10 Things I Loved About Traveling Solo

Back in March, I had the chance to travel to Israel for the third time in a year. Like the previous trips, I went with a group where some unknown individual coordinated hotels, bus routes, a tour guide, and even my eating schedule. All I had to worry about was taking photos and being on the bus on time. I didn’t have to think about anything; just hop on the bus and get off when they told me to. The non-thinking was bliss.

Soon after returning home from my second tour of Israel (the whirlwind trip with no sleep known as Birthright), I knew I wanted to return and see the country at a slower pace—my pace. Less than a week later, I registered for a week-long Alternative Spring Break trip through the Jewish National Fund with plans to extend my ticket for an extra week. I had no clue what I was going to do for that week, and I didn’t know if I would be traveling with someone or if I would be alone.

Over the next 10 weeks, plans slowly fell into place. For the first three days of my extension I would be staying and traveling with friends, but the final four days I would be traveling completely solo. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little nervous about being in a foreign country all on my own. However, I did it, I survived, and I loved it. Here, in no particular order, are 10 things I loved about traveling solo:

  1. Spontaneity. I was alone, so I didn’t have to sync my schedule with anyone else’s. I could just up and go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Within 30 minutes of arriving at my hostel in Jerusalem, I decided to grab a bus to Tel Aviv for the day. I didn’t even have to think about it; I just went. I traveled with no plans other than where I was sleeping each night, so every day was filled with spontaneity.
  2. Meeting new people. Because of my awkwardness with small talk, I tend to find meeting new people a bit awkward. When traveling, I didn’t find it awkward at all. Everyone skipped the usual “I went to school for this; I work here” small talk and dove right into their travel story. I met individuals from Germany, Russia, Holland, France, and America (just to name a few) that I wouldn’t have known any other way. I met a founder of a non-profit, a missionary, college students, college drop-outs, people visiting family, someone who spoke four languages, and the list goes on. All it took was a “Hi, what brings you here?” and the conversation was started.
  3. Trying new things. This one goes along with #1 and #2. I met new people who got me to try new things. Besides the usual trying new foods/drinks, I got to try acro yoga (I failed), slacklining, and navigating a foreign country by using their public transit system (Google Maps and Moovit get the credit for this one).
  4. Slowing down. I took the time to do nothing. One of my best mornings in Jerusalem was when I went out for breakfast at a café on Yafo Street just to sit and watch the hustle and bustle around me. Slowing down gave me the chance to soak things up, absorb the world around me, and take the time to just stand and marvel at the sights.
  5. Gaining confidence. When traveling solo, I had no one to rely on but myself. Taking matters into my own hands and figuring things out on my own was terrifying but so rewarding. I came home with a stronger sense of who I was and what I wanted in life. Now, I have more of a “take charge” attitude instead of hanging back and letting someone else ask the questions and solve the problems.
  6. Getting homesick. Yes, I loved getting homesick—well, the moment after it. Think of it like that moment just before a runner’s high: when you are certain you can’t go on any further, yet you push on through the pain until you reach that euphoric state where you feel invincible. Surprisingly, it happens in travel as well. I was a little over halfway through my trip when I was hit with a terrible bout of homesickness. After a good meal, a good night’s sleep, and a firm self-talking-to, I was ready to go again. That moment gave me the determination to keep going even stronger than before.
  7. Getting lost. Don’t tell my mom, but I did get lost a few times. Getting lost, whether it’s intentional or not, is the best way to get to know a foreign city. I put the phone away and went where the locals go. When I was away from the tourist-filled streets, I found the best stores tucked away in a corner, restaurants with spectacular cuisine, and rooftops with beautiful views. Getting lost also gave me the chance to really be aware of my surroundings. Without my face glued to google maps, I had more of an opportunity to see the country I came to explore.
  8. Picking up new habits. In Israel, having fresh vegetables at breakfast is the norm. It grew on me, and I couldn’t live without it once I returned home. Besides starting my day off healthier, I’ve also developed the habit of living a bit less by a strict, rigorous schedule and not freaking out when life throws me a curveball.
  9. Learning to live with less. I packed one backpack for my trip that weighed 28 pounds when I left. That’s it. When all I had with me were the necessities, I didn’t even miss the items I left at home. I realized just how little I actually needed in life, and that it wasn’t items that truly made me happy, but the people I was surrounded by and the experiences we share together.
  10. Falling in love. I already liked Israel. I knew that since I wanted to go back for a third time, but this time I fell in love with it—hard. I fell in love with the people, the food, the land, and myself. When you travel, it’s guaranteed: you will fall in love. Whether that is with solo travel, with yourself, with someone you meet, with the food, with the country, or with the atmosphere, it will happen. The best part of the experience is the one you can hold in your heart as your own. People don’t have to understand it, you don’t even have to understand it, but there will be something from your trip that will stand out as special just for you. Don’t go looking for it; it just sneaks up on you unannounced.
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I. Love. Life.

