I’m single (again), female and 59yrs old. I’m laying in a hammock under a mango tree. The wild horses wander in to eat whatever mangoes they can find and the chickens stay close hoping for some leftovers.
I picked up my backpack 10 months ago, for better or worse, and I’m seeing the world. I’ve spent time in French Polynesia, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand.
Right now I’m on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico with no end date in sight.
It’s not all bad!
When I left I didn’t have much of a plan A and definitely no plan B.
I’ve always been a fly by the seat of your pants kind of a girl.
I spend time researching places to see, and where to stay. Before I leave, I generally have airfare and accommodations set. And a pretty good idea how I’m going to get from point A to point B.
But, I’m not the kind of girl that has her whole itinerary planned.
Fearless or daft? Both sides could be argued and I’ve often wondered myself.
But, that’s just how I roll.
The people I talked to, before I left, were easily divided on this.
“So cool! Have fun!”
“You’re not 20 anymore, you know…”
“What if you get hurt? OR KIDNAPPED!!??”
“Wow! I wish I was doing that!”
“Why aren’t you going with anyone else?!”
When I was a kid, my mom subscribed to National Geographic Magazine
“I can go anywhere in the world with this wonderful magazine.” She used to say.
That stuck with me and gave me the travel bug from an early age.
I raised my kids, had relationships and careers that required consideration of everyone else’s sleeping, eating and working schedules.
You’ve been there. We’ve all been there.
Worth every minute of it…
But for a long time it feels as if you’ll never have a life of your own, ever again.
When You Travel Solo the Day is Yours
It’s a great feeling to wake up and take your time deciding what you want to do for the day.
No worries about when you want to go to the beach, or spend time writing, reading, or go to the Cantina and dance the night away with the locals.
Any time of the day or night, you can change your mind without cramping anyone else’s schedule.
In Costa Rica I waited each Monday and Thursday afternoon for the fish truck to pull up. I would jump up, look into the huge bins at the fresh catch.
With no one else to consider, I bought the kilos of what I wanted to cook for the next few days.
I relished the entire experience.
I didn’t have to ask anyone else if it was ok with them.
Shrimp or fish for lunch? Go surfing or read in a hammock? Or walk on the beach without a care in the world?
It was pure bliss.
You Find Out What You’re Made of…
Traveling alone is empowering. You don’t have anyone else to rely on when things go wrong. So when they do, and they will on occasion, you will panic.
I allow myself 2 minutes of panic time. Then it’s on to problem solving mode.
Just figure it out.
In Thailand I found myself without a room after the sun went down.
“Fine…” I thought to myself. “
I’ll figure out another room.”
I felt vulnerable stepping out into the night in a foreign country with no idea where I was heading.
Pa Tong is a bustling, crowded, night scene.
The thought of bad things happening was frightening…
And a very real possibility…
Locating internet, I booked a hostel that was close by and looked decent. (It was a dump).
With the added weight of fear, my backpack seemed to have taken on more kilos than I thought I could carry.
I got lost trying to find my hostel.
I had 3 different locals who didn’t speak English try to help me.
When I finally found my hostel, I was swimming in sweat, exhausted and grateful. I put down my pack and my head hit the pillow.
Tears of relief ran down my face.
You Will Meet the Most Amazing, Helpful People
Traveling solo increases your odds of meeting people ten fold.
The kindness of strangers is magnified when you’re by yourself and you’re so damn happy someone is helping you.
I was riding on a bus for the last leg of my 30+ hr trip to the island of Moorea in French Polynesia. My schedule got screwed up so my host family wasn’t there to meet me.
I showed the bus driver the address.
He looked confused.
Addresses don’t really exist there in his defense. He let me off where I knew I wasn’t supposed to be.
Luckily my host had Skyped me around the property so I knew what it looked like.
Exhausted, carrying a pack that now felt like 1,000lbs, I got off the bus.
With no clue what to do or where to go I felt defeated. On the verge of tears I went from panic to problem solve. The problem was what the hell was I going to do on a tiny island with no way to contact these people.
I looked around and started calling out, “Herbert, Helen”… “Herbert, Helen”…
An older woman, Marilaine, came up her driveway.
“Do you need help?” She asked.
“Yes I do!”
She motioned for me to walk with her toward the house.
I showed them the “address”.
They shook their heads.
After a discussion in French with her granddaughter who spoke more English, everyone, including me, agreed that I should have gotten their phone number before I traveled. (Read poor planning here).
More French was spoken and her granddaughter threw my pack in the back of the truck. I was told to get in the truck.
Grateful that I didn’t have to walk I happily hopped in.
We drove for a few minutes until I saw the house.
“THAT’S it!!” I called out.
Relief washed over me. I found it.
If felt like a miracle at the time.
Or at the very least, damn good luck!
Long Term Travel Accommodations Encourage Friendships
Imagine you check into a hostel in a foreign country.
Most people there are in the same boat.
It’s easy to make friends in a hostel. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some beautiful people that have grown to be true friends. I fully expect we’ll be crossing paths on purpose, another week, month or year in the same place or another country.
Most days you’ll be surrounded by people from multiple countries and continents. Throw in more languages than you can identify and it makes for a very interesting place to lay your head at night.
That is one of the most beautiful things about traveling solo.
The people that you’ll meet!
But at times it’s hard…
Especially when you’re having a down day.
Maybe you’re missing your family and friends. Or a boyfriend that just broke up with you long distance, that you gave your heart to… (he said he was fine with you traveling).
You’re surrounded by people that completely understand.
Yet the overwhelming feeling of loneliness is suffocating. You can’t call family or friends because the time zones are all over the board. You can’t hug someone because the hostel mates you know well enough aren’t there.
You lay in your hostel bunk crying.
You get it together and head up to the kitchen to cook something.
The Good Times Out Weigh the Bad…
There are the sun drenched pictures where I’m working on my laptop, writing, reading, snoozing in a hammock and it’s a beautiful life.
I’m grateful to be so blessed.
If you are getting ready to venture out solo, don’t be discouraged by the downs.
Whether you’re in a cubicle or on a beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico, there will be good days and bad days.
Go venture out and look at the world through different eyes.
Don’t worry if others don’t understand your reasons.
You can see the places in the world that you’ve only dreamt of.
And you don’t have to only do it through National Geographic Magazine!