is one of the most empowering feelings I have ever known. Some say to love and be loved is the greatest thing of all, but I think that being brave enough to say "I got this shit" to yourself and to others every damn day and proving it again and again is the one to aim for. Don't ever think independence is a lonely place - I've never been surrounded by and had the support of quite so many amazing people who I know love me and would do anything for me as I have lately - what brought us all together is the fact that we all kick ass independently.
Do you consider yourself independent? How else can we gain independence? When's the last time you went off the grid?
Those of you who have been following my journey will remember when I posted about the reactions of people as they realised I was planning on travelling across Asia, Australia and New Zealand by myself. Solo. Alone. Big decision right? And not one I took lightly, but by the time I made this decision, I had asked several friends who had all been unable to get out of commitments - jobs, relationships, houses.... The list goes on and still meant I was no closer to getting out and seeing the world. Then I realised, what am I more scared of - never getting the chance to achieve my dream of travelling or facing it independently? Once I weighed up my options, I knew that although it was a scary decision, it was the right one to go by myself.
So how has it actually been? Well, after travelling solo for just under a month already - boy that time has flown by! I can say it has been the easiest and the most natural thing in the world. I have loved every second of this journey and have met so many amazing people, seen some amazing places and have become more confident than ever in my ability to do this, to complete the next (hopefully) 11 months of my time away and smash it. So this post is to put your minds at ease and to make you realise quite how easy it is to travel by yourself, and how in so many ways it is actually far better than travelling with another person or a group. Trust me, once you get over the first bit, it's really not scary at all.
Okay, so sitting in the airport alone was the first time the nerves kicked in and it really hit me what I was about to do. A glass of wine to steady the butterflies, and I made the mistake of checking my phone which was full of soppy, sweet and emotional messages from everyone I knew - welled up a bit didn't I?! It was so touching to receive so many messages of support and really helped me get over my fears. This was the first time I had ever flown alone and it was just a week after yet another plane had disappeared, but I actually loved it. So what was I afraid of? I'm not even 100% sure now but it was things like being lonely, not having anyone to share my experiences with, not being able to cope with organising, feeling unsafe, having to admit defeat and come home. All pretty irrational fears as I knew none of these things would actually happen - I know enough girls who have done similar trips and been fine, so why would I be any different?
I happened to see a quote on the day I left about it being good to do something if it scares you. I love that idea, all the biggest decisions in life are the scariest and yet the ones we take the biggest risks on tend to turn out the best. We just have to be brave enough to make the first move. I did make the first move and it has truly paid off better than I ever could have imagined. Not for a single moment have I been completely alone, I have had some of the best experiences with new friends that I know I will stay in contact with and meet up with later on, one even invited me to her wedding! I have had people to eat with, to dance with, to go out on boat trips with, to hang out with... The list goes on. I am actually starting to reach a point where I crave some time completely to myself. But it is wonderful and even more amazing, I have not once had to make the first move, the other travellers always beat me to it because everyone is so damn friendly here.
The organising has been astonishingly easy - ferries, flights, buses and the rest are all on offer everywhere and all you need to do is decide where you want to go. So simple. Leaving you more time to chill at the beach instead. I don't think I have every known a country to be so easy to travel round, but so many backpackers have trodden this route ahead of you it is easy to follow in their footsteps. As for feeling unsafe, that couldn't be further from how I feel. Thailand is probably one of the safest countries to travel solo as a woman. Ignore the newspapers, trust me, I used to work for one and know how they sensationalise the smallest story. It really is safe here. Don't ever get complacent and take risks because you feel so safe, and I certainly won't be wandering down any dark alleys alone at night or leaving my passport out on the table in a bar. But don't feel scared to stay in a bungalow on your own, or to do anything. The people here are (mostly) the kindest people I have ever met, who will go beyond the call of duty to help you find your way, and your fellow travellers are always on hand. Never really being alone means I've always had someone with me, and if not, there are so many people around all the time that you feel so much more comfortable.
My main point in all this? Don't listen to your parents, all the worrywarts or any of those who react in shock when you say you're going alone. Ignore anyone who goes on about how "brave" you are for doing it. It's not brave once you get out here, it's standard. And all those travellers who have said doing it alone is the best way to go are right, yes it's a little more expensive at times, but it means you are completely independent and yet never lonely. You don't have to have the intense one-on-one relationship between two travellers, you don't have to have arguments in the group, and you never have to wait for everyone to be ready before you go to the beach, simple! Trust me, everyone I have met so far is insanely jealous I am doing it alone and they are travelling with a group, and after experiencing travelling with a group for a few days I am even more glad to be independent. I can see so plainly that I have the better end of the deal in so many ways. I've also realised that the majority of those who have approached me here wouldn't have done so if I had been travelling with a partner. The only thing I'm not looking forward to is when I get poorly, which is bound to happen at some point, and I have no one to look after me. But even then, I will find a way to cope and to smash it.
Thinking about travelling solo but scared to take the first step? Tell me about your fears and let me reassure you...