On April 2nd, 2018, I left Amsterdam with two suitcases. I’d ended my apartment lease and sold almost everything I had. I left the Netherlands on a one-way flight to India. It’s now two years later, and there are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
The Decision itself is not the Scary part
When I decided to leave, I felt relieved and excited the first couple of days—the next two months were pure torture. I got caught in a cycle of repetitive, fearful thoughts. Where am I going to stay? What if I run out of money? What am I doing? I got so obsessed with fears that I lost touch with why I was leaving in the first place—the why…that’s a story for another time.
When we decide on something big, to leave a job, a city, or a relationship, at first, we might feel clarity, a knowing we made the right decision. But when the transition period kicks in, between deciding and it happening, that’s when the real work of managing your mind comes in.
I realize now that it was never about being able to answer all the questions, but learning to be comfortable with not knowing.
Losing my Identity
I didn’t know how much of myself I had invested in having a beautiful apartment, lots of clothing to choose from, and not having to watch my spending until I didn’t have it anymore. What scared me the most was not giving it up, but the idea of what would be left of me without it. Living with only myself and two suitcases made me feel bare as if I was stripping off my own layers, including my dignity when I’d look at myself in the airport mirror after taking yet another red-eye flight.
You have no place to Hide
I used to function in opposites. When somebody would make me feel small, I’d make myself feel big again through some trivial thing. My looks? Style? Education? Cleverness? With so little to have as your own when you travel, that hiding place of your ego just falls away. And you learn to be okay with that.
Belonging vs. Freedom
“If you feel sad and scared to leave behind friends and a sense of home, then maybe your desire for travel is not big enough.” That’s what I’d tell myself when I felt hesitant about leaving a place. I thought belonging and freedom were an either/or matter.
No, you are human, and you will feel both. We look at this seeming contradiction and say to ourselves, maybe I’m making a mistake. Perhaps I shouldn’t leave. All it means that you are feeling both human desires, and it’s up to you to decide which one to follow at a given moment.
After eight months in Buenos Aires, I felt it was time to leave. Part of me wanted to belong in this extraordinary city, surrounded by people I love. The other part of me wanted to honor the fact that I knew I had to go. I had a hard time listening to this feeling because I finally felt like I belonged somewhere.
Belonging and freedom are not mutually exclusive. Don’t be thrown off guard by seeming contradictions; feel both.
Focus on the Essentials
A couple of years ago, anything would put me off. A taxi driver with an attitude, an arrogant person at the check-in at the airport, and I would be so reactive. Lots of things go wrong when you travel. Buses arrive too late or too early, the latter being a problem when it’s still the middle of the night when you get to La Paz, Bolivia, with no person or taxi driver in sight. Should I be pissed that the bus schedule informed me wrong? It’s not very helpful right now. My point is: you learn to focus your energy on what’s important, which is finding a solution.
Creating a Home Anywhere
There is nothing lonelier than feeling disoriented and jetlagged when you arrive in a new place. But when you experience that “out of place” feeling enough times, you develop a routine that helps you settle into yourself again quickly. I like finding a great coffee spot in my neighborhood. The familiarity of coffee and getting to know the people that work in the café helps me to find back my inner balance.
Lose your Pretense
I don’t need my shiny persona; I need HELP. When you’re in a new place, you often need help. I have to let go of “my image” as a mysterious, solo traveler in her zone—something I liked to portray. Now I will ask anyone for help. I’m not afraid to ask questions to random people. It has done me so much good to be open. When your questions come from a genuine place (and not exploitative, annoying or needy), people are more than willing to help. Be in the right place with yourself. Take responsibility for your energy until you’re okay again. Of course, it’s okay to ask for help when you need it, but always try to manage yourself at a foundational level. I once met a woman in Bolivia who was always seeking out people to complain. Don’t do that.
Things go Wrong, and That’s Okay
We spend way too much time worrying about things that can go wrong. Do you know what the cure is? To just let it happen. Things going wrong can be an enlightening experience because you say: oh, it all went wrong, and I’m still here. Then the next time something goes wrong, we don’t lose our shit. In September 2018 I was supposed to fly back to Argentina from Chile, but a massive strike in Buenos Aires canceled all inbound flights. I couldn’t get a flight for another week. The next day when I wanted to pay for my coffee, my credit card got declined. I checked my statements, and there were over $1000 of charges that weren’t mine. Freakout level? Pretty high.
Being okay with the Nothingness
The psychological reality of having only 1.5 suitcase (the carry-on doesn’t count, right?) and no home keys is TOUGH. So much nothingness is a hard thing for the mind to process. After returning the keys of a rented Airbnb, I’d struggle to breathe at times. A pair of keys might seem like an insignificant thing, but for me, it has been an anxiety trigger following me for years.
To say that the last 2 years of my life have been quite the ride would be an understatement. The big life lessons of solo travel: to be continued. I’m thrilled to share more about my experiences and life lessons.
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