People travel alone for various reasons. Some are running away from something. Some are on a spiritual journey. Some are trying to find themselves. In all honesty, I had never actually planned to travel alone. It wasn't a part of any bucket list or what I longed to do. It just kind of happened. None of my friends were able to travel with me (for various reasons) and although I love my parents dearly I declined their offer to accompany me. I had my heart set on a certain kind of vacation and I wasn't going to depend on anyone else to make that wish come true.
I chose Placencia, Belize because it was a country where everyone spoke English and the American dollar was accepted with a conversion rate that could be easily done in your head. As a first time solo traveler, I felt these things would be beneficial and allow me to feel more comfortable. I wanted to be smart about this and ease the minds of my friends and family
who were all a little wary of my decision.
As I stepped onto the curb of KCI at 4:45 am, after only 3 hours of sleep, I looked back at my dad and said "Well, here goes nothing." His response, "No baby, here goes everything." I was filled with so many emotions. Anxiety, fear, happiness, love, appreciation, longing, worry. I had never traveled anywhere on my own, let alone to another country. What if my bags get stolen? What if my passport doesn't work? Or I miss my connecting flight? How will I know where to go? Who will I talk to? What if I need help? These were all thoughts that popped into my head while waiting to board. Before I could hesitate though, it was time to go.
The overwhelming urge to cry hit me as we reached 30,000 feet. I had never in my 28 years of life spent my birthday alone. I mean completely, 100% alone. No friends. No family. I would know no one. In hindsight, the need to cry most likely came from a combination of lack of sleep, a small hangover from the concert the night before and the realization that I was about to embark on a journey completely unbeknownst to me but nevertheless, the lump in my throat remained there for the remainder of the flight. Not exactly how you want to spend your birthday. But what else could I do? I was halfway to Atlanta. There was no turning back.
After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally in Belize. All that remained was another little hopper flight and I would be in paradise. By this time I was so mentally and physically exhausted (sleep was not coming easy on these flights) that I didn't care where I was or who I was with, I was just ready to be at my final destination. After chatting with a man on the hopper flight, I was given a lift to my AirBNB, settled into my apartment for the week and took a deep breath. Reality set in. I had done it.
My time spent in Belize was like a life detox. If I didn't want to talk to anyone, I didn't have to. I would just turn off my wifi. If I was hungry, I ate. If I was tired, I napped. If I wanted to drink a cocktail on the beach, that is exactly what I did. I tried new food, I read, I relaxed, I allowed myself to think and consider things in my life. Time was slowed down. There was no hurry to do anything. I walked or bicycled everywhere I went, forcing me to really see my surroundings and take them in. Every person that I passed on the sidewalks or streets spoke to me and was interested in my story. People were kind and helpful. Almost everyone I met seemed to genuinely enjoy their lives.
Traveling alone forces you out of your comfort zone and out of the zone of expectations others have put you in. In a small community like Placencia, it is very apparent that you are alone and a little out of place. However, I never felt afraid or unsafe during my time there (except for the time a boa crossed the road in front of me on my way home from dinner and a few nights
later a tarantula -- EEK). Coming from a place like Kansas City, where I can hardly go anywhere without knowing a least one person to a foreign country where I know absolutely no one, I had to put myself out there and strike up conversations. Out of all the locals I spoke to during my stay, very few had actually heard of Kansas City. So we would trade stories about what life is
like in each other's worlds, allowing me to gain a little perspective.
When I first told people that I was traveling alone, the majority thought that I was insane. A few even tried to persuade me to change my plans. Being a young, blonde, white, American woman traveling alone made most everyone I told nervous to say the least. But there were a handful of people who told me I was brave, that they admired me, or they could never do that.
While I would love to tell you that I had some amazing revelation about my life or an epiphany of some sort, the truth is I did not. What traveling alone did for me was much simpler. It made me want to play a game of backgammon with my dad and go shopping with my mom. It made me want to see my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents more often. It made me miss my students and friends because I was excited to share my experience with them. It made me evaluate my life and my happiness. It made me feel a sense of wonder, appreciation and love.
Solo traveling was a wonderful experience that I wouldn't hesitate to do again. In fact, it sparked my interest in several other countries and I've already been researching new destinations. Before you decide to travel alone though, there are some things I would recommend. Make sure you are going somewhere that you will feel comfortable. Not every place is for every person. Do your research. There is nothing worse than feeling lost in a place that is already unfamiliar territory. Not to mention, it's a big target to be wandering around with a scared and confused look on your face. Be open to learning about new cultures. If you enter another country with arrogance, it is likely you won't be welcome or enjoy your time nearly as much. Talk to people. Look for other solo travelers. Put yourself out there.
Lastly, carry yourself through the experience with confidence. Most people won't even go to a restaurant to eat without a companion let alone travel to another country.
Put the "what ifs" to rest and stop letting fear hold you back. This would has a lot of amazing things to experience so stop making excuses and go witness them for yourself!
Mackenzie Smith is the Assistant Director and Pre K teacher in western Shawnee. Born and raised in Mission, Ks she is a true Kansas City girl. If she is not at home curled up with a book you can find her out and about amongst friends sharing appetizers, cocktails and stories! She would love to devote more time to writing and more creative projects in the future.