What Traveling Alone Really Means

You know that girl you follow on Instagram who appears to be traveling and living her dream life every day? I wanted to BE that girl for so long. Until I realized there was much more going on than what meets the eye through social media. I'm not sure if traveling is easy for some people, or if they just opt for the all-inclusive resort experience, but I'm here to tell you how much work it truly can be to follow your dreams.

Traveling the world had been a goal of mine for as long as I could remember. There was no doubt in my mind that my first experience abroad would be all or nothing, or as my friends would say... a "FULL SEND".  "You're doing WHAT??" was the most common reaction when I told people I was traveling to El Salvador, Panama, and Costa Rica by myself on a one way ticket, but I've always known that my best ideas are the ones that everyone else questions.  I was confident that my experience would not be easy. I was looking forward to the challenges, knowing this was the best possible opportunity for growth and learning. I don't think anyone has ever said "traveling is easy" (or if they have, they're clearly doing it wrong), but no one could have prepared me for the whirlwind I was about to experience.

I consider myself to be a very strong "introverted extrovert" so I was STOKED for the time alone to reflect, and also interact and connect with humans of all walks of life and cultures.  I spent more time journaling, walking, listening, reflecting, and resting on this trip than I ever have before. It gave me the opportunity to sit with my demons, reflecting on my experiences, and find more clarity than possible to find in day to day American society. I also made some of the most unforgettable connections, let go of my judgements, and absurd standards I had placed on myself for human interaction, and truly left myself open to pursuing connection with every type of human I encountered. I laughed, and cried, a lot. I felt magic. True magic. I left pieces of my heart in some very special places, wondering why I felt more homesick for these places and humans than I did for my actual home.

But somewhere along this magical journey,  I broke. I cracked open. With everything I had built up in my head, spilling out, exposed, raw.  My body was in pain, reflecting some chaotic state of mind I had taken on. So I isolated myself. I rested.  I learned how dangerous it can be to stay inside your own head, while simultaneously learning how much clarity you can achieve by sitting in stillness with nothing but your own thoughts to keep you company. Our minds are a funny place, and sometimes the messages they send us have more weight than we are able to receive in our normal hustle and bustle back home. In my day to day life I would push these thoughts away replacing these feelings with staying busy, hustling, or distracting myself.  In the space I had given myself to truly process, I finally felt the impact of what I was doing.  

Despite my fierce independence, and eagerness to grow... the constant movement, changing, and learning, took a toll on my body and mind.  And it wasn't until then, that I realized what I was doing was HARD.  Being by yourself for a month.... Sure, you are making connections with locals, or fellow travelers along the way... but learning how temporary everything is taught me to live in each moment as if it was the last. It taught me to connect to each human as if I would never see them again. It taught me to embrace every single moment, and the fleeting magic it presents. Embracing people and things, for what they are in that one moment, rather than holding on to them so tightly for fear of losing them. 

After fiercely clinging to my independence for so long, this experience has taught me how valuable human connection is. I've learned to truly value the small things in life. That everything is temporary, and rather than fearing the impermanence, to embrace, and celebrate how fleeting magic really is.  Because what kind of life would we be living if it was just magic all the time?  I had been striving for so long to make my entire life magical. To put on some grand show for myself and everyone else... 

But that's when I realized "that girl on Instagram" isn't real. Reality, is balance. It's contrast. It's knowing that life isn't magical all the time. That magic is created after doing so much building and breaking, that you learn to place more value on the little things. That you can only find magic when you believe in it, when you simply create your own. In the tiny moments that you wouldn't expect... Like having a 'family dinner' with strangers who have become family, and laughing more than you ever have in your life... Spending a fleeting moment in the ocean, feeling the waves lick your legs, and acknowledging gratitude for all that you've created and experienced around you.  Valuing the tiniest things like being able to walk around without a backpack, or simply having a human around you to connect and laugh with.

I finally understood, that the way I create magic, isn't by pretending it's light all the time, but by revealing the contrast. A photo wouldn't be beautiful if it was dull, with no distinction between the lights and darks. A photograph is beautiful when it displays a show of light, a beautiful balance, contrasting light and dark. When you contrast these elements in a photograph, it pulls your eye to the light, allowing you to bring your focus to the important part of the picture. So I realized life is the same way.  Braving the darkness, acknowledging my pain, allows me to focus my attention on what's truly important, bringing more gratitude, and value, to the moments of light.