The Ways In Which Solo Travel Helped Me Reevaluate My Life

“I was never supposed to be here,” I thought as I opened up the attic window of my boutique hotel room in Paris. The Eiffel Tower was so close I could only see the summit from above the rooftops.

I had just purchased a €4 rosé wine, poured it into a paper cup, and toasted to Paris and to an important personal victory. When the warm wine made its way down my throat, I had an out of body experience- I saw a happy girl who had to fight like hell to get there. 

It might be a cliché, but solo travel does change people. While going to Miami for the weekend might not be life-changing, fully immersing yourself in another culture is.

I found that travel helps you create your own truths: How expensive things are, how far you’re willing to go, or how difficult something is. Rather than hearing about it, you’re experiencing it front row.

At birth we are put into so many categories; Female or male, rich or poor, nationalities, religions. Travel showed me we shouldn’t be forced to live in the category we were put in at birth. Find the path that fits your soul and never conform.

Every time you set foot in a new place, it’s a whole new beginning, no one knows you, you’re free to roam, and your problems seem inconsequential. It makes you brave. I believe everyone carries courage inside, but we need an end goal to spark that courage. Without dreams and obstacles there is no need for braveness.

Women in my family didn’t pack their bags to travel alone

Growing up in a family that placed significant importance to family values and gender roles, not much was expected of me. Women were thought to be the nucleus and strength of the family, yet too frail to venture into the outside world. I was taught that the world was a scary place and best faced in the care of a husband or in the family circle. I always wondered why I wasn’t expected to live an extraordinary life and have adventures all on my own.

I was never quite taken by the idea of gender roles. I remember overhearing countless conversations between grown women of the family about having a clean house and dinner on the table, all as a woman’s obligation, but to me it sounded like basic survival skills all humans needed to know.

It was important to break the barrier and show the younger generation of women in my culture and my family the strength women carried could not only apply to leading a family, but could also extend to the outside world.

Travel is for the rich? I don’t buy it.  

Those who have grown up in a low-income household can understand how ridiculous it would sound to mention you wanted to go to travel the world. In an immigrant household, It was difficult to bring it up as a topic of conversation without hearing, “traveling is for rich people.” Although it’s true as immigrants we’re trying to live the American dream, we are also conscious there are higher priorities than a plane ticket, like buying a house, or car, or accumulating commodities to symbolize worth. 

For a first generation American, travel was a distant goal, something that would be achieved in the long run as a reward for years of hard work, but without guaranteeing it would actually happen.

If money seemed like the only obstacle getting in the way, it seemed like something that could be fixed with the formula I had already been taught by my parents, a little bit of hard work and perseverance. Almost everything can be achieved if we make a plan.

I thought about it from a different approach, every country has more than rich people living in it. Their population consists also of a working class and if they can afford to live, eat, and be social; it shouldn’t be impossible to afford to travel there.

Without money being an obstacle, why couldn’t we do it? If we are meant to live the American dream, and we have nothing to prove, there should be no need to feel guilty for spending. I wanted the message to say, it can be possible to invest in a future without sacrificing experiences.

Finding a new start

Travel couldn’t have come to me at a better time in my life. I was just getting out of a five-year marriage, and no matter how they end, endings are never easy. Once on the other side of world, my troubles and the pain seemed so far away, not only physically but mentally.

I was on my own and for the first time since leaving the shelter of two families. I was at my most vulnerable, but I didn’t see it as a tragedy or my world crumbling. I saw it as an opportunity. It was the perfect time to find new interests, try new foods, and piece myself together, one new country at a time.  

No one knew me. I didn’t have to explain what I was going through. It was a complete freedom and opportunity – rediscovering my love for art, spending hours at a coffee shop, having dinner alone and people watching, admiring architecture, all the while starring in my own movie.

When you’re at your most vulnerable and lost, you must surround yourself with positive stimulation, challenges and the beauty of the world.

Behind braveness lies a dream

After I became the first woman in my family, and my group of friends to travel alone, I was called brave over and over.

But what does me being “brave” really mean? I didn’t feel brave as I didn’t fear getting lost, or people, or being in a strange country. Curiosity and an appetite for life seemed to have triumphed over fear. Setting foot in a place I was not expected to ever go to had a special magic.

Women carry a special braveness inside them that sometimes they don’t even know they have. Braveness is only possible when there’s something waiting on the other side. There are times when travel does get scary or stressful, but when the end goal is to throw a coin into Trevi fountain, or eat french pastries, or sushi in Tokyo, the trouble is worth it.

Sometimes we underestimate how brave we are because we are not sure what the end reward is. 

For me, the need to experience something new, or challenge the traditions and expectations made me brave. I didn’t underestimate my capabilities because I wasn’t going to let fear of the unknown, or hearing it wasn’t safe for women to go alone stop me. But when you want something for so long, or want to challenge a truth, and are passionate about your life, you become brave.

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Mayra Orduno

Chicagoan at heart and world explorer, Mayra fell in love with writing at the age of seven, and travel at the age of twenty-five. Mayra is a hopeless romantic, who can always find a quote or lyric for every occasion. Her favorite book is A Moveable Feast because she believes she belongs in Paris in the 1920s. Cheap wine, street food and live music are some of the hobbies she holds dearest.