I always knew this would happen sooner or later, you guys.
I have been wondering for weeks how everyone seems to know which stop to get off at on every bus or train except for me. If there is an announcement (which is rare) it’s in a language I don’t understand. If there is a sign somewhere it’s usually not visible. How does everyone know where we are except for me?
I am perpetually lost. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but does add to my stress level a bit. I generally just follow the biggest group of people and assume they’re going to the same place I am. Which has worked for me…until now.
My first thought as the bus pulled into Split was “I thought it would be bigger.” But, everyone was getting off the bus and grabbing their bags so…this must be it.
I checked my almost-dead laptop again for the address of the hostel I was looking for. The directions didn’t seem to make a lot of sense, but that wasn’t too surprising. I started off in one direction that I soon deemed had to be the wrong one. Okay, no problem, try the other way. Nothing that even resembled what these directions had described.
Huh. Well, it was only 3:30, so I still had plenty of time thanks to catching an earlier bus than I had planned on from Mostar. I stepped into a tourist agency to see if they could point me in the right direction, but they had never heard of the street I was looking for.
And then I looked down at the map on the desk. It was not a map for Split. I was definitely NOT in Split.
Oh, well. I decided to head down to the beach and grab some lunch.
Whenever I used to have anxiety attacks I would always try to ask myself “what’s the worst that could happen?” but it never really helped to calm me down. Because you don’t realize how inconsequential “the worst case scenario” is until it happens. And you deal with it. And it’s perfectly okay.
Even if you get off at the wrong stop. Or miss your flight. Or lose your passport. Or your camera. Or your phone. Even if you get to Thailand and they won’t let you enter the country without an onward flight booked, which you don’t have. Even if you run out of money and have to live on bread & pasta for weeks, while desperately looking for your next Couchsurfing host.
I’ve talked to travelers that have been through all of this and lived to tell the tale. In fact, my lovely friend, Ana, told me about the time her husband’s backpack with his passport in got stolen 5 hours before their flight. They still made it. (And yes, they’re still married even though it was sort of her fault.)
I have a confession to make: I don’t always love solo travel. In fact, 50% of the time I actively hate it. It would be awesome to have SOMEONE ELSE decipher a train schedule written in Serbian or navigate tiny winding Croatian streets to locate a hostel for once. Just having another person by your side can make you more confident when it comes to making decisions and taking risks.
I twinge with jealousy every time I see a couple watching a sunset or sharing a special moment together. If I didn’t have a special someone back at home that probably wouldn’t bother me so much, but I’m also envious of groups of friends I see traveling together. It’s easy to not care if something goes wrong because you’re all in it together.
When you don’t have someone else to shoulder the responsibilities on the road, they can get overwhelming sometimes.
As I sat there in beautiful not-Split, eating my lunch, watching people splashing around in the invitingly clear water I realized something.
The growth part of personal growth isn’t always fun.
Sometimes it’s stressful, scary, hard or downright painful. You make costly mistakes & get lost. You take cold showers & sleep in tents until you find yourself fantasizing about your queen-size pillow-top back home.
But the payoff…oh man, the payoff. When you face the worst possible scenario & get through it time after time, you realize how much you’re actually capable of.
This is what solo travel gifts you with.
Confidence. Fearlessness. You start to trust your instincts. You don’t panic about being in the wrong city (because, really, is there a wrong city to be in eating on a beach in Croatia?)
I used to wake up hyperventilating at 2:00 am more often than not. My last few months at my corporate job were punctuated with bouts of depression & insomnia.
I used to have such a horrible body image that I couldn’t stand to eat in front of people I didn’t know. I felt like they would think “Why is that girl eating? Her body is gross, she shouldn’t be eating anything.”
I’m currently sitting here writing this at a bar on a beach in Omis. In my bikini. In front of me is a sandy beach and miles of clear blue water. To my left are mountains stretching up into the sky. I’m in paradise. And I don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks of my body right now.
I can’t remember the last time I had an anxiety attack. I even sleep through my bunk mates’ snoring in the hostel. In fact, I can sleep anywhere now. Trains, buses, airports, park benches, you name it.
I don’t really care that people probably think I’m a total weirdo for sitting here writing on my laptop instead of napping on the beach.
I have completely given up on planning out more than 2 days in advance, and I don’t worry about it at all. When someone asks me “where are you headed to next?” my answer is “I’m not sure, what do you recommend?” And then I go.
If I had stuck to my plan I wouldn’t have found myself running through a train station at 6:52 am yesterday to catch a train to Mostar, which I hadn’t known existed a few days ago.
What a shame that would have been because I would have missed a train ride through the Bosnian mountains that made me feel like I was in a Harry Potter movie. I would have missed out on this special little town with its cobblestone streets and historic bridge and the bluest river I have ever seen.
Don’t be afraid to jump headfirst into something that scares the bejeezus out of you. Apply for that promotion even if you’re not 100% sure you can handle it. Move across the country to that city you’ve always wanted to live in even if you don’t have a job lined up. Quit your job and start that business you’ve always dreamed of. Sign up for that half-marathon at the end of the summer, even if you can’t run more than a mile right now. Travel solo.
Face the worst case scenario head on. I can’t promise it won’t suck at first. In fact, I can promise it most certainly will suck at times. It will be hard. It will be stressful. It will be overwhelming.
But you just might find yourself riding on a train through mountains that take your breath away. Or on a beach soaking in the Croatian sun. Or having no idea what country you will be in tomorrow and loving every minute of it.