I shouldered my backpack, walked off the plane with confidence, and halted. I looked around. And I realized, to my complete and utter horror, that I had no idea what I was doing.
I was alone in a foreign country, with everything I would own for the next seven weeks strapped onto my back in a gigantic black backpack I’d dubbed “Ranger.” Looking around me at the sea of people hurrying through the airport, going towards their destinations as surely as they would walk down the streets in their hometowns, I felt the weight of that backpack settle squarely on my shoulders.
Damn, I thought. I should have packed lighter.
In that one second flash of realization after stepping off the plane, I became aware of just how on my own (and unprepared) I truly was. Panic gripped my chest in an icy fist. I should have planned more, I should have done more research, I thought, standing still as a stone among the flowing waves of people. What am I supposed to do now?
I knew that what I did next would make or break my travel abroad experience. This was a test, given out by life, to see if I would fail or not. I could rise to the occasion, or I could sink. I’d bought the ticket and taken the ride, but now the real journey was about to start.
Gripping the straps of Ranger, I bolted into the nearest bathroom.
Ignoring my fellow travelers, I looked in the mirror at my sleep-deprived—yet optimistic—face, and took a deep breath. That breath seemed to go straight to my soul. Like a cleansing shower after a long, hard workout, that one, simple deep breath cracked through the panic still clutching my chest.
“Ok, Kayla,” I whispered to my reflection. “You need to go get money, then you need to find the tourist office.”
And with that, I forced myself to leave the sanctuary of the bathroom.
Like a person training a puppy, my brain gave me silent commands. Take out $200 at the ATM. Ask the woman at the desk where the bus station is. Make sure you have enough small bills to pay the bus driver exact change.
And with each accomplished task, I grew more confident.
I soon found myself the sole occupant on a bus heading into Dublin city, Ranger propped in the seat beside me like a sentinel. And from that point on, through the rest of the seven weeks I traveled through Ireland, all I felt was excitement.
Many people think that solo travelers possess a type of bravery that is unavailable to anyone else. They think that people who “dare” to travel the world alone must be missing the fear gene that plagues lesser mortals. But this, my friends, is simply not true.
Solo travelers certainly feel fear. One of my personal mottos is to “feel the fear and do it anyway.” Being fearless doesn’t mean that you don’t get scared—it just means that you choose to overcome it.
As a solo traveler, I didn’t always know what I was doing. There were moments when I was completely lost. I had times where I doubted myself, got frustrated, said an embarrassing thing, marked myself as a foreigner. I asked for help more times than I can count. But through it all, I never oncedoubted my decision to travel alone. Even when I locked myself in a hostel bathroom and had to seriously consider either breaking down the door or jumping from the window, I wouldn’t have given up my experience for anything.
We all have doubts. We all have fears. And we all have that moment where these come to a head.
But guess what? We also all have the ability to overcome them.
Kayla Maneen recently got her BFA in Creative Writing and minored in adventure and fun. After graduation, she worked on an organic farm in Ireland and taught English in Italy, and learned all there is to know about chasing sheep and eating long, leisurely meals with family. She is adamant about teens living out their passions and reaching their highest potentials. Always follow that fire in your heart!