I thought I was going to die in a foreign country.
Food poisoning can make you feel a tad dramatic.
I had embarked on my first solo journey to three foreign countries across the world. The language was not familiar, I didn’t know anyone, and the food was a mystery as well. So there I was on my first night, completely alone having just arrived at the hostel, and I was losing everything I had eaten from both ends.
It was miserable.
If you have ever had food poisoning, then you might agree it feels pretty close to death. I felt completely alone and vulnerable surrounded by strange smells and a variety of accents belonging to people I did not recognize—men, mostly. I had dragged my depleted body upstairs and into the top bunk and was set to sleep it all away when I heard a tapping at the door. I thought maybe it was one of my hostel mates who had forgotten their keys, but when I opened it, there was a boy who had witnessed me puking all over the place, coming to offer me some comfort.
He said, “If you need anything, I’m here for you—I know how it feels to get sick in a foreign country when you don’t know anyone.”
While the offer did not cure my upset stomach, it cured some of the cynicism that had grown in my soul. I quickly learned that loneliness is fleeting in a traveler’s paradise.
When I first told my friends back home that I was going to travel solo, many spoke about how they would never choose to travel alone. Surprisingly, their reasoning was not grounded in safety concerns, but rather the fear of getting lonely.
While I prepared for loneliness to find me on my journey, it never quite did.
I shared my stories, background, and life with strangers I met along my journey. Sometimes, we only used sign language and awkward laughter to find “words” to describe the things we were trying to say.
A local Thai couple offered me a ride in the backseat of their car to a city two hours away from where we were. They hardly spoke any English, but in that car ride, I learned about their baby who was staying with an aunt while they vacationed in a hut in the mountains where we had met. They drove me around Chiang Mai until they found the train station I was looking for, and they even came into the station to help me buy a ticket.
Kindness doesn’t need a spoken language; it is translated through actions. And awkward smiles. And a hug goodbye.
Because of them, I learned the importance and effect of stopping to help a stranger.
Sharing food is an activity that often brings people together. I remember going out to eat with a group from my hostel in Vietnam—each one of us from a different country—and we all held our chopsticks differently between our fingers as we shoved pounds of noodles into our faces.
I tried everything and anything that the food vendors of Vietnam had to offer once I had been cured of my aforementioned stomach flu, and realized that through food, you find the heart of a country and someone to share it with. Everyone has to eat. Eating abroad taught me to remember to always take the time to enjoy a meal and the company around me.
While food is the heart of a country, the drink is the soul. I truly believe nothing bonds a group of people together better than a night out drinking.
I had signed up to be on a two-day cruise along Halong Bay, and I was nervous the group of people I would be stuck on the boat with might be boring or stand-offish. This couldn’t have been further from the truth—I got to ring in the New Year with a group of hilarious people. Together we drank, shared stories of our lives back home, and took on the challenge of playing lightly competitive drinking games until we could barely think straight. By the next day, we all shared a hangover and a bond we would remember forever.
While we always have to leave the places we visit behind, the memories will always stay with us.
I firmly believe if you aren’t sh*tting your pants, praying that the next toilet is only a few steps away, you truly haven’t traveled. By this sh*tty metaphor (pun intended), I am trying to say that, yes, traveling alone can be scary, but it’s these uncertain, unfamiliar experiences that really make our stories.
It’s challenging and frightening and f*cking rough sometimes, but those are the exact feelings that make the final destination—a photo on top of a waterfall, the tranquility of clear blue seas, or the view from the top of the highest mountain—completely and totally worth it.
Whether or not you have a companion, go see the world. I promise you’ll find so much more than loneliness tapping at your door when you need it the most. Open your mind, open your heart, and open your arms to the world at large—it will embrace you.
Author: Yvette Alatorre
Image: Flickr/shankar s.
Editor: Callie Rushton