I spent all my summers mostly in Malaysia. Every June, I will leave with my grandmother for about two weeks to stay with family based in Kuala Lumpur. I had a cousin my age (15 back then) named Herina, who lived there. We would spend our time together because we loved and enjoyed similar things. On one particular summer, it was really hot and we were really bored because there was little we could do other than hang around the house.
After about a week, we ran out of all the things we could do. I was pretty timid at 15 but Herina was not. She had always been stubborn, but well-meaning. Somehow, she convinced me to get on a bus to her old home about a three-hour ride away.
Easing into Travelling
The trip barely spanned a day but till date, it is one of my favourite memories of travelling – of seeing an old place that seems somehow new. I remembered talking to Herina about travelling in the future and seeing the world together. After that summer, we took little day trips together around Malaysia, as a practice of sorts for bigger future travel plans.
In many ways, this simple getaway sparked my desire to constantly be on the move and be hungry to see more. Even today, continents away, I am always thinking about the river Herina and I ran off to in the wee hours of the morning. The thrill of going somewhere, no matter the distance, is always fulfilling and when I think about where it all started, it always makes me smile.
As I grew older, I grew even more interested in travelling, especially on my own. It was difficult at first to get familiar with the idea of travelling alone but of all the decisions I made in life, solo travel is the most rewarding.
Having completed my A-levels at 18, I was adamant about travelling on my own before the start of my tenure in university. I always wanted to travel solo but had reservations due to my fearful and shy nature. I love seeing new places and having new experiences but more often than not, I couldn’t do it alone. Getting myself out of my comfort zone took pure courage and eventually, I signed myself up for a three-month solo trip around Europe.
The first couple of days was torturous.
I had nobody to turn to and I was completely uprooted from the comfort of family and friends, having to fend for myself in a foreign country. My first stop was Paris and then Switzerland. It was even more difficult as I did not speak the common tongue and it took away the little semblance of self-confidence that I had. I was miserable and I was not sure if I made the right decision to travel alone. What was I doing in the middle of the Swiss Alps on my own?
Lesson #1: Ease yourself into anything new and do not push yourself too hard.
Thankfully, after about a week of being sad with my lonesome, I decided that I had to take charge and pull myself out of my own misery. I took part in social activities in my hostel, approached strangers with an open mind and in time, I became braver. I figured that since nobody knew me, even if I made a fool out of myself, it did not matter. Once that sunk into my mind, there was nothing that could stop me! I was being true to myself with no reservations and for the first time, I truly felt like myself.
Travelling alone was good for my psyche too. I could go at my own pace – if I felt social, I could simply join any social activities available in the area. If I feel like I need time alone, I can do that as much as I want to thanks to the privacy I have. I learnt to trust my instincts and grew more comfortable being myself in a place that is unfamiliar.
Acquiring self-love through travelling
Growing up as an overweight kid with dark skin and big hair, it was difficult to love myself. I was never satisfied with how I looked and how it made me feel. It got better as I grew older. I was more comfortable with fixing my hair at the salon and embellishing myself with make-up, but it was still not enough.
The thing about travelling alone is that when you are out of your comfort zone, all you do is venture into new territory. You learn more about yourself and who you are. It may sound cliché but it is true to a certain extent. When you take yourself away from a familiar environment, you make do.
I learned more about myself than I ever could if I had just let myself be comfortable with my surroundings. Travelling alone allowed me to have a wider perspective and a better understanding of others and myself. I learnt that there is no concrete definition of beauty. You learn to see yourself as your own person, different and strangely beautiful.
Lesson #2: Self-love is acquired in time, with practice and understanding.
Discerning the importance of putting yourself first
As a solo traveller, one of the most important things you gain is discerning how imperative it is to care for yourself. Having nobody around to spoon feed you information or remind you of your daily necessities, you grow to be more responsible over yourself. For me, taking up solo travel at 18 encouraged me to be independent and accountable for my mistakes.
Lesson #3: Always put yourself first and be responsible for you.
When you travel alone, the only person you truly rely on is yourself. You become more conscious of the consequences of your actions and you grow out of your old self. It is rather easy to simply note that: solo travel equals growth.
While solo travel gives you space and a peaceful mind, it instils qualities within you that can, in time, become powerful tools for the self. Personally, having travelled on my own since I was 18, solo travel has added value to my life in so many ways, most of which involve me treating myself better.
Embracing the innumerable benefits of solo travel
Having the opportunity to spend time on my own evidently adds to my growing independence and open-mindedness. I grew more comfortable in my body, learning to love all the parts of me I used to think were so horrid.
For so long, I have loved myself but the consistency of that self-love always falls short. Lately, however, it had been truly such a blessing to wake up in my body, to understand that this existence is mine alone and I am so grateful.