I’m often asked what it takes to live the life of a traveler. So many people want to know what the formula is, or what magic potion they can concoct to make their life match the one they see on Instagram (#blessed).
But the truth of the matter is that there is no formula for how to become a successful, or passionate, traveller. There is no hat trick that you can buy a book to learn. Because traveling the world is so much more than that. It’s about doing as much as you possibly can to plan, and then watching absolutely everything turn out different. It’s about letting go.
And living a life where you’re continuously letting go takes more than a trick or formula: it takes true grit.
The first time I ever solo backpacked I was heartbroken about a relationship that had gone south. And by south I mean it went positively polar, so much so that I wouldn’t have be surprised to see penguins trampling the last threads of it.
I know that I’m not the first to have a story like this. But at the time I didn’t know anyone else who fit into the category of a “solo woman traveller.” In my world, I was an anomaly. Since then I’ve realized how many women find themselves in similar positions, and how many hear the whisper of the world beckoning them to go farther than they’ve ever been before.
My experience wasn’t nearly that mystical, but it was life changing. I had just about every person who was close to me tell me that I was going to either be abducted, sold into the slave trade or killed by traveling solo. My mom’s response was, “Haven’t you seen the movie, Taken?!”
She failed to see that the only correlation between that movie and my trip was Liam Neeson being Irish and my plane ticket being stamped for Ireland. Obviously, I’m not saying bad things can’t happen everywhere. But after 7 more trips to Ireland, preceding that one, I’ve learned that you have a better chance of being trampled by a herd of sheep, than being found in some kind of serious trouble.
In spite of all the negativity, I got on the plane. I had only flown out of the country one time, with a group of 11 other friends. Total plane flights in my life? A whopping 4. I was nobody’s idea of an adventuress. I was just a heartbroken girl who saw a plane ticket as a way to get away from the pain I had endured.
How did that trip change my life?
During my first solo trip, I learned a lot about myself. I learned how strong and resourceful I could be, when it came down to it. I learned that people in other countries aren’t terrors to be afraid — they’re just people. I learned that even though things might go completely topsy-turvy, there are kind people who are willing to help you along the way.
And I learned how liberating it feels to “un-friend”, block and otherwise reject the poisonous people in your life.
Before that trip, I had been someone who nodded and obeyed what other people told me I “could” do.
But traveling reminded me how strong I was on my own. Not that I don’t need other people (because I absolutely do) but having the approval of others is not key to my survival. And boy was that a lesson I needed to learn.
Life is never exactly what we think it should be, and although we might see ourselves as succeeding or failing at any given time, the fact of the matter is that both our perspective and our situations can change in the blink of an eye.
This is where grit comes in.
The most successful people (not just talking dollar amounts, here) in the world are those who get hit down by life, again and again, but just keep getting up. This is grit. And this is what I tell people they’ll need to learn if they want to be successful at solo backpacking.
Because when it comes down to it, travel is like an untamable beast. It might be beautiful and breathtaking (and amazing for Instagram photos) but it is still wild.
And while there are those who try to tame it, to truly learn the beauty of it, you’ll learn to ride with it, into the winds of uncertainty.