These past 8 months the lessons have been many. Some were difficult to learn, others funny, and some just downright embarrassing. Nevertheless, I survived my first 8 months abroad traveling solo and came away with many lessons. Here are the ten things I know for sure now, having taken this journey.
1. We can get by on waaayyyyy less than we think we can
This one took me a little while to learn, I’d say the first 2 months or so into the trip. I had saved for this and had mixed feelings about what would happen when the funds ran out. My life at home the year prior was planned to a T (any other type A’s out there?) and I always had a way to cover my expenses with change to spare. Asia? Not so much.
Spoiler alert: the funds did run out. But I survived anyway, making do on a shoestring budget on multiple occasions. There were many days where I survived on less than US$10. Yes, you read right. $5 hostel, free breakfast, $1 papaya salad with sticky rice for lunch and $1 pad thai for dinner.
2. We are stronger than we know
When being strong is the only choice you have then that’s exactly what you have to do. There were moments along the way when I thought for sure I’d fall apart. Like the time I arrived in Manila to discover my Scotiabank card was blocked, there were unplanned charges on my CIBC account and a subscription I paid for through PayPal was charged leaving me penniless and at the mercy of the heavens. Did I mention this was after a long day of travel? Nevertheless, I survived it along with many other faith-testing moments. I keep telling myself they’ll make for fun reading when the book is done.
3. We all need a support system
Solo travel can be lonely, especially if you’re an introvert. In those moments when I felt most alone and like I couldn’t continue I depended on the support of friends and family back home. Granted, with an 11-13 hour time difference this sometimes proved challenging but whenever I called there was almost always someone there to offer a word of encouragement or talk to me in patwa so I felt a little less alone on this new continent. (Don’t underestimate the power speaking in your mother tongue and being understood to lift your mood.)
4. Money doesn’t last as long as you think it should & budgets are almost always wrong
Rookie mistake: Visit South Africa, Japan and South Korea first on a trip to Southeast Asia. I had been warned but I was not prepared. Japan devoured probably a third of my budget and I was only there 12 days.
To give you some perspective, my entire budget for a month in Vietnam was what I spent in Japan on hotels in a week. But we live and learn. In project management we’re taught that initial budgets are almost always wrong and things don’t take the time you think they will. I lived this firsthand.
5. Things truly always work out
If it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end. This is another truth I had to learn the hard way. There were so many near (and actual) misses – from canceled hotel reservations to almost missing 8-hour bus rides and buying airline tickets I didn’t end up using (I’ll talk about that time I accidentally overstayed my visa in another post) – but every single time, it worked out, just in the nick of time. And that’s the story of life.
6. Our bravery inspires others to be brave
There have been so many instances where people I didn’t expect reached out to me to offer words of encouragement or to tell me how they feel like they can conquer their own personal life challenges because I went ahead and did this crazy thing. They felt braver simply by observing my own act of bravery. In fact, it was Marianne Williamson who said, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Well ain’t that the truth Marianne!
7. Being Jamaican is truly unlike anything else
This one may cause some eye-rolling from non-Jamaicans but hear me out. Being Jamaican has trumped my being Black in every single country I’ve been to. Whether it’s the non-English speakers who know every word of every Bob Marley song (including the ones most of us don’t know), strangers pleading for me to teach them Jamaican dance moves (picture me teaching a Thai how to fling shoulder and puppy tail when I myself haven’t mastered it), or the many requests for me to ‘speak Jamaican’, we have without a doubt charmed the world. Our Jamaican-ness has a gravitational pull that is unmatched, and I basked in every bit of it!
8. People are the same wherever you go
Maya Angelou was on to something when she declared, “We are more alike than we are un-alike.” Despite cultural and other differences I believe we are all the same at our core. To be human is universal and that has never been more apparent to me than during my travels. The capacity for compassion, the willingness to help, the warmth of a smile – those things transcend language, race, and culture. Sadly, the not-so-nice stuff also exists universally – like the bike taxi in Hoi An who quoted me 200,000 Dong for a bike ride I later paid 12,000 Dong for! True story. But as with everything else, we must take the good with the bad.
9. Biases prevent us from loving
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” another quote from another wise woman, Mother Theresa. The media often creates a version of distant cultures that leaves us with many untested biases.
Without firsthand knowledge we rely on these stories that often demonize other people and make relating difficult. While in South Africa (which is not all jungles, wild animals and people in loin cloths by the way) I chatted up locals who were not at all different from me; In Asia I broke naan and ate Nassi Kandar with Muslims, spent afternoons with Hindus in Bali, and was rescued by the kindness of a Muslim woman while semi-stranded at the airport in Malaysia (I’m saving that story for the book, so don’t ask). In each instance, by ignoring biases and being open to engaging, I made friends who I still communicate with and will no doubt visit on my next trip to Asia.
10. Vulnerability is not weakness
This is by far the toughest lesson I had to learn in my 8 months of solo travel. As an independent, self sufficient introvert asking for help was difficult. I had to learn to accept help without feeling like there’s something wrong with me for needing it. Interestingly, what I discovered was that my friends wanted to and were very happy to help. I’m still the stubborn self-sufficient introvert I was before, but now I’m a little more comfortable asking for help and being honest about my needs.
This journey is ongoing. We’ve only just closed out chapter one. But the lessons I’ve learnt so far will definitely serve me well in chapter 2. I invite you to join me for the rest of the ride.