3 years ago today my 6-month solo trip came to an end and my life, as I had previously known it, too. But before I get into how it changed everything and what I learned from the experience, let me tell you how it all began.
I had been working for 10 years in advertising and initially, I would have an existential crisis every two years or so questioning whether putting out flames, being the punching bag for creatives, the psychologist to clients and often working 12-14 hour workdays for ungrateful bosses (aka being a Project Director) was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Then, these crises started occurring more often.
I honestly don’t think that that alone would have been enough to push me into making the decision I made, however, in parallel I had recently become forcibly single (yeah, I was dumped), I was going through some family issues that made me realise that work was not everything in life, and to top it off, my boss had just crossed the threshold of sanity into a sordid insanity that you only find in movies (this was the tipping point so I’m actually grateful to him).
So, on one fine morning (after taking a Diazapan and it coming into effect) I marched into my boss’s office and quit.
NOTE: At this point countless people told me how brave I was and I just want to clarify that I did not (and still don’t) have children and I had a financial cushion to fall back on. It was not bravery but necessity and fear of an unfulfilling life that drove my decision.
No job, No boyfriend, Some money and Some time.
I was 33 years old and I had never travelled by myself: I didn’t do well being in my own company for long periods of time (a day) and the thought of dining alone freaked me out. So, with no job, no boyfriend, some money and some time, I decided that a 3-month solo trip would be a great way to confront my fear of loneliness and figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life. Why 3 months? It just seemed like the sweet spot between having enough time to ‘discover myself’ without going broke (during my travels I met a Portuguese guy who left with 200 euros and had been travelling for 2 years!) and maintaining my status as a responsible adult. It also meant that I would have enough time to volunteer, something I had dreamt of doing for as long as I can remember.
I’m a planner, so my first instinct was to plan the whole 3 months. I knew I wanted to include Hong Kong (to visit friends), Nepal (where I was going to volunteer), Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia (another pit stop to visit friends), and finally Singapore (the place where I was born and spent a good part of my life), but it soon became clear to me that it was a complicated thing to do: what if I wanted to stay longer in one place? What if along the way there was something else worth visiting more than what was on my original itinerary? What if there was a flood in one of the places making it impossible to reach (because as it turns out, my timing was not great and I was going to be following the monsoons across Asia)? So eventually and going against my nature, I decided to get my flights into Asia and a round trip to Nepal and leave the rest…unplanned.
LESSON 1: STOP BEING SO UPTIGHT!
The unplanned thing was one of the best decisions I made because A. it taught me to relax a little and take things as they came (a totally foreign concept to me) and B. provided me with countess adventures and discoveries that I would not have had otherwise. It also gave me the flexibility to extend my trip, which eventually turned into 6 months of travel.
An unexpected love story
Arriving to Nepal was a huge culture shock for me and It as it turned out, I loved every bit of it. I loved how people would insist on talking to me despite realising I didn’t understand a thing, I loved people’s kindness and sense of community, I even loved the chaos and the frustration of not knowing what was going on at all times and the apparent lack of boundaries (this last one took some getting used to, but one day while I was volunteering, a lady I did know walked into my room uninvited and just stood around looking at my things and giving me a huge toothless grin and in that instant I realised that it was not abnormal and that I could do the same. A whole new world had just opened up to me!).
LESSON 2: WITH AN OPEN MIND AND A LACK OF PRECONCEIVED IDEAS, YOUR COMFORT ZONE CAN EXPAND BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS.
So, I had fallen in love with Nepal and that was pretty great, what I certainly did not expect was to also actually fall in love. This is the second part of the love story and while I am not going to get into all the details, I will say that he is the co-founder of The Raw Society, we are soon to be married and his constant support and encouragement is what has gotten me through many life changes during and post travel.
Panic mode: ON
I was in Mandalay, Myanmar and for the first time in two months I was feeling alone. REALLY alone. I remember I had gone out to explore the city and it had been pouring with rain the entire day so I had been bouncing from one empty café to another eating ham and cheese sandwiches. By the time I got back to the hostel room I was soaking wet and as I sat down on my bed, panic set in. What was I thinking? I wasn’t made for this! AND WHY THE HELL HAD I EXTENDED MY TRIP FOR ANOTHER 3 MONTHS?!!!
LESSON 3: BEING ALONE IS OK!
A phone call and some messages later I was out of panic mode and I realised that I was more scared of the thought of being alone than actually being alone. Knowing that was liberating because at least there was something I could do about it, and I did. I had already been taking photos every day and posting them on the Instagram account that I had specifically opened for my travels as a kind of journal, but from here on out, this photo journal became my anchor and gave me the sense of purpose I needed to overcome those moments of loneliness.
LESSON 4: YOU ARE NEVER REALLY ALONE IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE
I know, it sounds contradictory to what I’ve just been telling you but the other part of overcoming loneliness is to go out and open yourself up to the world. The day after the panic incident I went out with a new mindset and a willingness to make conversation and everything changed.
I perhaps went a little overboard with the ‘openness’ as I ended up on the back of a complete stranger’s motorbike touring the city and at one point I was sure that months later the newspaper headlines would read: “She thought she had it all figured out: body of missing ex client director found in bus station storage room” but this whole scenario (and several others I experienced over the next months) taught me the next valuable lesson.
LESSON 5: PEOPLE ARE AWESOME
With all the shit we see in the media (terrorism, mass shootings, sexual harassment cases #metoo, crazy presidents – take your pick, extraditions, racism, corruption, fake influencers, begpackers…), it’s easy to forget that people can also be amazing, kind, selfless and all round awesome. Travel has and continues to be a great reminder of this for me and when I’m feeling saturated of all the negativity that the media does such a good job of spreading, I look back on my personal experiences.
While travelling my aim was to try and figure out what I was going to do when I got back to reality and that was putting a lot of pressure on me. I’d find myself thinking about this way too often and missing out on what was right in front of me.
LESSON 6: BE PRESENT
It took me longer than It should have, but eventually I made the decision of NOT trying to figure out what I was going to do afterwards and focus on enjoying and absorbing every last detail of this once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Three years ago today I got back from this incredible adventure and what came next was a new journey and a new life. I went on to founding, together with Jorge Delgado-Ureña (the guy from the love story), Raw Photo Tours, which would have never been possible had I not done my solo trip and learnt all the lessons along the way.
To finish, I want to share a quote that I love because let’s face it, change can be scary as shit sometimes.
“If you’re not scared of your dreams, they aren’t big enough.” – John Stanmeyer
I hope you enjoyed this post and if you’re about to go on a solo travel and have questions or want to share your experiences with us, feel free to do so in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you!
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