When I set out for Europe at 20 years old, I didn’t know I could make it on my own. I was surprised how solo travel prepared me to advocate for myself in life. When I traveled alone, I was faced with central decisions. Where would I eat, drink and sleep? Decision-making muscles got exercised, since I’d escaped my habits and routines. I chose, I acted, I succeeded or failed, and then I made the next choice. Communicating with strangers, I’d follow through to reach my goal of a cafe con leche or a hostel for the night. Through practice, I learned who I was and what I wanted.
New customs for eating and sleeping made me rethink what I’ve always done. In Spain, mealtimes were 8 am light breakfast, 2 pm hearty lunch and 9 pm moderate dinner. My stomach registered great surprise at these changes, but adapted after four months. New foods tempted my palate; I learned to love tortilla española, (potato and onion omelette), flan, and calamares (fried squid). I adapted to the new menu, to the afternoon siesta, and to planning my days. I learned how to express what I wanted with hand gestures, Pictionary, or written numbers, when I didn’t know the words.
Life is for the brave. When we know we can travel, feed and house ourselves without friends’ or relatives’ help; that feeling of competence leads to confidence. We can decide, and we can move on when we don’t get what we want and choose anew. I wish that for everyone; go somewhere new and show yourself how capable and courageous you are.