By: Victoria Santoro, Guest Blogger
I took off into the great unknown. A week in Spain and Switzerland were before me. I had packed jeans, one dress, and a lot of emotion into one small bag. Before I left on this trip, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you why it meant so much. But prior to my departure, I had taken to calling it my “eat, play, love” trip. A variation on Elizabeth Gilbert’s themes, because I just knew there was something important about it. And it turns out that authors and movie producers are onto something, there is something very magical about traveling alone in the world.
Here is what I learned about traveling alone as a young woman:
1. Face Your Fears And The World Will Reward You
I am a nervous flyer, I don’t like heights, and I thought everything was okay in my day to day life. When I left, I was terrified because I had four flights in one week. I got to the top of a mountain and was terrified before I stood on a wire suspension bridge at 10,000 feet and felt the wind rushing up at me from the belly of the Alps. I saw and experienced things I didn’t realize I ever would. And I learned more about myself in one week than I had in the last 29 years. I learned it’s ok to be scared, but to never let it stop you. Don’t let it stop you from exploring, enjoying your youth, or falling in love. I learned how much is out there, how many people there are to meet. It’s staggering. And once you see it, you’ll never let go of that feeling. I have an explorer’s heart now, and it has changed everything.
2. Women Are Your Best Allies, Even If They Don’t Speak Your Language
My afternoons in Zurich were spent wandering, going to tourist attractions and then eating and drinking in little cafes while I read my kindle. I had one unfortunate incident with an intoxicated man at a café who simply would not leave me alone. I did not want to speak to him and he became belligerent and swore at me. I didn’t speak the language, I was completely alone, and I was at a loss for what to do.
Three Swiss women at the table next to me stood up and surrounded me. They spoke very little English, but I asked if they would walk out with me so I could leave safely. They picked up their things, paid their bill, and walked me back almost all the way to my hotel. And despite the language barrier, they kept repeating this phrase: “female solidarity.” I learned that even when you think you don’t have a friend, you have many. There is a lot of good in the world.
3. Just go.
About a year ago, I lost one of my brothers. Of the four kids in my family, he was the one who lived with the most passion, who saw the most, who did the things his heart told him to do. He lived with his heart first, and I vowed to honor that example. I don’t have words to describe what being on top of Mount Titlis felt like. 10,000 feet in the air, mountains stretching in every direction, farther than the eye could see. It is the only time something has literally taken my breath away. It was the most spiritual experience of my life. And I felt as close to my brother as I could get.
There are a lot of easy excuses, and a lot of reasons to stay at home. It’s easier, for sure. And traveling is tiring and expensive. It’s also one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. It feels trite to talk about how big the world is, how much there is to see. But fortunately, it’s true. Don’t waste another one of your precious days wishing you could see the aurora borealis, hoping you’ll get to go to Prague one day, thinking you’ll travel a lot after you retire. You cannot waste time hoping for things in a future that is unknown and unknowable. If you have chances, you must take them. When the door opens, walk through it. Go.
4. There Are Many Ways To Fall In Love
I spent three unforgettable days in Estepona. I was there for a party celebrating the marriage of a good friend. We climbed to the top of the rock of Gibraltar and a monkey climbed on my head. We drank sangria in the sunshine on the side of a mountain. When you’re that far south in Spain, you look into the distance over the shining blue ocean, and see Morocco in the distance. The kids (those of us under 50) had a bonding experience that we hadn’t experienced since those first heady days of college. We partied the day and night away, with the backdrop of the Costa del Sol glimmering in the sunshine and the flashes from our cameras.
I made new friends at a time in life when that is rare. And I fell in love with them. I fell in love with a new part of the world, and left a piece of myself on the Spanish coast. And then I fell in love with the Alps. I fell in love with traveling. My whole trip was an exercise in falling in love. With people, countries, sights, and sounds. And then I fell in love with myself. I couldn’t believe I had made this happen, that I had the courage to make this trip, that I survived and had done it on my own.
If there is one word I could use to describe this trip, it is this: empowering. Once you start traveling, you’ll never stop. You’ll learn how to survive, and how to put yourself first. You’ll fall in love with the world. And you will fall in love with yourself, the most important lesson for any young woman.
Got a travel tale to share? What have you learned about yourself or the world out on the road? Tell us about it here!
Victoria Santoro is a trial attorney who practices law in Boston. She is also a teacher, speaker, and writer, maintaining her personal blog The Limber Lawyer, and contributing to various legal publications. Victoria is passionate about helping young girls and women not only succeed but also find contentment and purpose. In her free time, she can often be found training or competing for half-marathons and triathlons.
image via balancist.com