I have had people ask me all the time why I prefer to travel alone, and I am gearing up for my next big solo adventure in August. So, I figured I would start my top five lists with one of my passions, and a little back story.
In 2004, I made a decision that changed my life. I remember being in the frame of mind, where I needed something more. Something different, scary, and beyond the normal day to day routine. You work, you hang with friends, you travel with friends, I needed something else, that I couldn’t put my finger on. So I started to do research both on myself, and what was out there for me. (I am a huge fan of research). I have always been a fan of Archeology, treasure hunting, and Cultural Anthropology. Getting right down to it, I have wanted to be Indiana Jones for my whole life. This fictional character had the best of both worlds, in my opinion. So I found myself searching the internet for an overseas adventure that would fit that bill. I didn’t even know if it existed, but there I was looking at page after page of projects in different countries that would accept a fresh out of college, lowly American, that had no experience, and probably couldn’t speak the language. What an offer, eh? I searching for days, and I was ready to give up, but there on page 10 of google was a volunteer project that caught my eye, and it pretty much went something like this-
Project Kalat, Campobello Di Licata, Sicily, Italy. Volunteers needed to help restore the museum in Agrigento, Sicily. At least a 2 week commitment required. Must be willing to get their hands dirty to dig up tombs from the Byzantine period, collects artifacts, skeletons, and survey the site, live with other volunteers in an old nursery with 10 people per room. Fee would be $400 Euro includes room and board, all food cooked onsite with local ingredients. We only accept bank wires, paid for the full duration of your stay be fore arrival.
My stomach instantly plummeted, and I freaked out. I knew this was what I was looking for, and I only had 3 weeks until the start date. I took a breath, and grabbed the phone to immediately figured out how to dial Italy right then and there. Unfortunately, I jumped the gun, and made the huge mistake of not counting the time zone difference. When I heard the strange clicking on the other end, a sleepy voice came over the line whispering, “Pronto?”. I tried my best to mutter through my intermediate Italian lessons because she did not speak any English, and quickly gathered that I had called her in the middle of the night. I apologized profusely, and said I will call back at a better time. Which I did the next day, got her email, and bank wire numbers. Told myself, there was no turning back, and paid the full transfer amount the day after. (I felt like a spy, but the people at the bank looked at me like I was nuts.)
At this point, I didn’t even have my plane ticket yet, and I wasn’t sure how long I was going. So I decided if I was going to really jump into this, than why not go for a month? My Mom didn’t know about it anyways yet, and when she found out, she was going to kill me regardless, so I might as well go for the gold. I booked my flight the next evening, (the most money I have ever spent on one thing) doing 2 1/2 weeks with the project and then traveling up to Catania the rest of the time to just chill out, and take in the local life.
When the day came when it was time to leave Pittsburgh, I was scared out of my mind, but knew I was well prepared (there was no turning back anyways!) I grabbed my carry on, and hopped three flights to Catania airport, (Terrifying) than a ticket for a 2 1/2 hour two tiered bus ride, and finally I was dropped off in Campobello Di Licata, a sleepy town, where no one spoke english, and I was the only American most locals had ever met. (Lucky them) Met with my contact, and headed to the old nursery where the volunteers would be staying (which was indeed a large nursery, I thought they were kidding). Checked in with the organizers, grabbed my bunk bed, and prepared to meet my other roommates. There were different people from every country, and I was the only American of the group. It was eye opening. We shared our experiences together, grew together, laughed, ate, drank, cried, taught and discovered each others personalities. It was the most amazing experience of my life. Some of the people I met there I still talk to until this day, (and hopefully will be seeing some of them in August WOOT!) I could write a book with the stories I have from that trip. Granted, it would be a comedy, and the title would be something along the lines of My Experiences With Consuming Foreign Laxatives Disguised As Candy, or, How To Properly Piss Off A Strange Sicilian By Flipping His Jet Ski Upside Down. Hah, the look on that guys face…
This trip was the tip of the iceberg for me, I knew it wouldn’t be my last solo adventure, and it wasn’t. I have been so happy with my adventures thus far. I will be writing more about travels and my experiences, but I wanted you to have a taste for why I love it, and what really started it all. So here I bring you my top five reasons for traveling alone, and a picture of me with with my first artifact I excavated from that Italy trip 10 years ago! (CHEESE GRIN)
1. FEAR FACTOR– Even today with my next trip being planned, I still after all this time get the butterflies in my stomach knowing I will soon be far away from my safety net, and that is O.K. I even enjoy it now. The fear of the unknown, is not a bad thing. Sometimes the scariest decisions are often the best choices we can make. I know taking that step alone is a bit intimidating, but it is also liberating as well. You discover a new person inside yourself, one that can make a choice, and is not afraid of starting a new path that can lead something wonderful, different, and eye opening. Close your eyes, and jump.
