Ten-twentytwo in a hostelroom in Philly

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It is odd how close power and vulnerability lie together.

Even though I’m traveling alone, I’m not really traveling alone. It has occurred to me that I often use the term traveling alone the same way I used it when I was 17 years old, fresh out of high school and traveling through Europe, alone with a friend. Alone, meaning that I did not travel with my parents. I wasn’t truly alone though.

I traveled alone to Thailand, Togo, and Tanzania. Sure, I did meet people right away though. How could I not, when I was living and working with them 24/7? So again, I was traveling alone, but never truly by myself.

I pride myself on the fact that I’m doing these things. I do travel alone. I make the plans by myself. I go there, not really expecting to meet new best friends, but people with more or less the same mindset. People I’ve never talked to before. And people I’ve barely talked to since.

This year is different though. Once again I’m traveling alone, but now, sitting in this hostel in Philadelphia, truly alone for the first time in…. forever?! This has a new meaning to me.

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But the real challenge is happening right now. Right here on my bunk bed in an all-girl dormitory in the heart of Philly. Do I dare go out and sit in a restaurant on my own? Hostesses do not badger me to eat at their establishment as they did when I was walking around with another person. I’m just a random girl in a plain T-shirt and holey cotton tote bag, roaming the streets by herself.

Do I dare go and strike up a conversation with the random guy down in the hostel lobby?

Do I dare be by myself and find peace?

Do I dare say, “Screw it!” and make new friends?

I will have to step out of my comfort zone either way, so it’s win-win and lose-lose. It’s both and it’s terrifying and exhilarating. It’s empowering and making me feel vulnerable. It’s thrilling. It’s learning more about myself with every step I take, every word I say. It’s thoughtless words and middle-of-the-night facepalms. It’s my life right now. Right in this second.

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(Authors Note: This was written right where I said it was (in a hostel room in Philly at 10.22pm) but somehow got lost in the incredible amount of blog drafts that piled up over the years.
I ended up going for dinner by myself the next day. I ended up saying ‘screw it’ and got a table for one in the secret garden of a very cute little restaurant, having a lovely chat with the waitress and eating an amazing salad. Thank you, Philly for teaching me so much about myself and my capabilities.)

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Be Brave

I’m in no way an expert, but these are some things I’ve learnt through the years, so bear with me and excuse my rambles.

Know what you want out of your travels.
Do you want to see a city? Do you want to check out every museum there is? That’s cool. Do you want to lie on a beach and jump into the sea whenever you feel like it? That’s cool too. Are you an avid mountaineer? Awesome. Just know beforehand and don’t be disappointed when you might not be able to pack all of the things you want to do into one single trip.

Choose your travel partners wisely.
Traveling can be a real trial of friendship. Choose your partners carefully. Do they want the same things out of the trip as you? What kind of attitude do they have towards other countries and cultures?
If you think that you are too different from each other you might not be happy during your travels if you constantly have to cut back on what you want out of it.
If there are only minor differences, don’t let them deter you. Compromise on some things and you might be surprised to where this will lead you. This leads to my next point:

Embrace the unexpected.
Be spontaneous. Be daring. When can you if not now? Where if not here? Go out and try to see where your limits are. How far can you go? What can you endure and what not?
It’s exhilarating. Scary, yes, but it makes you feel alive.
It’s important to make plans. However, it’s equally important to be flexible enough to let the plans you made go and make new ones at the drop of a hat.

Take care of yourself.
In more than one way. Be careful with your money and who you trust. Get to know your surroundings and get a feel for what is safe to do and what not.
But also, take care of yourself on another level. Say you meet people along the road, you quickly befriend them but then realise you can’t see eye to eye on some things anymore, don’t be afraid to go your own way. In the end you shouldn’t hold back on what you truly want just because of others.
You need to be at peace with your decisions and experiences. If they’re being rude, if their  attitude towards other cultures doesn’t match your own, tell them. If nothing changes, go your own way.

Pack, cut in half, pack again.
So far I’ve never, ever worn all of the clothes I packed for a trip. I always came back home with a couple of still perfectly folded T-shirts or pants which I just never even took out of my suitcase or backpack.
You don’t need much on travels. And you know…. people know how to wash clothes in other countries as well….

Get to know the country you travel to.
What is the religion? How’s the weather? What is the political situation? Learn everything you can before you go there and then learn even more once you’re there. Be open and not afraid to be proven wrong. Being surprised is a wonderful thing.

Talk talk talk.
To natives, to other travelers, to the cook of the roadside restaurant. It doesn’t really matter. Ask questions. Never stop asking even what you might consider to be a stupid question because you will get a whole new experience out of it.
Still, be gentle and aware of cultural differences. Don’t come on too strong and respect the opinions of others.
Try to learn at least a few words and standard phrases in the local language. This will open you doors you’d never expected. People will view you differently. Even small words like “Hello“, “Please“ and “Thank you“ will make a huge difference.
Know when to accept, but also when to challenge and question.

Be patient.
Know that you’re not at home. Things will take time, things will most likely not go as planned but you will get to where you want to be eventually. Don’t stress. There’s no point in complaining that a bus is late or a merchant ripped you off. These things happen. Learn from them, embrace them,

Be open.
Try new things. Eat something you never have before. Reinvent yourself. This is your chance. Take it.