I didn’t put my traveling shoes on until I was 25. Before then it was a scattering of family trips to Florida as a child and the odd road trip around Ontario. Don’t get me wrong, I always dreamed of seeing the Great Pyramids of Giza and exploring the African Savannah in search of the big 5 – and I still do. I just never thought that would ever happen; I’d never been on a plane and the idea scared me to bits. But life, as it so often does, sent me a curveball in the form of a bad breakup and a very low point.
Then I had a wild idea. I asked a friend if she’d backpack across Europe with me (this was back in 2005). Conveniently, my brother had moved to London and I thought it was a great excuse to visit him and a great place to start our adventure. She said yes! It was seriously that easy – make the decision and just do it.
I realized that sometimes it’s okay to run away from your problems because you just might find yourself out there. That was the beginning of a new phase in my life and the start of a new passion – travel. We saved every penny for months before we left, stayed in hostels, and had the most amazing time. It’s all so true that when you start to travel it really opens your eyes to how small we really are in this big ole’ world of ours. The travel bug had bitten me, and I just couldn’t stop talking about the places I’d visited: Budapest, Rome, Paris, it was mind-blowing to me! I had never been so happy and content in life thus far.
We went again two years later for longer and saw more of Europe – I had an insatiable appetite for it all – the planning (my friends left most of it up to me), the sights, the history, the sounds, the journey from one country to another, whether by plane or train, and it turns out flying didn’t bother me at all.
But again, life happened. My best friend got married, had a career and a house to deal with, and I was left with a sense of loss. I was happy for her but I wanted to travel and thought my traveling days were over without a travel buddy. The following couple of years saw a few road trips to the States, a short visit to Mexico and Cuba, and one more Europe trip, but I still felt a magnetic pull to travel far and wide. I wanted more and felt I had to wait for others to have the time, money, or desire to travel.
I had countless talks with my best friend about how I could continue traveling, and she never stopped saying that I should just go myself, but I was adamant. I could not travel solo. I was terrified at the thought of going somewhere foreign alone, just talking about it gave me anxiety.
Then I had an epiphany. I thought about all the things that I thought I’d never do in life because I was afraid, but I did them anyway (like take that first flight). I realized that sometimes you have to want it more than you fear it. And boy did I WANT, so deeply, to travel.
“Sometimes you have to want it more than you fear it.”Stephanie Mayo
I decided to start small and visit Charlotte, North Carolina for my birthday in 2013 for a week. I wanted to test the waters first by seeing if I liked traveling solo, figuring if I minimized the risk, I’d reduce my fear and anxiety. After all, it was only to the States; I’d been there a ton of times, and there’d be no language barrier or culture shock so it’d be fine. And though I did have butterflies as my trip grew closer, I was surprised by how excited I was.
It turns out I did want it more than I feared it.
I ended up having an amazing time exploring the city, and I learned something I cherish about solo travel: when you’re alone in a city, it’s like your senses are hypersensitive, colors look more vibrant, food and drinks taste richer, and I had never felt so alive. Like Paul Theroux says, “You definitely see more clearly while traveling solo.”
I set off on my next solo adventure only months after my first, and this time it was traveling up the US West Coast for a month. It was on this trip that I felt I could officially add “solo traveler” to my list of personal adjectives. As of right now (fall of 2014), I’m planning an epic adventure that will take me back to Europe and England (this time solo), with a carry-on instead of a backpack, and as a travel blogger. It will be my longest trip to date (3 months). I’m thrilled to pieces, and of course, my nerves are still in a tingle, but I have confidence in myself that will get me through the language barriers, the loneliness, and the new cultures and circumstances I’ll find myself in.
I’ve learned a lot from traveling solo, and even from life in general, but the biggest thing has been to live the life you want in spite of fear. Do what scares you and cherish every moment because life is far too short to live in fear.
Related: 5 Ways Solo Travel Will Change You
“Do what scares you… life is far too short to live in fear.”Stephanie Mayo
Stephanie Mayo (AKA Lady of the Zoos) has a passion for wildlife, the great outdoors, and travel. This Canadian gal is on a mission to explore the world as well as her own backyard and writes of her solo journeys in the hopes to inspire others to care more and see more. Visit her blog at LadysTravelBlog.com or say hi to her on Twitter @LadyoftheZoos.