2. THE PEOPLE YOU MEET– When you are alone, you open yourself up to connections with strangers more so than traveling with a group. It is the same if you show up to an event somewhere in your local town. If you bring a friend with you, ,you may chat with a few new people here and there, but chances are you end up talking to your friend for most of the time. It limits your interactions with new faces. Not that it is a bad thing, but, say you came alone to the event, chances are you would end up speaking to many different people. There is apprehension, but there is also a freedom to that, that is applied much the same when traveling. You just open your mouth and say Hello. I have met the most amazing friends, and faces striking up conversations in cafes, bars, and even bathrooms. Hah.
3. YOUR OWN AGENDA– When I plan a trip for a group, I need to make sure everything is perfect. Flights, hotels, details, restaurants, reviews. I want everyone to have a great time, so I research the hell out of everything. I love doing it, but it becomes exhausting, and when you plan everything, it puts a responsibility for other people’s happiness on your shoulders. If something goes wrong, it is all on you. The restaurant was awful, the train never showed up. The list goes on about what could happen, even in carefully laid plans. That is why booking your own trip provides so much freedom! If something gores wrong, chances are you can work it out, and you know you did the best you could. You are only responsible for yourself. You have to make a choice, there are no negotiations, or conversations (well, only in your head with yourself), and it could be a simply a decision about where to eat, what to visit, who to talk too. It all relies on you choices, and that is both scary, liberating, and often leads to the road less traveled for some new adventures.
4. KEEP YOUR RELATIONSHIPS FRESH– They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I believe that. Remember when you first met a special someone, a friend, a lover, a spouse. You got to know one another as who you were, an individual at that moment. You had different opinions, and different experiences. Those experiences made up you who you became at that time, and you grew to love each other by delving in, and exploring each others pasts. That one time they broke their ankle, or something silly they did at a party once. You came together as two different people. It is bound to happen however, that when you hang out all the time, that sometimes people can almost merge into one person. It is not a bad thing, but you share the same experiences, you watch the same movies, go to the same events, and things can repeat on a loop. I think it is healthy to retain the person you were, and grow as well (what drew you to that person in the first place?) Traveling solo keeps it fresh, and adds a layer of trust that is very healthy to any relationship. I love hearing about friends and relatives traveling adventures, or if my hubby goes away for a few days, and comes back with all sorts of stories that we share together. Never lose who you are deep down, but also be open to growing from self discovery, it is part of what you loved about each other in the first place.
5. FREE AND FEED YOUR SOUL- The moment I stepped off my last plane in Catania, I felt like I had let something go. There was a feeling of lightness, that is very hard to describe. I felt like I was holding my breath for years, and could finally let it out. We work, clean, plan, support, collect, and repeat in normal day to day life. Taking yourself out of your normal routines and surroundings is very therapeutic, and gives you a perspective on how others live. When I returned home, I felt differently about what I needed to make myself happy. It wasn’t the nice car, or the big house. (which seems to be rooted in our culture as signs of success). Those things weren’t what (at least for me, everyone is different), created happiness. I discovered something watching, and living with people from all walks of life, and they all had a common theme. Live simply, eat well, don’t collect, you don’t need a huge space-you need less stuff, feel the moment, and keep pushing yourself past your comfort zone to find out who you really are, and what brings you your own peace of mind.
So if you have been thinking about taking that trip for years, but have been scared to make that first step, just take a deep breath and do it! Looking back, you will only ever regret the opportunities you did not take along your journey. Like they say, life is short, and it isn’t the destination that is the best part of it all, it is the ride along the way!! I hope you enjoyed reading this post, as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Here are some pics of the connections I have made along the way in my travels. If I forgot someone, don’t fret, I still think of all of you all the time, and cherish the experiences we had together! Salute!