It took me a long time to venture into the world of solo travel, but since then I have become the biggest advocate for this. Was I scared? Of course! We all go through every likely scenario of what might go wrong. But then something wonderful happens and it all breaks down sort of like this:
Stage 1 - WTF?!
It's my first solo trip and I decided on Roatan, Honduras. I needed an escape and for some reason had this incredible urge to go alone. Without much thought I had made my way from Tampa to Dallas and on to Roatan. I've flown solo plenty of times so this wasn't anything different. But then I landed, went through passport control, customs, and was standing in the arrivals hall. What The F*** am I doing here?! ...my exact thought. What do I usually do now? Get cash and find a taxi - simple. The ATM prompts me as to how much cash I would like to take out in multiples of 200. It dawned on me that I never looked up the exchange rate - Rookie mistake! After what cost about $37 in roaming charges, I finally got cash and a stressed out taxi attendant ushered me into a car. As we pulled out of the airport the thought process went from WTF to 'Let's hope this guy doesn't murder me'.
Stage 2 - Overcoming Fear
This leads us to stage 2 - over coming fear. Needless to say I wasn't kidnapped by my taxi driver and was now in the safety of my room where I laid down on the bed for a few hours. I kept telling myself it was because I needed the rest. Truth is, I had without much preparation decided to go on a solo trip and now that I was here, I was terrified. I didn't know what to do by myself; I had a solo room since I needed to work and so for the first time in a long time I was facing a week of being completely alone. In a foreign country. Without one person around who knew me. It was this overwhelming feeling I needed to get a rest from. But as I laid there I realised I had to go out eventually so might as well. With dusk settling in, I walked out of my second floor bungalow into the muggy summer night and carefully locked the simple wooden door that even I could probably kick down. Deep breath. There was no backing down from this adventure.
Stage 3 - Eating Alone
Food makes everything better, so I made my way down the street (there was only one in the town) and had a look around for my options. I settled on a Thai place the Host had recommended to me and soon found myself on the most romantic terrace, facing the bay, at a table dressed for 4. As if that wasn't bad enough, nothing makes you feel more alone than having absolutely no service on your mobile. So there I was, sitting in silence. I felt awkward and uncomfortable; which must have been written on my face because the waiter tried to engage in conversation with me, most likely to put me out of my misery. I finished my glass of wine and took the left-overs home with me. A quite uneventful evening but I will never forget that meal. If constantly being in touch with or surrounded by friends is my comfort then that meal was like being on another planet for me.
Stage 4 - The Beauty of Silence
This only became clear in retrospect, because what made that dinner so memorable was the silence. Yes it was out of my comfort zone, and yes I was slightly uncomfortable. But it was only because I wasn't used to the silence. Over time as I've travelled solo more often, that has become the reason I do. To have the option to not speak, to not have to listen, to have absolutely no stimuli except the world around you is an incredible and rare thing. Think about it, nowadays we never find ourselves in silence - we pay for it at yoga, but even there you're told instructions that might as well be another language. This true silence can only be found while traveling solo.
Stage 5 - Listening. To yourself.
The next morning I woke up, picked up a few essentials from the store on the corner, and finished my work by about 1pm. With plenty of time left in the day, I was again faced with the task of venturing out. It was easier this time. I wandered the street that had now become slightly more familiar, recognised the little spot I had dinner at, and suddenly felt a sense of comfort. And then I got to ask myself, 'What do I want to do today'. I came to Roatan with absolutely no agenda. As I wandered the street I kept seeing signs for 'Scuba certification' being offered at the guaranteed best price on the island. After the third sign, I went into a shop. Everything aligned and without even thinking about it, I knew this was the obvious next step. No overthinking it, no googling it, it was a gut feeling and I went with it. The best part was - this entire time I never once had to ask someone else 'oh what do you want to do', 'well maybe I want to do that, but if you don't...', 'do you want to go eat first'.... you get the picture. There was none of that and it was a beautiful thing. The silence from the night before had now turned into an effortless ability to make decisions and listen to my gut.
Stage 6 - Learning what you're Capable of
Fast forward 3 days later, I was singing karaoke for the first time in my life (to Barbie Girl in case you're wondering), I was one day away from being open water certified, and I had made several friends whom I still speak to today. It sounds like that silence and being alone part faded away, except it was quite the opposite. Just earlier that night I was invited out to dinner with the whole Scuba crew. I declined because there was a tiny little taco stand I wanted to have dinner at by myself. In a matter of only a few days I learned to enjoy eating alone, to the point where the lovely taco vendor was almost imposing on my evening with his friendly but non-stop banter. With a job that has no set office hours and that mobile device that means I am reachable at all times, the wonderful thing I learned from solo travel was the importance of saying no, of unplugging and of listening to myself. But most importantly, I learned that wonderful things happen on the other side of your comfort zone.
Every person is looking for something different when travelling solo, and this is not to say that your experience might be like mine. I just wanted to give a glimpse into the reality of it. I'm not some brave superhuman girl ready to face anything. I just learned that while solo travel sounds scary, it is the polar opposite and something I recommend to everyone. No matter what you are dealing with, if you go out there and dare to face the world, you will, above all else, find yourself.