October 14, 2013

A Case for Traveling Solo.

We’ve all been there.

Heartbroken over an ex who was for sure the one, working a job that makes us want to dry heave, or in the midst of our third mid-life crisis.

Whatever the case, it is prime-time to take that trip you’ve always dreamed of.

Actually, don’t think of it too much as a trip. A trip sounds like a four-night getaway in Cancun with friends and all meals included.

Think of it as a journey.

We all reach a tipping-point in our lives, when we are on the verge of something grand. We feel it in our bones. Placing ourselves in foreign places that feel new and uncomfortable disrupts our zone of familiarity. It causes our mind to be hyper-focused, to look at life’s issues from angles that may often surprise us.

Growing up in an Asian American family, I was part of the generation whose predecessors sacrificed their language, land and culture because they dared to dream of a better life. I am a typical product of a tiger mom. My best was never good enough and I was my own worst enemy.

There seemed to be a specific life script written for our generation and I followed it to a tee. In retrospect, I am unbelievably grateful for those values, but I always felt claustrophobic with the mountains of spoken and unspoken expectations bearing down on me.

Phrases like “finding yourself” and “discovering your passion” just didn’t exist in the context of my world. Who had time to pursue these so-called passions when there were such expectations to fill and legacies to uphold?!

For many years, it was as if I was living out a script that was written by the Association for Dreams Deferred.

So… I ran away.

The summer I turned 25, I took off for Argentina for four weeks with a freshly pressed passport and a defiant spirit (I also had an overpriced backpack, a copy of Lonely Planet and researched information for the best spot for empanadas). I was naïve and well aware of it, but knew that I needed to break away from the suffocating pressures of life.

In the back of my mind, I knew that traveling alone in a foreign country “for fun” was about as irresponsible and frivolous as I could have been as far as my parents were concerned. I could’ve been kidnapped. I could’ve been robbed. Nonetheless, it was as though years of frustration had boiled into this calm courage I never knew existed in myself. I was being selfish and I knew it.

Some days, I was scared. I was scared of being by myself, of not having a fallback buddy. I got lost. I got traveler’s diarrhea. I got bed bugs.

But mostly, I thrived.

I befriended complete strangers who turned into lifelong friends. I took language courses, learned flamenco and ate steak every night (and on most afternoons). I let my breath be taken away by the suave sounds that curled like smoke on the corners and the political energy that simmered on the surface of Argentinian streets.

I got lost and found myself, literally and figuratively. At first, the steps were tentative, but with each decision and whim, my heart learned to listen to itself.

That initial solo trip to Argentina gave me an indescribable high.

So I continued running.

Since then, I’ve lived abroad in China and used that as a base for traveling to places like Vietnam, the Philippines, New Zealand, India and Nepal.

Each declared “best trip ever” was one-upped by the next best trip ever.

I ran further and further away, sometimes in spirals, reverting back to old habits of self-doubt and mistrust, until inexplicably, it seemed as though the Universe led me closer and closer to myself. Somewhere along the way, I learned to trust my gut. I learned that I was enough just by myself.

Traveling solo was my salvation. Instead of being the person that I thought I was suppose to be, each day, I am becoming the person that I always was. It’s our life’s work, isn’t it? To peel back the layers and layers of self-doubt and untruths? Traveling solo melted away all the muck to reveal me for me, myself and I.

Traveling solo may just be the catalyst we need for the next bend in our lives.

We learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Traveling solo puts you in situations where you are constantly problem solving, often times in bizarre situations. Learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable in situations like these allows us to loosen the grip we have on our lives. We allow life to unfold as it does. There’s a quiet comfort with not knowing what comes next. It’ll be there when we get there. When we put faith, albeit blind faith that things will iron themselves out, they usually do in ways grander that we dream for ourselves.

We learn to be okay with being selfish.

Need a rest day while already on vacation? No problem. Churros with double thick hot chocolate, again? Fine. Lost and don’t really give a damn? Great. In India and don’t mind missing the Taj Mahal? Whatevs.

Every trivial decision builds up into something pretty amazing inside of ourselves before we know it. Being selfish gives us permission to do what makes us happy. No negotiations of who, what, where, when or how with a friend or partner. No obligations or boxes to tick off. Allowing each whimsical decision to lead to another shifts our mindset subconsciously, quieting the landscape that is so-often polluted with past baggage or current pressures.

Being selfish helps us trust and listen to our hearts.

When we travel solo, our self-growth is guaranteed to be exponential. Those ideas incubating from within align themselves in ways that make incredible sense. We get curious waves of Ah-ha! moments on issues that have been eating away at us. Also, when we learn to love ourselves first and foremost, that loving energy expands outwards to draw in new people and experiences like never before.

Growing up, I resented all things Chinese. Everything. Traveling solo actually helped me to connect with my culture in startling ways. It was an unexpected gift. In a way, traveling solo gives us due permission to reinvent ourselves. A journey that starts out as running away from life usually ends up with us running towards life. But really, I think when we invest time on loving ourselves, we just get closer and closer to our cores.

We learn to be real.

Like elephant journal on Facebook.

Assist Edr: Andrea Charpentier/Ed: Sara Crolick

Read 11 Comments and Reply

Read 11 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Wan Hing Cheung