I have had the opportunity to travel solo to about 10 countries now. And I still remember the first day of my South America trip – I had heard all about how unsafe South America was and I felt that I had to be on my guard at all times no matter what, or I ‘d be kidnapped and God knows what would happen to me.
I reached Lima at about 3:00 am, took a “pre-paid” taxi straight to the hostel that again, I had “pre-booked“. As soon as I reached the hostel, I immediately put my passport bag in the locker and then tried to put my backpack in the same locker too – haha – you should’ve seen me struggle. Any how, it was 4:30 am by that time and I was dead tired. So I gave up and went to sleep, keeping the keys to my locker tightly tugged in my hand. It might sound hilarious today, but I was crazy scared. You cannot discount the importance of a human company till the time you have it. In the morning, I went for breakfast, and for the longest time just defered going out alone. I had a whole list of “Things to do in Peru” ready with me and I was so excited at the time I left my home in Calgary, that I couldn’t believe I was sitting in the hostel all by myself, staring at my phone, chatting with my husband. He kept asking me why I was chatting up when I had so much to explore.. believe me, I had planned everything to the “t”, it wasn’t funny. But I was seeking comfort in his messages, ‘coz that was the easy thing to do. To this day, I don’t know what kept me from just going out and enjoying myself on Day 1 of the greatest trip of my life.
Luckily, for me, there was a free walking tour that the hostel was organizing on that same day and they asked me to come. I decided to take 1 step at a time and tagged along. Slowly, I saw myself coming back to normal – I was making friends, asking people about plans (something I have toned down on, after so many solo trips), having fun…
I wouldn’t say this one walking tour changed me completely and took the fear of being in a new land out of me, but it was the first step. One place after the other, I took some more steps, I failed, I learned, I cried by myself, I laughed with some strangers, did some really stupid things. But in this one trip – I entered Lima as a different person and left San Salvadore as a completely different one. And all things that I have learned, apply to everything we do in our lives – and I would love to share what I learned with you guys. Here are the 5 things that solo travel has taught me:
- Take the first step: Book that ticket, plan that trip, write the title to that first blog post – but just take that first step. And I think this is one lesson that I will keep re-learning my whole life, because it’s easier said than done. Taking the first step is not easy. Everyone who has ever left their comfort zone would know that for sure. I am sure you’ve done this before, so why not now. What helps sometimes is seeking help, or grabbing opportunities that come your way. Which brings me to my second point: Ask for help, but know who to ask: Most people are good, and are ready to help. So feel free to ask for help if you think you are lost. But be sure to exercise caution.
- First step takes courage, the next ones take persistence: Alright, I have to admit – this is not something I learned while I was traveling, but something I learned from my husband while he runs his startup – while the first step can be tackled by courage, the next steps are seldom easier. It needs a lot of persistence and will to “KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON”. Not every day is good. Not every day is rewarding. Not every day, you ll find good friends to talk to, share your stories with. There will be days when you are scammed or lost or things are not going as planned or what not. But at these times, you’ve just got to carry on. And more often than not, persistence pays off. Ever heard of “light at the end of the tunnel” Yep – those moments are real and the ones that inspire.
- Play by your rules: While traveling in groups, often times we settle for what others want to do or do not want to do. I take my solo trips as an opportunity to do WHAT I WANT TO DO – play by my rules. For example, I remember taking a 24 hour bus journey to a not so popular Chachapoyan dynasty ruins in Kuelap. I wouldn’t have done that if I was traveling with my husband. I completely changed my plans last minute to visit Bolivia from Peru, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip to South America. In Thailand, I visited 5 cities in 5 days, I was exhausted by the end of it, but I wouldn’t do it any other way. This has given me the confidence to pick my way in my everyday life. Coming from a small town and as a little girl, I was always taught to “Adjust” with people. But I find happiness in choosing my own path – this is something I have loved doing while I travel and now I see it becoming a big part of me.
- Smell the roses: Frankly, I am not a fan of “smelling the roses”. I think that there is so much to do when I am traveling, that I should be running from one place to another so I can “cover” everything that the place has to offer. I still get lost in the same race sometimes, but then I look around me and I see people “celebrating their journey at the destination”. Often, I forget to do that, with work and family, I forget that travel should be taking me away from the everyday rat race of job-promotion-money cycle. But when I do stop to smell the roses, I can just sigh and stare at the beauty around me. It leaves me spellbound. Highly recommended, guys!
- Screw ups make up for great memories/ stories: Did I tell you about the time that I slept off in the bus and reached a different destination. I was going to Puno from Cusco (Puno is where I had to cross the border from Peru to Bolivia). I slept off and forgot to get off at the right station. I reached Dasaguadero instead. For people who haven’t been to Peru, Dasaguadero is about 2 hours south of Puno.
So, I reached this place and in my mind, I had reached Puno. I got off and I looked at the sign that said Dasaguadero. It didnt cross my mind that this was probably the name of the city that I was in. I nonchalantly, walked up to a guy and asked if he knew about La Casa Hostel. He looked at the address on my phone, and called more people. Suddenly there was this group of 10 people discussing something related to me or the hostel. I wouldn’t lie – I thought it was probably a bad hostel or something. how stupid could I be – it didnt still cross my mind that I was in the wrong city altogether. So here i was – surrounded by 10-15 people, discussing ME amongst themselves. Isn’t it funny. “”HULLO – I am lost, I don’t know what to do, can you please talk to me – and not to each other”” Also, no one, I repeat, NO ONE, in this city spoke english. So after all the hassles of explaining things to people and understanding each others gestures, I understood that I had to take a bus back to Puno. Now, in all this stupidity, I did not realize that I could cross the border to Bolivia from Dasaguadero instead of traveling back to Puno. So 5 hours lost and I was still in Peru. I still laugh about this day.
One heck of a journey, this trip to South America was. It’s been 3 years and I am still learning from it. But like I said, it has changed me in more ways than one. I would love to hear some stories from you. Any learnings, stories, screw ups (Especially screw ups – ‘coz aren’t they our favourites) that you’d like to share with me.