Solo Travel Changed Me – Wandering and Lost in Peru
“I feel like I have changed in the last week, like honest to goodness changed. I recognize that getting ill on my first solo trip of a lifetime was the Universe’s way of demonstrating to me what I’m capable of, my strength in so many respects – a reminder, if you will because every now and then, I need it. I’ve been so hard on myself my entire life.”
I wrote those words in my journal on December 30th, 2016. I still believe them today. Solo travel awakened something inside me that I knew was there all along but needed some push and pull.
As I stated in my Solo Traveling – Just Do it like Nike post on May 12th, I’m often asked about my fears. Am I scared to travel to a foreign country by myself? Am I scared to fly alone? The truth is, of course I have fears and reservations. I just don’t allow my fears to stop me. I’m unsure if it’s like a switch or something that I just turn on long enough to acknowledge what I might be afraid of and then I turn it off for longer.
I also tend to be a spontaneous and oftentimes, impulsive woman. My mental philosophy really is “just do it,” as in just click “book now” or just buy the ticket. I’ll figure out the rest once the wheels are set into motion. So far, this has worked out splendidly for me.
All of the above is not to say that I haven’t run into terrifying situations, people, moments, etc. in my travels thus far. These situations trigger the switch to be turned on like, “Oh, I was afraid of this.” But, I think the thing to remember is that I very well could be in a similar situation in my day-to-day life, in my home base. And I have!
My first night in Peru, Christmas Day and my thirty-second birthday no less, I got lost on my way back to my hotel room. It was nighttime and I could hear the handful of people telling me prior to my departure, “Just don’t walk alone at night and you should be fine.” That was my first mistake, I suppose. To my defense, my hotel room was a fifteen-minute walk from the main square, where I was walking from. The streets were well lit, crowded with locals and tourists alike.
“Just don’t walk alone at night and you should be fine.”
My second mistake was turning left when I should have continued on straight. Again, to my defense, I’m usually quite good with direction. My mother handed down what she deemed an “internal compass” to me at a very young age. Maybe it only worked north of the equator, I dunno!
When I found myself walking down a very dark, cobblestone alleyway, streets littered in so much garbage, I could hardly make out where the sidewalk began and the road ended, I knew I’d made a wrong turn. I quickly pulled out my cell phone, which was on low battery, and opened Google Maps. My calibration must have been off or I was experiencing bad service because it tried sending me in a literal circle. My heart began pounding.
There were stray dogs and homeless people every few feet. The air smelled of feces and urine. I was fairly certain that this area of Cusco was not listed in any guidebooks under “must see.”
Channeling My Internal Solo Travel Mantras
I began to calm myself down with, “you got this” and “It’s okay” internal mantras. Briefly studying my map so as not to appear lost, I navigated myself back to my hotel. I must add that in the fifteen minutes or so of confusion and misplacement, not a single soul bothered me. Maybe it was my motivation to appear as if I knew exactly where I was or maybe it was a guardian angel. Either way, I was grateful.
The point is we never know what life is going to throw our way. We never know if we’re going to make a wrong turn and end up disoriented in a foreign land. We don’t even know how people are going to react toward us in a given situation. With that, I have to ask myself, “Why worry about a future I cannot foresee?” I must roll with the punches, go with the flow, ride the ebbs, and so forth. Sure, it can be scary at times, even frightening. But, I’d be missing out on a whole hell of a lot of non-scary, amazing experiences and some good stories if I didn’t take those risks.