I Owe My Confidence to Solo Travel
"I owe my confidence to solo travel"
Traveling alone made me confident.
When little emergencies happen in the comfort of your home country when your family is right there, they're easier to deal with. When they happen to you when you're completely on your own thousands of miles away, you have to deal with them yourself right then and there.
Throughout my entire four years of high school, I barely talked.
I never raised my hand in class and I had so much social anxiety I didn’t even want to go to a friend’s birthday party by myself.
I had known since the beginning of my last year of high school that I needed a break before starting college, so I applied to a bunch of colleges with the plan to defer for a year once I got accepted, but I didn’t really have a plan for what I wanted to do with my extra year. I knew that I wanted to study Spanish, and I heard of a volunteer program in Guatemala, so I applied and ended up working for a few months in my hometown, and then found myself on an airplane heading to a foreign country by myself for the first time ever. I’d been on two family vacations to Mexico when I was younger, but aside from that, I’d never left the U.S., and definitely not by myself.
I’m not going to lie - my three months in Guatemala started out rough.
Over the first few weeks, I dealt with getting ripped off, first while buying a phone to use while I was there and then while buying credit for my phone (multiple times), I fell ill to the point of being unable to eat or stand, and once I ended up on the wrong bus going to the wrong city with no map or phone credit.
After a month or so of being in Guatemala on my own, I got pretty lonely. Everyone was doing their own thing, and I basically did the same activities every day--volunteer job, language classes--and read a lot alone in my room.
Two months in, my (incredible) Spanish teacher told me that there was another girl around my age from California at the same school who took Spanish classes in the morning (mine were in the afternoon), so one day I went to school a little early, and looked for a girl about my age.
I saw some girl reading by herself in the corner, so I walked up to her and said, "Hey! This is super random, but I'm from California, and I'm here by myself. My teacher told me there was another girl alone here from California, and that's you, right?"
She said yes, and I asked if she wanted to hang out sometime, since we were from the same place and by ourselves, and she said okay.
24 hours later we were dancing at a club together making plans to climb Volcán Pacaya (one of the many volcanoes in Guatemala) the next morning.
The following morning, as I was ascending an active volcano with a girl I had met 48 hours earlier, she told me I had intimidated her when I first came up to her because I seemed so confident. She said she would have never just walked up to a random girl and asked if she wanted to hang out, and I realized that two months earlier, I wouldn't have either.
The girl who once had been afraid to go to a birthday party by herself and didn't talk between 7th and 12th grades was now going up to people she didn't know, asking them to hang out, and climbing volcanoes with them two days later. And I never thought I would be that girl.
I arrived back home three months later a much, much more confident person. That confidence got me through five years of college, that confidence got me my bachelor's degree in journalism, and that confidence got me to and from many countries since then.
Since that first morning in Guatemala, arriving in a new country has always been exciting, and not scary, because I know I can do it--because I've done it before.
Traveling alone gave me confidence that I don't think I could have gotten from any other experience.
There's nothing quite like showing up to a new country completely alone and having to learn how to navigate the city you're in by yourself.
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