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Solo Travel Souvenirs

Life-changing keepsakes you won't find in an airport gift shop

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when planning a trip, especially your first trip alone. You might find yourself at one o’clock in the morning with 27 tabs open on your browser (just me?), throwing your hands in the air and deciding travel is just too much. Too much hassle, time, money, risk. It’s a lot easier to stay put.

After all, at the end of the trip you’ll be right back at home where you started from, right?

You and I both know that’s just not true. Because long after you unpack and get over jet lag, inside you’ll never be quite the same. These are some of my favorite solo travel “souvenirs,” and they’re yours to bring home too, wherever you go.

Connection to my intuition

By definition, solo travel means I call the shots. Each day I get to decide what feels most exciting, what sounds most delicious, whom – if anyone – to spend time with. These decisions seem simple but actually require a deep connection to my desires, deeper than most of us are accustomed to accessing in our more restricted day-to-day lives. Especially when we live with others, work with others, or care for others (pets included!).  

Everyone has an intuition. It goes by other titles as well: the heart, inner being, higher self. It’s that peaceful voice inside that cuts through the nonsense of our ego minds and reminds us who we are, why we’re here and what is best for us in any given moment.

By sitting in the driver’s seat I’m able to foster the connection between my head and my heart, my mind and my intuition. I remember that I, more than anyone else, know how to make the most out of each day. Honestly, how absurd to look anywhere else for this guidance – and yet so many of us do.

Traveling places me outside of the boundaries and expectations I’ve set for myself. No one is watching me, and even if they are, they’re not aware of the identity I’ve (consciously or unconsciously) crafted back home. So I get to reconnect to the most authentic, stripped down version of myself. I get to remember the wisdom I carry within me.

Confidence

Fortunately, things don’t always go according to plan when you travel.

Yep, fortunately.

I’ve gotten lost. I’ve struggled to communicate. I’ve been sick on a bus for 12 hours. And each time, I not only survived but I also had the opportunity to strengthen a muscle that doesn’t get much attention in the gym – my confidence.

Confidence is more than just a mindset. It needs exercise just like anything else, and I’ve had plenty of occasions to do so while traveling. When I’m stuck in a pickle while my loved ones sleep on the other side of the world, I don’t have much choice but to figure things out! I realize just how much strength I have inside, how resourceful I can be, and also how willing others are to step in and help when I ask. I’m talking complete strangers on the street, hotel staff, even Tinder dates.

In Chinese, the word crisis is a combination of the words danger and opportunity. While I prioritize my personal safety above all, I prefer to focus on the latter. I may have a momentary freak out when something unexpected goes down (I’m only human, after all), but I shift my attention as quickly as possible to what I can learn from this experience. The answer may be as simple as “pack more snacks next time,” or as profound as a reminder of the goodness of my fellow global citizens. And that’s something I don’t quickly forget.

Growth mindset

You’re bound to try something new when you’re traveling. In fact, I can’t think of a better time to do so. I’ve signed up for everything from a Sichuan cooking class to tango lessons, Yoga Nidra to Afro-Caribbean drumming, Japanese flower arranging to bungee jumping. While this is quite a varied list, two factors unite them all: I was terrible at first, and I had a great time.

When I try a new activity while traveling, it’s not to impress anyone or to enhance my LinkedIn profile. I don’t expect to excel right off the bat. Sure, ikebana comes a little more naturally to me than hot and sour soup, but my delight isn’t tied to a certain level of achievement. And just as my patient piano teacher always assured me, I’m also reminded that practice makes (a slight step toward) perfect.

It’s easy after a certain age to think you’re done learning new things. But by giving myself the opportunity to do so in my travels, I realized it’s truly never too late.

While I don’t see professional bungee jumping in my future, that experience along with many more inspired me to take other leaps in my “real life” – including an international relocation and a switch from one well-established career to a very different one. That was worth the fear.

Freedom

Travel has released me from so many trappings of modern life. I’ve learned that happiness and fulfillment don’t require more than a backpack of belongings. I can get along just fine without a permanent home or a steady pay check. I’m not reliant on a certain brand of shampoo or oat milk. I don’t even have to change my shirt every day!*

*I still do though, most of the time.  

The remarkable souls whose paths have crossed mine have opened my eyes to different ways of living. Different ways to earn and contribute, different forms of worship, styles of dress and culinary cultures.

When I travel I slow down and find joy in the simple pleasures, the serendipitous moments. The things you can’t plan for and money can’t buy. This sticks with me.

It’s trite but true: travel has opened the world to me. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been doing things a certain way. I am human. I am alive. I am adaptable. And so are you.

There you have it, my most cherished travel mementos. And the best part is you don’t need to consciously work toward any of these; like sand from the Saharan desert they’ll inevitably accompany you home. And to me, that’s the true magic of solo travel.

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