Coffee with a view- my hotel room the morning after the night of the panic attack.
When I was 18 I went travelling for three months. Growing up I’d always known I wanted to take a gap year and seek the sun, surf and freedom that travelling provides, but I just didn’t know who to go with. I have a few best friends that I’ve pretty much always had, but their lives were on different tracks, and anyway I’m sure they won’t mind me saying that we’re not the type of people to spent every hour of every day together for an extended period of time.
So it was in this way that I ended up going solo. I wasn’t nervous- I’ve always been reasonably independent and when I set my mind to something there’s no doubting that it’ll happen. My mum and stepdad dropped me off at Plymouth bus depot- on the same day that my school friends were starting freshers week at uni- with a hand luggage-size suitcase, a back-packer-style rucksack and my camera swinging round my neck, my mind full of expectation and a beautiful naivety that would barely last to the service station.
The trip was without a doubt the most eye-opening period of my admittedly short life.
There were times (my first night away- a hotel room in Hong Kong, frantically Skyping mum, jet lag ridden and mid-panic attack) where I thought I couldn’t do it. Times when I was fed up of the voice inside my head, constantly over-thinking everything and talking myself out of situations that a less anxiety plagued friend would have easily been able to talk me into.
But then a wonderful thing happened.
I learnt to find strength within that inner-voice, while listening to it when it mattered and controlling it when I needed to. I learnt to trust myself, follow my instincts, learn from my mistakes without blaming anyone else, and have an absolute resolve in my own ability to do anything. Yeah, I checked my passport a hundred times on the bus to Heathrow. Yeah, I had to ask a lot of strangers to take my photo in front of views that I could have been sharing with someone, but you know what? Sharing something beautiful with yourself is so special; you’re the only person that has that memory, and I think that’s pretty cool.
You’re also going to make more friends when you go solo, instead of just falling out with the ones you’ve come travelling with. There’s nothing worse than that couple who won’t talk to anyone else on holiday, or the group of girls that make you feel excluded in the hostel. I made so many amazing friends from all over the world, who taught me so much, and whom I’ll never forget.
The world isn’t always as horrible as we make it out to be.
My mum left home and went travelling alone when she was in her early twenties, and ended up living in Saudi Arabia, working and travelling for most of the decade. She trusts me a damn sight more now that she’s seen that I can go it alone too, and I’m proud that I can be just as strong and independent as her.
My gap year changed my life in that where I used to have an itch to travel, I now have a full-blown, flame-red rash. I go without things other girls my age spend their student loan on- a new phone or weekly nights out- and I travel as much as I can. Planning trips, researching the best places to hang out, but also just exploring and getting lost… I love everything that comes hand-in-hand with having being bitten by the bug, and my permanently itchy feet have become a necessary and enriching part of my life.
So go forth and get lost, and please don’t be afraid to do it alone.