Amy Roberts: A broad abroad
December 1, 2017
Over the past couple decades, I've had the same conversation hundreds of times. It goes something like this:
"I'm going on a vacation."
"Where are you going?"
I provide a tentative location, which is always followed by:
That trip liberated me. It singlehandedly put me on a lifelong path I didn’t even know I was interested in pursuing.
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"Who are you going with?"
This answer usually results in a look of equal parts concern and confusion, and then the question: "Why?"
The natural assumption is that I have no one to travel with. Sometimes that's true. Not everyone finds my destinations desirable or affordable. And for many of my friends, vacation time is far too precious to be spent hacking through a Rwandan rainforest hoping to spot a mountain gorilla. Understandably, they prefer sun, sand, and fruity drinks served with paper umbrellas over the strong possibility of malaria.
But more often than not, the reason I travel solo is because I choose to. Without question, traveling alone is the most rewarding thing I've ever done. Anyone who does it will tell you it's made them more independent, confident, and resourceful. Traveling alone is empowering. It forces you to problem-solve, trust your gut and adapt. The last 20 years of solitary globetrotting has given me moments of self-reflection and clarity. It's fostered courage and resilience. All of which have come in quite handy in the times I'm not on vacation.
My experiences traveling have made me strong enough leave toxic relationships and assertive enough to negotiate for more. They've given me the assurance take risks, take charge and take aim at what I want. I've also become more compassionate, grateful, and curious. And most importantly, I've stopped limiting myself.
The first time I traveled alone was in 1999, and it was largely by accident. I was in my early 20s, fresh out of college, and started reading Ernest Hemingway novels because I thought doing so would make me look intriguing. Immediately after finishing The Snows of Kilimanjaro I was on the phone with a travel agent. I simply had to climb that mountain.
I managed to, at least temporarily, talk a friend into going with me. We booked our tickets and I started walking with ankle weights to train for the climb. But two days before we were due to leave, my friend bailed. She'd met a boy and he talked her into a romantic vacation in Cancun instead.
It turned out, having an easily influenced friend was a blessing. With just a couple days before departure, it was too late to find another travel companion, and there was no way I was going to cancel after all that ankle-weight walking. I was going to Tanzania alone, and I don't think I would have done so had I not originally assumed I'd have company.
I was scared for sure. But l learned to overcome that fear. I met people from all over the world, many of whom I'm still friends with today. I doubt I would have made the effort if I'd had someone familiar to talk to. That trip liberated me. It singlehandedly put me on a lifelong path I didn't even know I was interested in pursuing. Once I realized I could travel to Africa by myself, climb one of the seven summits, alter my itinerary on a whim, and not get suckered by baggage handlers/taxi drivers/goat herders, I was both changed and hooked.
Going away with family, friends or a boyfriend can be meaningful too. But it's different when the memories are shared and not yours alone. I never grow as much when I travel with others. So I commit to at least one solo trip each year.
This year's trip was last week. I went to Uruguay. I rented a car and drove around the country, stopping where I wanted, doing what I wanted, eating what I wanted. There were some challenges to be sure — including a flat tire at dusk in place where I had no cell reception and English was as unspoken as Arabic. My money, my passport, everything I had with me was in that car. I could hear the Dateline theme music starting to play and Lester Holt's intro: "Unaccompanied in Uruguay. A scenic road trip turns into a missing person mystery. Does this pothole hold any clues?"
Right before Lester threw it to a commercial, I shut down these thoughts and reminded myself that because I had two decades of experience figuring it out in foreign countries, I could handle this situation. And so I did.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.