I had been thinking about solo travel for a long time. A really long time. Like, since I was 13. Unfortunately, I grew up in an environment that instilled a huge amount of fear in me, especially around the topic of travel. I learned to be afraid of everything, of everyone, when I was anywhere other than in the safety and comfort of my own home. Every stranger was a murderer. Every public place was a ticking time bomb. Every bar was ready to be shot up at any moment. Every plane was destined to crash. These examples may sound incredibly extreme, but this is how I felt for a very, very long time because of that fear-based energy that I carried around with me as a result of the ‘warnings’ from others.
Maybe they were just trying to protect me. Maybe they were afraid of losing me to a life of passionate travel. Maybe they truly believed all of those things themselves. But no matter the reason, I found myself in a sad state of affairs while I was traveling through Asia earlier this year. The trip was incredible, and had so many beautiful highlights, but what the photos and the stories don’t show is that I suffered from dozens of panic attacks in the 5 weeks I spent in Asia.
I would feel them coming on, mostly at night, when I began to realize that I was in an unpredictable environment, and it was getting dark. But I didn’t just have them at night when I was trying to sleep in strange places…I had them on boats, in airports, on planes and even in restaurants. It got completely out of control. If I’m honest, I sent off an initial application to the counsellor I was seeing for a while I was lying in bed, shaking, in Narita, Japan, post-anxiety attack. I knew that I had to get these attacks under control, because they were beginning to ruin my life.
I know now that this anxiety was not so much coming from travel (at the time, I also suffered from constant anxiety at home, at work, in the car, etc.) but from a place much deeper that had been repressed for a very long time. Through a few counselling sessions, lots of reading, frequent meditation, journaling and a huge amount of gruelling self-work, I was able to come to terms with my anxiety and, while it still creeps up on me every once in a while, I have seen a massive improvement in my mental health.
Two days ago, I booked my trip to Costa Rica. My hands were shaking as I hung up the phone. I watched the money leave my account, and even that didn’t scare me as much as the fact that I had actually booked my first solo trip to a region I’ve never been and a country where I don’t know a single soul. But despite the anxiousness, I was excited. So excited. But people keep asking me why on earth I chose to go alone, so I decided to share my reasons.
1. I want to rebuild my independence
I have the most incredible man in my life that I could ever ask for in a million years. He is such a strong, stable foundation of support for me, and while my life had been falling apart this past year, he had been doing everything he possibly could to help me put it back together. I can truly say that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for Sean. However, before he came into my life, I was fiercely independent. So much so, that I refused the help he was trying to offer me, I was terrified to settle into a relationship with him, and it also took a total of ten years for me to finally decide to give him a chance. It became easy to rely on this down-to-earth, level-headed, stable soul who loved more than anything to take care of me. And hey, it’s nice to be taken care of sometimes! But in my weakest times, I couldn’t help feeling like I was losing my independence, or even choosing not to use it at times. While I understand that it is ok to let people help you, and even more ok to let people love you, I think the biggest reason for deciding to take this trip alone is to simply prove to myself that I can. I want to be able to rely on my own decision-making, my own instincts, my own desires. I love Sean more than life itself, and he is so excited and supportive of my solo adventure. Plus, he’s going back to school this year, so I’m going to have to learn to do a lot more on my own if I want to continue to travel as much as I do.
2. I have had a really freaking rough year
I’m not going to expand on this point much, because the last thing I want to do is wallow, but this past year really has been tough as hell. It had some incredible parts as well – traveling to Asia, watching one of my best friends get married, seeing so many babies born, completing an obstacle course and mud race, receiving my first paid writing gig and backpacking through the Waterton Backcountry. But some of the most devastating events in my life have also occurred this year. I chose to go to Costa Rica in January of 2015 – a perfect time to set a beautiful intention for the New Year ahead.
3. I like being alone
I don’t have a ton of close friends. I have many acquaintances, professional relationships, and strong friendships with coworkers and family, but real, true, close friends are something that I am extremely selective with. Because of this, I am decidedly a bit of a lone wolf. I enjoy my alone time. I love learning new things. I like going at my own pace. I think spending some true, intimate time with myself will be wonderful.
4. I love the having the freedom to be Selfish
When people ask me why I don’t want to have children, my automatic response is that I am too selfish. I usually say this in a joking way, but there is a huge amount of truth to it. I love doing whatever I want. I love being able to drop everything and go to a yoga class, or run out to the grocery store to spend an entire day trying a new recipe, or making a split-second decision to hop in my car and drive to the mountains. I’m so excited to do what I want, when I want in Costa Rica. When you travel alone, you’re not obligated to participate in anything you don’t want to. You don’t need to worry if everyone else is enjoying themselves. You can just focus on yourself.
5. I want to force myself to be more social
When Sean and I traveled through Asia, we met plenty of wonderful people, but we kept to ourselves for the most part. Sometimes I think traveling with a partner prohibits you from making new connections with people. I’m so good at telling myself that I don’t like being around people, but I want to change that. I love building new relationships, I just don’t like that initial awkwardness of introducing yourself to another human being and attempting to make yourself look like a desirable person to hang out with. I’m hoping that my time in Costa Rica will force me to become more social and outgoing with the people I meet.
6. And yes…I need a journey of self-discovery.
Oh, how cliche…a privileged Canadian twenty-something attending a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. Guaranteed number one question I’ve been asked so far… “So, are you going to ‘Find Yourself’?” Actually, people asked that when I went to Asia, too. Why does someone have to be lost to travel? But, you know what, yes, actually, I am. As a matter of fact, I am hoping to do a little bit of self-discovery while I’m by myself in the middle of the Costa Rican Jungle. I’m hoping that I will experience some spiritual transformation as well. It sounds terribly cookie-cutter, but there’s a reason why the majority of solo-travelers I have met have a hell of a story to tell about why they decided to travel alone. Most of them are healing from hurt of some sort, whether they choose to admit that or not. Because travel is amazing. You rely on the kindness of strangers. Your heart feels full. Your spirit feels alive. You see things that you didn’t know you could ever see. You meet other beautiful people who inspire you. Of course we travel to heal. We travel to run. We travel to disappear for a little while, to be someone else for a while, to disconnect, unplug and enjoy. Why would anyone not want to embark on a Journey of Self-Discovery to somewhere they’ve never been?
Want to read about my experience on this solo adventure? Click here for my posts written in Costa Rica!