(honest) thoughts on solo travel

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Today is my first full day alone in Costa Rica. Yesterday, leaning against the door frame of the kitchen, cup of coffee in hand, I waved goodbye to Beth as she faded down the road in the passenger seat of a white pickup truck. The final phase of my trip had begun.

While planning to travel with my friends, I knew I wanted to plan a little bit of time to be alone. I am a firm believer in solo travel. My past experience traveling to an unknown place alone made me realize the full capacity of my abilities. My mantra has become, “If I can handle this, I can handle anything.”

Now I am in that place again. Solo, vulnerable, unsure, calm, open, excited. All of these emotions have been swapping places in my brain practically every minute. I have decided to spend these last two weeks on the farm. It is a safe place to continue in my personal growth and to share with these wonderful people. With that said, however, the fourteen days ahead do not come without their own set of anxieties.

At this point, I have been in Costa Rica for just over two months. Nine weeks outside of all that is familiar. Honestly, I miss home. I miss my family and friends more than I ever have. I am facing life in my second language, navigating all of the newness. The discomfort that comes with this is amplified while traveling alone. Alone, another layer of my comfort zone is stripped away. Let me be more specific.

First, let’s talk language barriers. This is certainly on my mind the most, as practicing Spanish was one of the main drivers of this trip. I have been learning Spanish for ten years, actively for about four. I have lived in a Spanish speaking country before, having spent a semester in Spain. Yet, there is still something difficult in navigating the world in your second language. In his TED talk ‘4 reasons to learn a new language‘, linguist John McWhorter  mentions that when someone is speaking in their non-native language, they are “husks of themselves, they’re shadows of themselves.” This illustration could not be more accurate. When traveling with friends, I had the opportunity to be my full self whenever I was speaking my native language, English. My culture, sense of humor and small corners of my personality were all developed in English, so it is more natural to be a more complete being in this language. Now that I am alone, however, I do not have the ease of expressing myself in full. It is a challenge, but also a brilliant opportunity to grow.

Second, there is an increase physical vulnerability. I do not feel as safe being a female traveling alone. Simple.

Third, I have to be ‘on’ all of the time. There is no one there to take over when I need to retreat into myself out of exhaustion. There is no one to take the reins when I am simply having an off day. I am my own support.

But I’m doing this anyway.

That is where the pure empowerment of solo travel comes in. Especially for females, it is important to defy the constant infantilizing messages telling us to not travel alone. My inspiring friend Faith wrote a brilliant piece about adventuring as a solo female on her blog. I encourage you to check it out. She writes about a “culture that supports the underlying assumptions of these questions: women should be scared to travel and be on their own, adventure is for men, and women need more parental protection.”

Despite the anxieties plaguing my brain, I am thrilled for the independence, tranquility, clarity and empowerment of this experience. It is allowing me to explore the many corners of who I am. I have space to think, write and imagine. I hope to land home with a sense of satisfaction and clarity. Cheers to all of the possibilities.

Solo travelers, what are your thoughts? I want to read your stories! All of my love to you all.

 

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11 thoughts on “(honest) thoughts on solo travel

  1. Loved this, Emma! I always appreciate your reflections! As much as you miss home, family and friends, I suspect you will have some re-entry adjustment to deal with. And I think your true assessment of how much you’ve grown will take place gradually, after you return.

    For these last few weeks…enjoy, stretch, reflect, appreciate, learn, and be. And stay safe and smart! (It’s not that solo female travelers need parental protection, it’s simply what you said – there is, very sadly, greater vulnerability.)

    Much love,

    Your Ithaca Mom! 🙂

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  2. I am always interested in hearing you speak about your inner thoughts. But I am also glad you miss family and friends because then I realize everything is good and equal. We miss you and will always know you will come “home” to be with us so you can share your experiences occasionaly in person. Enjoy and as always stay safe.

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  3. After my first year of university, I broke up with my boyfriend thereby bringing an end to a bad relationship, bought a ticket and got in a plane to England. It was probably the best thing I’ve ever done. I was 18 years old, broken and terrified but I needed so badly to cross an ocean and learn how be myself again. I was met at the airport by my grandmother’s cousins and spent 2 weeks with the greatest people I’ve ever known. They were basically strangers but they took me in and taught me so much about life and how to do it better and have it mean more. After my time with them I went on to Belgium again to meet a friend and had adventures of a lifetime, did things I never thought possible. I slept on floors in the heart of Brussels, kissed a Belgian boy, and learned so much the farther I got out of my comfort zone. Anyways though, I applaud you, I really do. And I understand you because those 3 weeks in Europe were the best thing I’ve ever done for myself!!

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      1. It really was I wish I could go back and do it again but travel isn’t cheap. I actually haven’t, it was only 4 years ago but I hadn’t really begun writing yet, at least not like this, but I’d love to, if only to relive that time a little. My boyfriend is Dutch actually so I might be going across the pond soon but it will be much different travelling with him and to see his home then what I did on my own. I loved your story though, are you still traveling??

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