My hand was grabbed and pressed against the wall above my head, and I heard a sickening crack. No, I hadn’t just had a bone in my arm broken: the glass of my smart watch had just shattered. But I didn’t have the time to worry about it at the time. Other matters were more pressing.
Travelling alone is wonderful. You’ve put yourself in a situation where:
- You have to be open to meeting new people
- You’re more likely to have new experiences because of the new people thing
- You’re more likely to be pushed out of your comfort zone because of the meeting new people and the new experiences things
- You’re more likely to learn about who you really are and test yourself because of the comfort zone and the new experiences and the new people things
My first solo trip – not on an organised tour – was in Vietnam recently. I was shitscared. I knew that some big changes were on the horizon, but I didn’t know how I was going to come out the other side. Would I be scarred, scared and tired? I was worried I wouldn’t make any friends and I was going to spend more than two weeks alone, with my anxiety and depression reaching peak levels.
Instead, I did what all travel wankers say they’re travelling for; a cliche a desperately try to avoid. I found myself.
The past four years of my life I’ve defined myself as a partner, a stepmother, a marketer, and a writer. I’m so much more than the roles that I play(ed).
I went into the trip just after a huge break-up feeling uncertain but hopeful that I was going to see some amazing places. My emphasis was always on the places I wanted to go. I’d totally forgotten that places are just places, even when they’re steeped in history. What makes the places special is how you experience them, with whom you experience them, or the conversations you have surrounding them. The most special places I found were only because of fellow travellers and conversations I’d had, and they were certainly better because of that shared connection. Had I gone to those places by myself, they wouldn’t have held the appeal that they did.
A couple of days into my trip, I met up with some British boys who I had met at the first hostel I stayed in. They graciously waited an extra night in Da Lat for me, and I’m so glad they did. We had a great time together and I ended up spending almost all of my trip with them. We went to waterfalls out past flower farms, a backpackers resort with kayaking and cliff-jumping, they gave me comfort while I was sick, and they pepped me up when I was low. I made sure they had at least a vegetable a day.
I realised quickly that at the rate we were going, I wasn’t going to make it to the north of the country. Part of me felt like I’d wasted my trip, but then I had a counter-realisation… this trip isn’t about ticking off a bunch of places and sights. It was to make me confident travelling solo; confident meeting people. I wanted to know that wherever I went, I’d be able to find a support network. Especially if something bad happened… which it did.
After being sexually assaulted, “my boys” (as I had affectionately termed them) were there for me. Despite only knowing each other for a short while, they – along with my friends and family in the online space – gave me the support I needed to get through. They watched me break down, talked me through it, and (despite feeling quite sick themselves) walked me down the street the next night in the rain so I could get some dinner. They weren’t the only ones who were there, with two Australian boys who I had only met the day before looking after me in the immediate aftermath.
A terrible situation, to be sure. However, this situation, along with all the other experiences I had over those two and a half weeks, taught me so much about myself. Both the good and bad things showed me the person who others see, but who I hadn’t seen for years. They showed me the skills I’d developed. They showed me my resilience and strength. They showed me that I have let myself be held back by anxiety, by fear. But they also showed me the way forward: embracing the unknown rather than letting it paralyse me.
On my last night in Saigon, I approached a random group of people in the hostel bar and told them that I was going to attach myself to them. Two weeks earlier on my first night in Vietnam I had been too scared to go down to the very same bar by myself. Approaching this random group led to a chance meeting with an Irish girl who was similar in age to me, who is studying something similar, but who is teaching Science and Maths in an English-speaking school in Saigon. She’s lived all over the world, and finds work where she can. It made me realise not only that I could do that, but I want to do that.
As soon as I got home, I put a few wheels in motion. I’ve had three fears that have held me back from taking the plunge and moving overseas to live:
- I won’t make any friends. (Proven false on this trip.)
- What if something bad happens? (Something bad did happen. And I got through with a combination of my own strength and resilience, and amazing support from friends and family both in person and online.)
- I don’t have enough money. (I’m not an idiot. I’m a hard worker, and I’m not shoving washing dishes. I’ll pick up work when and where I can.)
So I guess it’s time to acknowledge those wheels I set in motion. I’ll be taking leave from work in Australia in 2019 and moving to the UK on the Youth Mobility Visa (pending approval…), which will allow me to live and work in the UK for up to two years.
Your girl is being unleashed on the world.
Oh, and as for my watch? Like I said before: new people > new experiences > out of comfort zone > learning about yourself. Turns out I’ve got no issue with having sex in the hostel bathroom.