There is a certain, unmistakable ball of dread that awakens in my chest and circulates to my head, flows down my limbs to the tips of my fingers, and quickens my heartbeat as soon as my foot touches the unknown territory directly below the bus that became my home over the last five hours. Like a car emerging out of a thick fog back into clear visibility, the courage that once surrounded my being, providing not necessarily comfort but the motivation to keep pushing forward, immediately evaporates around me. I start to question my naivety in traveling so far alone without an absolute awareness of the bus stop location in the big, bustling city at night’s dark, intimidating hour. The crisp air soothes the burning anticipation in my chest, and my observation mode kicks into overdrive as I explore the new area in search for the train station. With a deep breath and some small, internal pep talks, I move with the flow of my instincts and expect nothing more than an adventure with each step.
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This was my initial reaction after arriving in Vienna, Austria after twelve long and lonely hours from Karlsruhe, Germany. I had a place to stay with someone to contact if I needed help, and I had heard of some big places to visit while in Vienna, but the rest of my trip was intentionally spontaneous, unplanned and open to any possibilities. Of course, I had traveled alone before to Switzerland and other locations in Germany, and certainly compared to the trip alone from Montana to Europe, twelve hours on a bus was nothing; nevertheless, I had yet to find the remedy for the doubt, fear, or uneasiness caused by the sharp reality of thrusting oneself outside of the welcoming, understanding, and affirming borders of the comfort zone. Yet, I do not want a solution for this sensation.
Some people claim to solve the world’s problems or find the answers to long sought-after questions while in the shower; but for me, this special experience of revelation and re-evaluation find me when I travel alone. These small weekend trips on which I have embarked during my time in Europe have taught me more lessons and instilled more cultural insight than I could have ever extracted out of my comfortable, familiar surroundings. Traveling in general, of course, will invest remarkably into the spirits of the Adventurous; however, I stand firmly in my respect for the Lone Rangers.
Going solo showed me how to be more assertive in my basic needs, such as personal security, and more observant of the most minor details composing the physical environment. Venturing out into the world by myself has taught me how to question reality more thoroughly and listen more sincerely to the answers I receive. Most significantly, perhaps, is the rebirthing of my indescribably deep appreciation for and my continuously un-quenched curiosity about communication and interaction between human beings, which has followed me into every new city and etched itself into my most favorite memories during my time abroad.
If I could leave you with anything, it would be this: travel alone. Be smart, know your own boundaries and follow your gut if the risk tickles greater than the opportunities. Be curious, be confident, be patient, and breathe deeply when your nerves tremble so strongly that you cannot identify your heartbeat over your self-doubt.
We as humans didn’t survive by caging ourselves in comfort, and frankly, we never will. These moments, scary as though they may appear to be, are what we, as curious, creative, and compassionate individuals live for.