Anybody who knows me at all knows that I don’t exactly have a top-notch sense of direction. I’ve gotten disoriented driving on campus too many times to count and use Google Maps to make sure I don’t miss the exit for my grandparents’ house, even though they’ve lived in the same house my entire life.
So then, what would possess me to book a flight to Thailand with the intention of backpacking around Southeast Asia alone? This might have been one of the most impulsive decisions I’ve ever made, but it was undoubtedly one of the best. Yes, I got lost 17 times a day. I actually self-named my trip ‘Eat, Pray, Love, Get Lost.’ But so what? I got lost, snuck a peak at Maps (thank you, Thai and Cambodian SIM cards), explored neighborhoods I never meant to find, and took an Uber or tuk tuk back to a familiar area. Yes, they use Uber in Thailand.
Immediately after graduation was the first time in my life that I wasn’t on a trajectory. In high school, it was never a question of if I would go to college, it was a question of where. Of course I would go to a reputable university, of course I would get good grades, and of course I would graduate in four years. The idea of not graduating college was never a viable option and because of this, my graduation didn’t seem like a phenomenal achievement in and of itself. Having a college education is an incredible privilege and I by no means want to minimize the infinite gratitude I have for my four years at Richmond. Nonetheless, I always viewed graduation as a milestone on my trajectory, rather than a standalone goal. But the trajectory ended when I walked across the stage at graduation. For the first time, there was no supposed to.
As much as I despised not having the next chapter of my life figured out, it meant that I had a bigger chunk of time than I’ll presumably have at any point in the near future. That, coupled with graduation money (it really is the best source of income) made for the perfect excuse to travel. Cue a spontaneous trip to Asia.
I had been interested in traveling to Southeast Asia for a while and had pitched the idea to some friends throughout spring semester. I got a few “maybes” and a few “let’s try to go at the end of the summers” but was ultimately unsuccessful in finding a companion. Admittedly, I was nervous about traveling alone so I pushed the idea aside but my itch to travel persisted so I decided to take a leap into the unknown. My favorite part about traveling is meeting people, so I decided to start off my trip WWOOFing on a farm in northern Thailand with an artist. While on the farm, I gained an appreciation for my host’s simplistic yet hardworking lifestyle, biked around the breathtaking countryside, and faced my fear of sharing a bedroom with lizards. From there, I explored the northern cities of Chiang Mai and Pai, where I visited an elephant sanctuary and embraced my inner hippie. The last and most challenging leg of my trip was to Cambodia, where I learned about the country’s recent genocide and visited the magnificent ancient temples of Angkor Wat.
Traveling halfway around the world alone is undeniably scary and uncomfortable. When I tell people that I went to Thailand and Cambodia alone, they look confused. “Alone? Weren’t you scared?” Traveling alone was uncomfortable socially at times, too. I feared that I wouldn’t meet acquaintances at my hostels to eat and sightsee with and would truly be flying solo. Ironically though, that very discomfort is what convinced me to take the trip.
Traveling alone forces the emergence of decisiveness, humility, and confidence. Decisiveness when choosing the countries, cities, and sights to see in a finite amount of time. Humility when respectfully negotiating the cost of a tuk tuk as a tourist. Confidence to be outgoing and to navigate countries where I was unable to speak the native language. While of course I was scared to step 8,651 miles outside my comfort zone into an utterly foreign world, I was scared in the best way possible. So why did I travel alone when I routinely get lost in my own neighborhood? I travelled because I was ready to embrace the uncertainty and be a little lost.
My solo trip also made me realize that I could continue being decisive, humble, and confident in a much less uncertain environment way closer to home. When I received my job offer in Boston while traveling, I was thrilled to have my next step figured out and ecstatic to become part of such a reputable and intellectually stimulating hospital. I was also terrified to be living in an unfamiliar city hundreds of miles from most of my best friends. My trip to Asia made me certain that I could navigate my new city, both professionally and socially.
Although there were absolutely times throughout my trip that I wished I had a companion, I am so grateful that I traveled solo because it forced me to rely on my own abilities and live outside my comfort zone. And those experiences and memories will persist far beyond my short trip abroad.