“What’s wrong with me?”. It’s the 4-worded question you usually stop asking yourself as a teenager (if you ever thought it at all), but for me it’s been a lifelong quest to find an answer. Yes, I have clinical anxiety and depression but I’ve always felt like that wasn’t the only reason I dislike myself. I cannot tell you all the things people have said to me in an attempt to ease my curiosity.
You’ll grow out of it.
Wait until you’re older, you’ll love yourself then.
I didn’t really appreciate myself until I was in my 30s.
Once you have a boyfriend/husband/significant other, you’ll be fine!
I mean, really? A young woman is concerned about her deep hatred of herself and THAT’S what you tell them? It’s only recently that it clicked just how horrible that advice is. I’ve always been suicidal but it’s for other reasons I never took action. Had I actually listened to those responses and let them get to me, who knows the path I would of taken. Unfortunately, these people thought they were actually helping and that’s what scares me. How many people are out there who feel like me, and getting this advice?
While I may not know how to help anyone else who is experiencing a similar life to my own (yet!), I can share my story as it happens and hope it may have some positive effect for someone else. Last year I tried my hand at travelling Europe, both solo and as part of a Topdeck tour. I’ve learned a lot about myself and I have things I need to pass on to others, whether you love or loathe yourself (or anything in between).
Before I get into them, I want to make it crystal clear that this post is for EVERY ONE. Travelling solo isn’t just for people who aren’t in a relationship. Even if you’re married, in a new relationship or have some other kind of partnership this post is still directed at you. Another quick disclaimer, age is irrelevant. Whether you are 21 or 61 , it’s never too late to travel solo. In fact, I urge you to. Here’s why:
Realising your own potential
It sounds cliche (and most of the points in this post will, probably) but when you’re left on your own in a foreign place and relying on yourself to survive, you learn lessons you wouldn’t learn otherwise. I’m not just talking about how to use a map or speak a new language; I’m talking about not having anyone to ‘rescue’ you or fall back on. Having no one within immediate arms reach does improve your coping mechanisms and it’s something you won’t learn unless you put yourself out there. I thought I was always quite good at coping with the speed bumps of life, but dealing with the big issues you learn about yourself every day is very different to dealing with a horrible employer or moving out of home. The later are mild in comparison to what you deal with travelling solo.
It’s not just the deep and insightful stuff though. You also learn your potential physically. Did I ever think I could do a 28km walking tour in just 3 hours without an asthma attack? Heck no. Did I think I could party all night and still be up at 6am for another full day of travelling? Nope, not without some uppers! What about walking alone back to your hotel in the outskirts of Salzburg while intoxicated at 2am? Definitely not, but I did it purely from memory and managed to not get assaulted!
Money vs Happiness
I’ve finally learnt that more money won’t make me any more happy ….. but I’ve also learnt it does make living in this world a lot easier to navigate. It might sound like something most people would put down to common sense but in my case that isn’t so. I always believed if I worked harder, worked smarter, worked to make more money, that somehow that would make me a complete person and my depression would disappear. The fact that this lesson is something I should have learned long before 29 years of age does made me realise the importance of sharing my discoveries.
Money does make life EASIER in many circumstances but it doesn’t solve all your problems, especially when those problems are primarily mental.
Learning your opinion of yourself
As I mentioned in the opening of this post, I have issues with my self worth. In my case, I’ve learnt that all my issues relate back to being insecure. A deep, deep insecurity that has ruled my life since childhood. You’d think the thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours I wasted with psychologists over the years could have just told me that, but they never did in a way that actually resonated with me (or at all!). This isn’t unique to me; just google “reasons to travel solo” and you will find post after post from people who learnt the very same thing.
