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What solo travel has taught me about myself

What do Liz Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love and I have in common? Beyond writing for a magazine and the inexplicable passion for eating tomato spaghetti in Italy, we both have an uncontrollable desire to leave everything behind - job, man, family and friends - and travel the world to find ourselves.

On one occasion a friend really wanted to go to a Nicki Minaj concert, and he asked me if I would like to join him. At the time, I could not afford such an alluring offer, so I suggested he go alone. He looked as if I had said I was madly in love with Donald Trump. I tried to persuade him by explaining that he was going to the concert to see the artist and not to fraternise with his friends. Needless to say, my advice fell on deaf ears. This brisk interaction prompted me to think about all the opportunities young people miss out on because society has stigmatised the idea that we always need a plus one to do anything. I beg to differ.

When I am asked how I can do so many things alone, my answer is always the same: I enjoy my own company. Taking myself on endless self-care dates to restaurants, going to the cinema on my own and travelling 45 miles (I know, not quite on the other side of the world) on a National Express coach to vibe to Drake and Kendrick Lamar showed me that quality time with myself is infectious. Spending time alone and doing things alone are important parts of self-development. When I travel solo, I am not surrounded by others' ideas of where to go or how long I have to stay and visit tourist places, and this allows me to fully embrace my interests.

Dedicating time to myself through good food, films and concerts weren’t enough for an independent young woman with an insatiable appetite for life. I was starving for more understanding of what I hadn’t seen yet. This is when solo travelling entered the chat.

I will never forget my introduction to solo travelling: Krakow, Poland. I desperately needed a break from stress but neither my friends nor family could travel with me. That was the push I needed to put on my big-girl pants, grab my passport and pack my suitcase. I stayed in a hostel because I wanted to be able to meet new people during my stay. The drinking games organised by the hostel team not only allowed me to break the ice with like-minded people from all corners of the world but also got me acquainted with the powers of a Polish vodka provoked hangover. Along with it, I stumbled across Zapiekanka (an open baked sandwich with toppings), experimented with more types of vodka than I will ever be able to recall, and became more appreciative of life and my freedom following a visit to the chilling walls of Auschwitz. These feelings and memories are very personal to me. I can’t help but think that if I had experienced all of this with friends, it wouldn’t have been as special.

I couldn’t wait twelve months. Two months after sipping on the magic of life in Krakow, I searched on Ryanair for the cheapest flight. It didn’t matter where. I just wanted to feel that adrenaline, happiness and accomplishment once more.

Belgium was the lucky country. It felt liberating wandering through the streets of Brussels without knowing where I was going. No Google Maps. Just me and my instinct going with the flow. But as fate would have it, all the ways led to the Manneken Pis.

Next, life led me to beautiful but cold and expensive Oslo, where I survived on hot chocolates and hot dogs from a small convenience store.

With solo travel around Europe conquered, it was time to move to further continents. Japan’s neon lights of Shibuya, loaf bread shaped cars, trendy Harajuku and flavoursome ramen were screaming my name. Although I was wary of the prospect of roaming the Japanese streets alone, once I was there I had the best time connecting with the rich heritage of Kyoto and Osaka, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Exploring a country on a different continent not only allowed me to witness and breathe a different culture but also allowed me to understand that my sheer determination could take me to great places.

If I have the time and the money to travel and do something I wish for, why should I wait for friends and relatives to fulfil a dream that only belongs to me? I am not here for a long time; I am here for a good time and I would rather spend it getting to know myself. What I call courage some may call stupidity. And yet, more and more women are exploring the idea of solo travelling, even with the potential threats of exploring the world alone. Searches for the term “solo female travel” increased sixfold during the four years preceding the beginning of the pandemic and went booming again after the pandemic. This is emphasised by platforms like Solo Female Travelers Club, and Amica - the friendship app connecting women travelling solo.

Solo travelling has taught me that I am much more than I think I am. That I am powerful, strong, capable and brave. I have learned that I will miss out on wonderful opportunities if I sit in the fear of doing something alone.

As I plan my first solo trip for this summer, I know I’ll be packing the memories of every single country I have visited on my own, along with the excitement of new horizons, new faces, and self-discovery. I will most likely not find a lover like Liz Gilbert did on her trip to Bali, but that’s fine; I will doubtless fall in love with myself a little more.

Written by Maureen D'almeida
Read more about her here

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