Tomorrow I’m leaving to backpack through Thailand and Vietnam by myself. It will be my first time backpacking abroad alone. Up until two nights ago, upon hearing my family members express their concern, I’ve had little to no reservations or anxiety about my trip. I understand why my family would be nervous for me. I’m the youngest child of three and will likely always be “the baby” in their eyes. I take their concerns as an expression of love and don’t accept them as personal. After all, I know who I am and what I’m capable of. (More importantly, I know who my God is and what He is capable of)
While I appreciate my family’s expressions of concern, I also think that they don’t understand (nor may they ever) just how well equipped I am for this journey. If I were to try to give them concrete examples for how this is so, I would fail. Because it’s true that backpacking in SE Asia is something I haven’t done before.
So how do I know that I’m well equipped?
I know that this world can be a cold and scary place. I’ve experienced it firsthand, probably more so than most people my age. I know that as a woman traveling alone, I face unique challenges. But, none of this is new to me. The same challenges hold true in my own country, living alone as a female. The truth is, I wouldn’t take a trip like this if I didn’t feel safe and/or experienced enough to do so.
Experience is our greatest teacher and life so far has taught me much. For example, I know that good people are everywhere. That strangers offer to help at the most unexpected times. And that my God goes before me and stands behind me. That I am never truly alone. It’s precisely this knowledge that has propelled me to go fearlessly forward in most all of my endeavors.
But backpacking in Asia? Where did this come from? And why does it feel so natural for me?
I’m pondering this question and realize something incredible…
Every thing up to this point in my life has been preparing me to take this trip.
From the time I was nine years old, insisting that I fly by myself from my hometown in North Carolina to a summer camp in Missouri, I have always taken my own path. More often than not, this path has been a solo one. I feel the upmost comfortable being alone and I purposefully seek out experiences that challenge me. I always have.
I also find traveling alone to be particularly enjoyable. When I was fifteen, I travelled across the US on a bus with dozens of other kids. I toured almost the entire continent of Europe with a small group in high school. And I spent two summers taking classes in Salamanca, Spain. On all of these trips, I enjoyed going off on my own. I always made my own way through the hotels and airports. Perhaps, a strong desire for freedom is written in my DNA. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I’m perfectly capable of traveling to foreign places on my own. In fact, I prefer it.
Ok, so I’ve traveled to various parts of the world and always enjoyed exploring on my own. But still, I’ve never traveled abroad by myself. There were always other people, or a set schedule, or someone I planned to meet.
(I should note that the idea for this trip was sparked by a friend who is taking one of his own. People are often used to push us towards our next destination on life’s journey. While I will be seeing him abroad, the majority of my time will be spent alone. I don’t know whether his role was simply to push me towards this step, or if he’ll wind up holding a larger role in the next chapter of my journey. But I’m grateful for the role he played in getting me to this moment….typing on my computer, just 24 hours away from backpacking alone in the “foreign” continent of Southeast Asia.)
“Foreign” is an interesting word. We call SE Asia foreign because they don’t share our language or culture. But cultures vary widely, no matter where you are.
And there are far more foreign things than a language barrier.
For example, when I left everything behind after college and moved by myself to Los Angeles, THAT was foreign. When I befriended a group of Rastas who took me under their wing, and to this day, care deeply for my safety and well-being, THAT was foreign. When I drove 14 hours by myself to a small suburb of New Jersey and stayed on a couch for two weeks with three guys I met the day before, making music, THAT was foreign. Or just last summer, when I hitchhiked across Hawaii with a stranger and wound up meeting some of the most incredible, hospitable, and helpful human beings to date, THAT was really foreign.
And amazing. And liberating. And life changing.
I think I’ve always sought out foreign experiences for these reasons. They challenge, change, amaze, and liberate me. Language, I’ve learned, is just a compilation of words, and certainly not the most prevalent or useful form of communication. In fact, life’s greatest moments typically involve only a small exchange of words, if any at all.
The reality is, all of my life experiences thus far have been preparing me to take this trip.
So while no, I haven’t backpacked alone through foreign countries before, it’s not necessarily new to me either.
After some reflection (sparked my family’s expressions of concern- so thank you!), I can now say with confidence, that this trip was, and always has been, the inevitable next step on my journey. And I can’t wait to see where it goes from here!
To be continued…