- How to experience places with my full attention
Many times while I walked around by myself, I got to pay attention to little things happening around me that I wouldn’t have had I been there talking to friends. For example, like many outdoor markets, the grocery market in Hoi An, Vietnam is a loud, crowded area full of all kinds of produce and meats and locals mixed with tourists walking and biking around. With no one to talk to, I got to slowly walk around and observe the small things within the commotion, like how the vendors were only elderly women, which gave away so much about Vietnamese culture and the role of women in their society. It felt like I was completely immersed in my surroundings.
2. How to depend on strangers
As a person who hates asking others for favors, traveling alone and having to depend on others was a challenge, but some situations were just impossible to handle by myself. A perfect example is when my wallet was stolen in Budapest with all of my money in it (I know, why would I put ALL of the money I brought with me in my wallet?) Honestly, I have never felt more useless in my life than the moment I realized I was in a strange city with strange, mostly unfriendly people and zero money. I had to depend on a really nice girl I had only met a couple days before to pay for a few of my meals, drinks and activities and help me figure out how to get my mom to wire me money to a nearby Western Union. While this was a horrifying situation, I was forced to be ok with asking for help and realize many people out there genuinely want to help.
3. How to figure shit out on my own
At the same time, I mostly had to figure things out by myself. There were way too many times that I got lost, missed trains/buses and lost valuables and I had to put on a brave face and find my way out. The instance that stands out the most is when I had to figure out how to get myself from Budapest to Croatia while refugees were rioting at the train station. It was 5 AM and if I didn’t get on a train in an hour I would’ve been stuck in Budapest for another day homeless and penniless. Honestly, I had wished there was a magic button I could’ve pressed that could’ve teleported me to where I needed to be… but there wasn’t. I couldn’t just stand there freaking out, so while the tellers were busy keeping the refugees under control, I nervously approached one of the very intimidating Hungarian police men and asked him to get me a cab to another train station hoping it would be less crazy. Thankfully, I arrived to find an emptier station and found myself one of the last spots on the train.
4. Who I am and what defines me
As a solo backpacker, you are constantly meeting others who find you fascinating and are excited to get to know you. When they ask you who you are, you get to decide what is it about that life you put on pause that you want to tell others about. What characteristics of yourself do you think are cool? What have you done before that you are proud to share? No one around you has any idea who you are and you get to decide who you want to be. By telling others about myself, I learned that I am not limited at all by certain things I strongly identified myself with like, “the girl who’s sort of irresponsible” (I did get all my money stolen after all) or “the girl who isn’t sure what she wants to do in life.” Instead, I was simply the girl from Miami who felt like backpacking by herself to check out a few cool places she wanted to see. The rest was up to me.
5. Adventure is a perspective
Your life doesn’t suddenly become a fairy tale the moment you step on a plane and leave. Sometimes you don’t have a magical night with a foreign boy on a beach and sometimes the hostel you stay at isn’t as fun as you would’ve liked it to be. But it all depends on how you look at it. It’s up to you to laugh about or learn from a shitty situation because in the end of the day everything you experience is a story that lives in your mind or a story you share with others. When I went to Hvar in Croatia for 3 days I had huge expectations that I was going to go to the best party of my life and see some incredible beaches. It ended up raining most of the time which killed the parties, and the beaches were the tiniest rockiest beaches I have ever seen. Like the founder of Patagonia Yvon Chouinard once said, “When everything goes wrong — that’s when adventure starts.” I had to let go of my dissapointment and see the adventure in my new experience while I hung out with really cool people as we rode the storm out. It’s something I apply to many moments in my life, not just in travel.