Solo Travel Stretches the Soul
Nkem in South Korea. Hmm, I'd say this is probably the biggest solo travel adventure of my life - well, one of them. There's this notion about solo-travel that it's unsafe or lonely, or that it can be expensive and not as fun as traveling with people. Some of these can be true - I can vouch. See, solo-travel is not for everyone. I'm of the opinion that it requires a specific type of mindset to travel abroad on your own and not want to be Skyping friends and family at home during the entire journey. When I first learned that everything would be just fine if I traveled alone, I was 19 and venturing through Nigeria halfway by myself and halfway with the guidance of family members. Man, I love Nigeria, but with the lack of structure in that country, I always wondered if someone would see past my pressed dashiki and box braids to reveal that I was indeed 'Americanah.' and therefore easily mess-with-able- it would only take them striking a conversation to see this flat American accent. Anyway, I thought that if I could journey through Nigeria on my own, I could journey through anywhere.
All of that is probably what made me feel secure in taking the leap to study abroad in Hong Kong back in 2014 at 20 years old. I had the time of my young life. Prior to moving to Asia the first time around, I'd considered myself an open-minded person, always willing to hear other's stories and continue the growth and betterment of myself. However, I didn't realize how your atmosphere played such a pivotal role in determining how you see the world, and yourself (though it feels like such a duh thought now). Nigeria changed me slightly because I'd simply never been around so many Nigerians of all types before, not just from my tribe. Then, I'd felt more at home than like an outsider, which was a welcomed feeling. While in Hong Kong, and traveling through South East Asia, I felt like an 'other' all the way through. Surprisingly, this is where I learned that I thrive. I am of the, probably unpopular, opinion that the more we put ourselves in circumstances where we feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, the easier it becomes for us to learn (through trial and error) how to navigate out of those feelings rooted in insecurity and lack of sense-of-self. I also learned that once we're able to bury these feelings, we can begin to see others and ourselves in the same way - as humans, sharing a human experience. No, I don't think everyone is the same, but I think we share pretty obvious commonalities that we can relate to one another on. Ah, the beauty of life and relationships. I can't tell you how many times I've met someone through my travels who became a best friend within three hours, and an estranged one within 72 - but I'll save that for another post.
So traveling alone doesn't have to be lonely, because you meet blessed people along the way - some you may even call good friends for years to come. But I think the best relationship found or built while solo-traveling is the relationship with yourself. I've never been the type to avoid being alone for fear of having to listen to my thoughts, or not having any companionship, but I can certainly understand that feeling. I think there's a reason they say we only use 10% of our brains; when we accumulate 85% of thoughts and ideas and worries, that mere 10% just won't contain it. Taking a trip alone is such a good way to clear our minds of clutter, things that don't matter, unnecessary stresses and burdens. The fact is, when you expose yourself to a society that's so different from your own, you gain perspective on the things that matter in life. That's not to say everyone should visit a rural village in a developing country, but any place other than home will change the way you see the world and yourself, hopefully bringing you closer to you.
Because of so much traveling on my own, and sometimes with only a few friends, I feel like I've changed in such subtle ways, but ways that still have a dynamic impact on future-me. I have fewer expectations for new people and experiences, because I've learned that the less you expect, the higher the chances are for you to be wowed. I've also become attuned to people's personal stories. This could make me pretty nosy in the wrong setting, but I find that most people aren't shy about sharing intimate details, they're just not used to it. Once that human-to-human trust is built, it's like a dam is broken. I have also become slightly besotted with foreign culture and how that impacts respective societies. It's so hard to see what people on the other side of the world are doing and why they might be doing it when you're sitting there on your bed in your hometown. I've been there, just tapping at the itch to travel again, until I made the choice to scratch it.
So I'm here, in South Korea on what I think might be the journey of a lifetime - but let me just manage these expectations. (;