I recently returned from a solo vacation to Los Angeles. I've been on several solo trips before, having traveled to The Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, and Prague with only my journal and iTunes library to keep me company. Traveling by oneself is a real lesson in experiencing and learning to sit in all sorts of feelings: excitement, loneliness, happiness, and fear (to name a few). The excitement of traveling to a new place, immersing oneself in the culture, and expanding my worldly-knowledge is what keeps me seeking out new adventures, but the fear and loneliness that is almost inevitable when traveling solo could potentially dampen the experience if I allow it to. Here are some tips I've learned through trial-and-error that have helped me expand my comfort zone both while traveling, and long after I've returned home.
1) Do the things you want to do, even when the nagging voice of fear rears it's ugly head. This is the number one challenge I encounter both while traveling and when I'm home. Before I took off for LA, I did some Google and peer-reviewed research on the best fitness classes/studios in LA, and jotted a couple of them down in my journal. Towards the end of my trip, I still hadn't made it to any of the spots I'd listed due to other plans, but low and behold, I found myself directly in front of one of the places I'd researched while doing some shopping on my second to last day. And sure enough, there was a class starting in 30 minutes. My heart immediately began to beat a little faster: "I'm not prepared to take a class right now," said my fear voice. "I shouldn't spend the money," it scolded, quickly citing half a dozen other flimsy excuses. (My fear voice can be very persistent). I walked past the studio, planning to head back to where I was staying. But that choice didn't sit right with me, and I've learned from experience that when I just cognizantly shut Fear down, I can begin to live in the excitement and take a risk. And so I turned around, walked right into the studio, and signed up for the class. And guess what? I had a great workout, met some cool new people, and am excited to take the class again the next time I'm on the West Coast.
2) Allow whatever will be to be. This tip complements the first. When I decide to ignore all the excuses in my head, I simultaneously vow to accept whatever accompanies the unknown experience. When I first visited Costa Rica, some locals invited me to a BBQ, and though I initially declined because I didn't know what to expect and I was afraid of feeling uncomfortable, I realized that agreeing to go would open me up to meeting some new people, gaining a deeper understanding of the culture, and maybe, just maybe, I would have a great time. So I decided to go, and told myself that I would accept whatever feelings would arise. And, again, though I did initially feel some awkwardness at being with people I barely knew and whom did not speak the same language as me, I ended up having a beautifully rich experience and created a lovely memory I will have for life.
And that leads us to the next tip...
3) Don't be afraid to change your mind. I'm learning, with practice, that I don't have to accept my first reactionary response as resolute. In both of the examples I've just listed, my initial anxious response was "NO!" But upon further (and more rational reflection), I realized in both instances that my hesitation was all fear-based, and that I actually wanted to "say yes." And so, I simply changed my mind, and told myself that there was no shame in doing so.
4) Realize that being lonely is OK, and the feeling won't last forever. Nobody likes to feel lonely, but it is an inevitable part of life, both whilst traveling and in our day-to-day existence. On every single trip I've taken, there have been periods of loneliness. I've come to expect them, and have learned to accept them. Feelings are fleeting, and, as we've all heard time and time again: feelings are not facts. And there are ways to deal with them. Often times, they can quickly be lessened, if not totally obliterated, by removing yourself from your current environment. I tend to feel lonely when I sit in my hotel room, pondering my next move. In these cases, I've learned to "just get out." Sometimes I'll make myself walk to the closest cafe, grab a seat, and strike up a conversation with whomever is around (and, of course, seems to be a safe person to talk to!). When I traveled to The Virgin Islands three years ago, I stayed in a small, quaint hostel, and because it was the off-season, there were very few other guests. But on my second day, another solo traveler checked in, and though I didn't really feel like it at the time, I made myself leave the safety of my room to chat with him on the shared veranda. As it turned out, he was also visiting from NYC, and we became instant friends. Not only did my loneliness evaporate momentarily, but I also had a temporary travel buddy for the next few days. We explored the islands together, and have remained friends ever since.
5) Recognize that feeling tired is not usually a good excuse. Sure, sometimes we really truly are tired, and need to take a break and rest. But I've realized that it's often usually Fear talking when I want to rely on the ol' "I'm too tired" excuse. Traveling, with all of it's new experiences can be exhausting, but I've learned to ask myself one simple question when I want to lean on feeling tired as a reason to not do something when I'm in a place I may never be again: "Will I be satisfied with missing out on what this experience could offer?" Usually, unless I really truly am so jet-lagged that nothing but sleep will do, the answer is no. I travel to learn about the world, myself, and my place in the world, and so saying "no" to an experience is in direct opposition to what my soul really wants.
All of these tips are things I've come to learn through travel but that I also implement in my daily life. When we travel, feelings and experiences are heightened, thus presenting us with a terrific practice ground for working through them. In order to enjoy the robustness of life, we need to be able to recognize our "fear voice," so that we don't inadvertently miss out on opportunities that could further our understanding of ourselves and deepen our connection to the world. Learning to "say yes" despite our fear isn't easy, but like with anything else, it gets easier each time we practice doing so.
Here's to more safe, and open-minded adventures, both near and far.