“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”
I have been travelling with friends. With large groups. With my significant other. With my family. And obviously those moments were great… but for me, nothing will ever beat travelling on my own.
To discover a new town all by myself.
To face the complicated public transportation with nothing but a bad map.
To go to a restaurant all by myself and fully enjoy a nice dinner.
To stop, walk and discover just the way I want to, without ever having to consider someone else´s plans.
This might sound egoistical. But that´s what travelling by yourself is all about… you.
Your wishes, your thoughts, your possibilities.
My very first solo travel was a trip to Chile after my high school graduation. I was going to work as a horseback-riding instructor on a farm about 30 minutes outside from Santiago for two months. This trip was paid for with my own hard-earned money. I found the organisation in Chile, who found my work placement for me and I was going to take on this whole journey all by myself.
To say the least, I was terrified.
Terrified of failing, of feeling incredibly lonely and homesick and terrified of having to board a flight home after a week.
I have probably never panicked as much as I did on that 32-hour journey with the 10-hour layover in Panama City and I had shed such an intense amount of tears on the flight, that all of my seat neighbours probably thought I was absolutely insane.
And despite all of this anxiety on my journey to Chile, the two months I got to spend in that beautiful country were the most amazing time of my life and completely changed me as a person.
I understand that for many of you, travelling alone seems scary and that even if you think it might be the right thing for you, many, many people will try to talk you out of it, especially if you are a woman.
Solo travel is still seen as too dangerous, too complicated, too rough for a girl.
Let´s prove them wrong!
Never in my life have I learned as much about myself, have I been so at peace and so content with being me and have I been so aware of my situation as when I was thrown into this completely new world on my own.
You get to know your boundaries and learn to overcome them; you realize how strong, free and brave you can be. And how open. And in addition to all these realisations, you are surrounded by gorgeous and unfamiliar scenery that you can explore.
Facing challenges like understanding the mini bus schedule to my remote work place, making people understand my horrible Spanish and teaching classes by myself, using hands and feet to communicate and realising that I could do this, and I could do this well, has given me a sense of self-confidence I could have never imagined.
Finding myself in a completely new environment entirely stripped me of any roles or boxes people had put me in and allowed me to just be myself. And that is one of the best experiences you can ever have.
You may experience this when moving to a new town, but 1000s of kilometres away from home with people you will probably never see again, all in a vacation mood…. that is a freedom almost unimaginable.
There are no expectations, no norms, no old grudges or stories to bind you… you are free to be you. And if you then realise that strangers like you and you are able to make friends you can take this knowledge back with you when you return.
I not only explored Santiago, Valparaíso and Pucon during that trip, I also found myself in this huge, stretched out country on the other side of the earth. I learned that I can rely on myself, that I will be liked for who I am and that I can survive in any deep water I might get thrown into.
I think this knowledge is crucial, especially to become a strong independent girl, which is something that many people may want to keep you from becoming, simply to protect you. Boys often get the chance and freedom to explore themselves and their boundaries a lot more than we do, so we should never shy away from possibilities that allow us to explore.
The feelings of happiness and freedom I had in Chile were so addictive that I booked a trip to Bali for myself that same year and have since explored Madrid, Prague and many other places, accompanied only by my own thoughts and my diary.
Roaming the streets of Santiago de Chile, driving across Bali in a tiny van or admiring the view over Prague from the Charles Bridge – all of these memories stay with me as little bubbles of light and happiness on grey days. They give me the confidence to handle my daily life, because let us be real… how bad can this university paper be compared to Chilean post offices?
On my solo travels I am completely happy and completely free and no travel companion will ever make up for this feeling.
So please don´t let fear take this wonderful chance off you – to discover the world and find yourself in the process!
Did you take a gap year? How did it change you?