What you discover about yourself may not be good but it does mean that you can finally treat the root problem, if you so desire. My biggest learning from this trip so far is that I’m very annoying – so annoying that I annoy myself. My high intelligence and fast thought process comes at a cost – I just can’t connect with most humans. I’ve always found myself a little annoying but I put it down to being a cold-hearted bitch (something my father called me since I was a child). I’ll even tell myself to be quiet when I’m sick of hearing my own voice but by that time it’s too late, people have already been annoyed by me and it’s just about impossible for me to change their opinion. I even thought openly declaring to people that I’m a bitch would solve the problem, and it did …. sometimes it would get me a little further into a friendship before people found me annoying, but in the end it was all the same. Unfortunately, as an adult no one will actually tell you that you’re annoying. As adults we feel more inclined to complain about a person behind their back or just cut them from our life, thus the annoying person doesn’t actually know where they are going wrong despite trying so hard.
You’ll realise it’s not them, it’s you
This may be applicable to some more than others but if you’re like me, you’ll blame your frustrations and anger on other people. THOSE people weren’t fun or it’s THEIR loss for not inviting me to their dinner party. I play the woe is me card a lot but until now I’d honestly thought “woe is me”. It takes putting yourself out there in social situations where you have no escape, like doing a Topdeck tour with a bunch of strangers, to realise that the same things keep happening to you because it’s you, not the other people. As I mentioned in the previous point, what you learn about yourself may be harsh.
Discovering who really cares about you
In the modern world of rising online communication and decreasing traditional forms of communication, it’s hard to know who really cares about you. Daily use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms manipulate your understanding of relationships with others, but you don’t realise just how much until you disconnect. The people who go out of their way to find out you are safe, happy and healthy, when they aren’t able to make contact via Facebook Messenger, are those that really care about you. They are true friends.
I implemented a ban on myself for a portion of this trip – no personal Facebook use. At first it felt like I was punishing myself but after just a few days I realised how I linked my self worth to that of how many likes I got on a status or image I posted. It was a harsh lesson but one I’m thankful I learnt because now I know who I was valuing more than they were valuing me, and that’s been a huge problem for me in the past. I’ve always known I care more about others than they do me and I’m finally seeing just who is worth that level of love from me.
You can’t buy love
I’m not talking about romantic love (although it does include it), I’m referring to friendship, loyalty and respect. I’ve always wondered why I will go out of my way to help other people, even if I don’t like them or it costs me financially, physically and mentally. I put it down to being a kind person. Yay, go me! But no, travelling alone has taught me otherwise. Helping an old lady cross the street is kind and compassionate, but shouting people drinks just so you can hang around them is NOT friendship. I’ve now realised that I do these things in hopes that it will ensure people like me. It all leads back to insecurity – I believe who ever the “real me” is, isn’t good enough to be loved.
I’ll be dead honest in declaring I don’t know the solution to this (yet!) but I do know I want to fix it. I have no idea who the real me is. I’ve been trying to be liked so hard for so long that I’ve confused myself about who I am. I’ve worn so many masks that finding my real face is going to be a long process. Travelling solo has not only made me learn all this but it’s also offered up a possible solution – more solo travel! Oh and probably finding a really good therapist who will actually help me sort through my thoughts and what they mean.
Opening up to change
Everything is weird and foreign when you’re travelling but even more so when you’re going at it alone. A secret lesson you’ll learn, whether travelling solo or not, is that just by doing it you’ve already opened yourself up to change. There is a reason we set off and leave our comforts behind. Most people describe it as simply wishing to “see the world” or “learn about different cultures”. Well guess what kids, learning = change. You return home more knowledgeable on a variety of things, and the things you see and do have an impact even if it’s just in the most subconscious form. The key to this lesson is realising why you chose to travel in the first place. Remember, we aren’t talking about taking a beach holiday up the coast.
Even the couples who went on this tour with me (and there are a lot) have been changing in front of my eyes. They have changed how they interact with their partners and with other people, but very few have realised that this change has come about because they were looking for it in some way. As an observer in many of these social situations it has taught me a lot about the human condition and that’s not something I could’ve done if I always had someone to talk to, comfort me or entertain me.
Have you travelled solo? Can you relate or rebut any of my points? Let me know by commenting below!