It’s dark. I’m opening my eyes. Darkness. I’m closing them. It’s 3 am in the morning and I’m awake. Only two days to go and then I’m off to my four-month-solo-trip across the US. Like a misguided firework my thoughts are racing colourfully and burning through the room. Flying against the wall of boundless euphoria, jumping back and staggering against the opposite wall of fear and doubt. My heart is skating on a lake of nerves. What have I done? I start grinning. The best and craziest thing I could ever do. I’m fulfilling my life’s dream. I could dance. Then I only jump up because I get nauseous.
Which feelings are still normal or right? Should I leave everything and run away or throw away everything and stay? Why am I suddenly not happy anymore? Will I really gonna make it?
Here comes a dash of courage, rumbling against the bow of Panic-Titanic. For all of you who are planning on a long, far or great trip – alone or together.
I have to cry a little bit when I hug my boyfriend and my best friend at Düsseldorf Airport in front of the security checkpoint. It’s seven in the morning. Outside in front of the high glass windows are darkness and fog. Exactly what’s in my head, too. Mixed together with cotton wool and chocolate sprinkles to a cocktail called “Travelkiller”. Only few minutes later I pass a barrier, climb some steps and walk around the corner. As soon as I am sure, that no once can see me anymore, I kneel down in the middle of the corridor to touch the cold, marble floor. From now on, you’ll be completely alone for four months. Point of no return. Let’s go! That’s what I say to myself quietly. Then I push off, swaying elegantly under the weight of my carry-on backpack and walk towards the gates.
Being able to make a great journey is a privilege. Not everyone has the chance to do it in terms of time and money. Friends, family and strangers either melt into enthusiasm or freeze with worry and head-shaking. In some words, envy resonates. Furthermore, pictures of instagramers jumping around on beaches are crossing your mind like hail. The consequence: Pressure increases. It has to be perfect. It has to feel perfect. As on all those pictures. Just like everyone will expect. Just as I expect myself!
The first comments are already waiting for their sarcastic entry: “You knew before that you were leaving your partner, your family and friends behind. Are you stupid or what?”, “You’ve been working towards it forever and now all of a sudden you remember that you’re afraid of being alone for so long?”, “We knew it from the beginning that this was a crackpot idea!”
Everything inside of you is screaming: “Yes, that’s right! I’m not allowed to have doubts now!” I’m telling you what: “YOU ARE ALLOWED!”
You are probably so intensely involved in your planning that you have forgotten what you are actually doing: You have made a huge decision. You didn’t just buy a new TV or go to the beach with friends for two days. You saved money, took courage, did research, felt crazy and free, booked hostels, looked out for health insurance, applied for visas, made vaccinations, maybe quit your job or even gave up your flat. Please read this twice and tell me who would NOT get nervous about that! Some people get into crisis when their toaster is not set to the right level in the morning. You are absolutely allowed to freak out because you soon don’t even have a toaster anymore.
What I’m telling you is that your fears are more than normal. Changes always mean stress for people. Positive or negative. Usually both. Don’t pressure yourself.
Anticipation is only half of your trip. The other half is simply an occasional acute medium crisis. Accept it as something natural and don’t let it chase and buffalo you. Remember, how often you’d been nervous before a final exam or your driving test – and in the end you did it and passed it. Nervousness and fear are our companions in great things and changes in life. Do not panic but take them by the hand and go ahead with them.
As it’s said, you often only really miss things when they are gone. Half a year before my trip I showed my friends maps by talking about my trip in excitement. One month before I met some of them for a quick coffee. No matter how close my departure came, they were still there. But then it can go fast all of a sudden. Like a water inrush, you realize that you won’t have them around you for the next couple of weeks and months. There is nothing to sugarcoat about.
Here again, I want to tell you that it’s human to miss somebody. If you wouldn’t miss, it would say a lot about the importance of your friendships. Our generation is lucky enough to be contactable almost always and everywhere because of the Internet, mobile phones and tablets. Imagine if you’d been traveling in the 80s. Of course, nobody can hug you through Skype and nobody can hold your hand or screwdriver if you have a car breakdown in the middle of nowhere.
However, there is at least three good news against the bad news of missing people: 1. You will survive it, 2. It will make you incredibly strong and self-confident (which you will only notice a few months later), 3. You will see a change in the meaning of your bonds after your return. You will appreciate them in a way you did not know before – even if you do already love and miss them. Be surprised!
My goodness, this beach is so white! The turquoise waves are thundering against the shore and I’m almost stepping on a pink shell. Carmel-by-the-Sea, Highway 1, California, USA. I close my book, throw it into my backpack and drive back to my Airbnb. I feel like a crushed and dried flower. In paradise. Today is my shite-I’m-so-lonely-day!
At that time I felt miserable – also because I no longer could understand myself. Today I know that it is inevitable not to feel lonely during a far or long trip. It does not depend on the beauty of the landscape or city around you. I haven’t felt lonely for almost two months, because being alone has never been a big deal to me. But then it even happened to me! If you are scared of feeling lonely, I’ve got some tried and testes tips for you:
1. Look out for lodgings where you will meet other people. Some prefer hostels with several beds, others like Couchsurfing and the third one likes a private room in an Airbnb apartment, where also the host and his family lives.
2. Check out or ask at various travel groups on Facebook or at Couchsurfing to find out who is also currently traveling around your area. Many people are looking for other travelers to join them for excursions and sightseeing. I got to know really great people by doing this and had awesome experiences with total strangers who became friends afterwards.
3. Deliberately go to busy places and treat yourself to something like an extra large pizza, ice cream, a boat trip or a deck chair right on the shore. Just treat yourself because you are depressed and deserve it!
4. The opposite: Do not go out on purpose. I made the mistake of expecting myself to enjoy every day to the fullest just because “I went all the way to see the city/beach/forest”. But on long and far journeys you have to take a break. Lie down in bed for a day or several days, watch TV, order food and just have a good time with your gray mood. But be careful: Don’t get lost in it. Go back to point 3 after you had some days off!
5. Make appointments with friends and family for phone calls or video chats. So you can look forward them and maybe do something nice before to report about it.
If you panic before departure, it’s very important to be aware of something: You can stop and fly home at any time. It’s no reason to be ashamed when you realize all this isn’t for you in the end. But first you have to go.
Before my trip, I thought I could easily travel around the world by myself for a year. But that was not true. After four months abroad I was happy to get back home. So I found out that my next long term (solo) travels will probably be limited by three months. And that’s fine!
Have courage and accept your fears. They are present and there is no traveler who hasn’t already felt them. Give them some room, but don’t let them hold you back. Going on a far and long journey (alone) is a big decision. A lot could go wrong. But canceling a long-planned trip is an equally big decision. It might be the best damn thing you’ll ever do, even if it does not feel like it right now.
If you would like to read more about my trip across the US, what I experienced, what I felt and went through, don't hesitate to have a look at my travel diary from 4 months in the US as a female solo traveler!