How to Travel Alone

By: Fahad Alden, Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Well-being Leader

Have you ever reached a point where you feel like – crap, I just need to change something or get out of here? Or maybe you are not sure which is the right way forward because you have started feeling as if you are constantly losing yourself. Or you are burning to step out of your monotony and have a life-changing experience for a week, two, or more.

Sound familiar? But yeah, you might be thinking, how about work? Doing this may not pay the bills unless you can take paid leave! However, it will do something much greater – it will save your sanity.

Trust me, before you say you can’t afford to spend time due to your hectic schedules, just understand how important it is. Let me give you an example, and brace yourselves – it is one of my life’s most essential and awakening moments. 

Storytime – One evening, I visited the library after work and used the bathroom. I realized my inner feelings were flooding out as I looked into the mirror. Indeed, I didn’t plan to face myself that evening, but it just happened. I noticed how my inner emotions were reflecting towards the outside. Acne started covering my face, the bags under my eyes became more evident, and my T-shirt seemed too tight. You know those moments when you feel horrible (even though that’s not the case, and the mirror just shows you that?  . But when I looked into the mirror, I also kind of felt like that wasn’t me. Like I was inhabiting someone else’s body – super shocking moment. What’s happening to me? Because, like every human being, deep inside, I just wanted to be happy.. Instead, I was slipping away. 

Then it dawned on me, I needed to find my happiness! So, I started recollecting my thoughts about what brought me joy – movies, fashion, travel, and museums. And the common thing that binds them all together was it was all centered in New York.  

And this is how I began my journey. I feel lucky enough because I found a solution to calm my stress and anxiety – I found myself before I was about to lose myself. The quest for oneself is probably one of the only topics less popular than the quest for the truth. Books and movies have all exploited this concept and introduced one of the best ways to find ourselves. Of course, as you’ve gathered from my Captain Obvious hint, it is through travel. This might seem a simple task, except for the concept of self. But believe me, you never know if your assumption of yourself is true until you truly find yourself. As confusing as this sounds, it is the most beautiful and gratifying experience.

So what were my takeaways from the trip? How did I find myself?

  • Learning to trust ME boosts confidence

Travel cuts you from the routine of everyday life. You can plan a trip however you want and just be with yourself – it prepares you for life. Often I get a lot of unsolicited advice from everyone around me, and in that moment, I felt like – excuse me, who the hell asked you? I’m sure that you do, too; super annoying right? And because of this, I often felt pulled by what people said. I needed to start listening to my own voice more, and during one of these memorable trips to New York, I realized how to trust myself. Every decision was on my own terms. It was me who decided where I wanted to eat, where I wanted to go, and who I should talk to. 

One of the instances I will never forget is when I was at a gas station. An older man entered a convenience store, grabbed a sweatshirt, and made a run for it. He was confronted, and eventually, the cashiers beat him up. I watched all this happening near the scarf section; I was wearing a turtleneck and an Iraqi necklace. I was trying to blend in, but I am sure I didn’t. It even escalated to the point when the older man started screaming at  cashiers that he was going to kill them. The entire situation was frightening, but it taught me to listen to trust my instincts more than ever. Surprisingly, such scary, this-is-the-real-stuff-and-not-a-movie experiences change your perspective and boosts your confidence.

  • The Value of Connection

While safety was always my top priority while traveling, it made me realize the world was, after all, not a bad palace to be in. When people realized I was  alone, their perspective toward me changed.. Initially, I felt terrified at conversing with a stranger, but believe it or not, it wasn’t as dangerous as I thought. Forget about all of that negativity you see on the news, movies, and the vibes you get from your frenemies. There are more good people on this planet than you realize!

For example, one such instance is when I was waiting for a bus for more than 30 minutes. I was a bit sleep deprived and hungry. But I met a woman around my age and just checked with her if I was at the right place. Then the Brazilian woman next to me started chatting with me. As more time passed, we all started discussing. The younger one was named Palak, and the Brazilian woman was Priscilla. As more time passed, I called customer service and was told that the bus driver won’t come in as he was unwell. Then eventually, I rechanged my ticket. I also helped Priscilia as she was struggling to make phone calls due to language barrier issues. 

We got smoothies from Mcdonalds  nearby and waited for some more time. Then we all connected and laughed with one another. Our conversation continued all on the bus and for the next four hours on the bus.

 Imagine laughing with complete strangers and having the best time! It was a light and beautiful moment. It taught me there is always an element of beauty when we connect. Often we get so fixated on our lives that we never attempt moving out of our comfort zones (yes, I’m talking about those toxic people that keep flying in and out of your life) and making new friends. This was a super random conversation with random people, and I will definitely treasure it forever. 

I have noticed this is one of the issues in smaller towns too. Everyone would want to hang out with people they already know and avoid branching out. So when I traveled alone to a big city, I connected confidently with strangers and people around me. Getting out of your comfort zone means you are probably about to try something new, something exciting, or about to be challenged in a way that will develop and strengthen you.

  • Embracing Solitude 

I think for a lot of us our careers require us to be around other people all day. I think sometimes on trips we get bogged down by talking to everyone around us- we lose sight of our surroundings.  For me, I strayed away from even taking a great deal of pictures and just fully soaked everything in. I think the best memory comes to my mind is when I was in central park  where I began dancing like there was no care in the world.  I started channeling my Inner Charlie Puth “how long has this been going” music video. I was walking on benches and rocks all throughout the park. I was fully in the moment.

I would say embrace growth, dive deep into uncertainty, and even see fear as a positive thing.  

We are often guilty of masking our emotions and burying our heads in the sand. So sometimes, there are things we don’t want to admit to ourselves  or situations we are too scared to work through. In this case, traveling gave me time to get to know every corner of myself. You get to look beyond yourself – one second, you live in pure happiness; the next, you are frustrated, just to be incredibly happier after that again. When I traveled, I admitted things that I had been covering up and denying for a long time. I also noticed a change in my look; I started feeling  bold, and more confident than ever!

Trust me, the moment you face everything you are and everything you feel, you gain the ability to become the best version of yourself.

I hope my experience will be an eye-opener for you and that you will come out exploring yourself before it gets too late. For more inspiration, follow me on Spotify @fahaddurdenalden, and look out for the season!