Hi loved ones! I have some pictures and words to share with you if you have the time.
The first picture is from my most recent trip to Guatemala and Oaxaca, Mexico. The second is from my first ever solo adventure to Beijing and Hong Kong around 5 years ago when I was 24.
Before that trip, I had traveled before, even moved to another country, but I always had a safety net: an orientation to attend, a group to meet, a partner to join me, a plan.
That first night alone in a hostel in Hong Kong circa December 2014, it dawned on me that I was in a city of millions and not one of them knew my name. What followed was a moment of sheer terror. I know there are some people who would find this prospect energizing (I happen to be one of them, but on this particular evening I didn’t know that yet.). My thoughts sounded something like: “Why the f- did I think this was a good idea?” “Can I change my flight?” and “Would anyone be the wiser if I just stayed in my room the whole time?”
I can’t remember exactly what happened that night and how I managed to get through the discomfort of it, but I do know that the trip changed my life forever. I met expats and students and wanderers oh my! Everyone with a different story, a different perspective, a different dream. And they were all just putting themselves out into the world! Without knowing what would happen or who they would encounter or how all that would change them. And I realized that I could do that too, put myself out into the world; I was doing that too. I could be just like them, was just like them.
Although I have taken multiple solo trips since that first time, I have been timid when talking about traveling with others, especially on social media. It’s hard to share pictures, thoughts, etc without unintentionally creating a one-sided narrative or crafting an identity in the process.
People have said I’m brave for traveling alone, but I balk at that. I certainly don’t feel brave. There has not been a trip where I haven’t felt nervous and uncomfortable. The pictures I’m taking are beautiful bordering on glamorous, but there are images I’m not capturing – heartbreaking ones of people who are deformed and desperate, streets opaque with fumes and carpeted in trash. And I’m smiling in these pictures and writing this eloquent caption, but there are times when I am worse than lonely – I am questioning my entire identity and my inner critic belittles all the choices I have made, big and small. There are plenty of moments in which I am not whimsically weaving words, but scarcely able to squeak ‘save me from myself’ to my sister.
I guess what I’m saying is that there is so much to say about this way of being with the world. I could never sum it up in words or pictures. Even this commentary feels heavy-handed and simultaneously overly vague. But I’m tired of being so paralyzed with the fear of not doing justice to the feeling of traveling, or the countries I’m visiting, or the people I’m meeting that I don’t say anything at all about any of it. I’m also tired of overanalyzing how I might come off and the “image” I might accidentally create. (Ugh – images, they are such weird little creatures.)
It’s literally impossible to get across the entirety of an experience or my thoughts surrounding it on a 2-D surface with a platform that doesn’t even let you make paragraphs (Looking at you, IG.). How does one achieve authenticity without angling to be authentic and thus undermining the whole sentiment? I wish I was a duck – they def don’t get this meta, but I digress…
Traveling alone brings a rawness to my life that I am scared of, hooked on, and grateful for all at once. When I am on the road, I am tender, able to feel deeply – anxiety, appreciation, loss, love, grief, gladness. Everything that usually keeps feelings at bay is minimized – routines, familiarity, family and friends. And I’m still not sure who gets the last say, the darkness or the light, but I keep forging ahead anyway. I keep holding the space for all of life to happen. I keep putting myself out into the world, panicking, breathing, and then letting the journey change me.
And now, looking at these pictures: the girl who I am and the girl who I was, I am so incredibly proud of both of them.
For walking through fear so that I may be open to the experiences and souls that teach me
this wonderful and terrifying
on this precious planet
we all call home.
Thank you for being my mirror.
My hope is that I reflect you back.