Life is short; we all know that, but sometimes I don’t think we realize just how short it is. We always think we’ll have another hour, one more day, one more year. We’ll be able to tell someone we love them in another hour, we can apologize to the person we hurt tomorrow, or we can finally do that thing we’ve always wanted to do next year. Far too many people never get that tomorrow; far too many leave this earth before saying or doing all they wanted to do. Two weeks ago, this world lost someone who truly lived life in the moment: Jessica Nicole Brooks.

Jessica was the type of woman who knew what she wanted in life and wasn’t afraid to go for it. Because of her openness online, I often felt as if I knew her even though we had never met in person. A talented artist, Jessica loved Krav Maga, her Harley, and her husband, Bart. She always shared her opinion on politics, and always shared touching photos of her family. Her family has shared screenshots of her text messages in which she would declare her love for her husband, how amazing her life was, and how she was finally “there.” She was in the moment where her life was, in her mind, simply perfect. She was content. How fitting, then, that her last status on Facebook was “I. Love. Life.” Three little words with such happiness packed into them.

Flowers fade and signs become part of the scenery, but to live as Jessica lived for the 24 years she was on this earth would be the ultimate memorial. Love life, be happy, break stereotypes, do what you enjoy, and always tell someone exactly how you feel about them. We never know when our life will be over, so live it without regrets.

Looks like a post, but it’s not. It’s a Non-Post.

I’ve been sitting here for ages just staring at the curser that blinks in anticipation of something being typed onto this blank page. That curser. Blinking so patiently. I wish I knew how many hours I’ve spent over the past week just staring at it with my hands poised and ready to type. Somehow, the words never did find the way from my brain to my fingertips until now.

The past week is a blur. I’ve poured myself into my jobs, my homework, anything that keeps me busy. When I’m busy, I don’t even think about the things bothering me. They’re gone. Nonexistent. My mind is free and uncluttered. When night comes, however, it’s a different story. Everything comes rushing back as I lie in bed waiting begging for the one thing that grants me full release for hours—sleep.

I analyze, I overthink, and I replay every conversation in my mind. I go over everything I said and did, wondering if I was wrong or if I overreacted. But in all honesty, I can’t see myself pretending like it was all okay. What did I learn from all of my analyzing? I learned that I came across angry, mad, and bitter which is how I hide all of the swirling thoughts that are really going on inside.

Am I mad at you? No. I’m not angry either. I’m just hurt. I made you a priority and I was beginning to feel like I was your option. I think I have every right to be angry, upset, or mad right now. Even though it might be hard to believe, I’m not any of those. I feel nothing. And it’s odd to feel nothing. No pain, no worry, no wondering. Maybe there’s a twinge of sadness, but it’s not the kind that draws tears. I’ve really perfected this practice of not showing emotion. I’ve perfected it so much that I rarely even show it to myself.

So now the blinking cursor has moved towards the bottom of the page. It’s still waiting for more words to be typed, but I’m at the point where I need to make a decision. Do I want to end this page or continue on? I could continue to drag it on by staring at it, wishing I’d phrased something differently, or trying to add more words. On the other hand, I could start a new, blank page that is full of potential. And frankly, I love the idea of that so much better. So come on, little blinking cursor, I have a whole new story to create.

Dear Me…..

Dear Me,

Someday, you’re going to look back at this hectic time and laugh. All this craziness, this running around, this working three jobs while taking 15 credits at school is going to be pretty darn hilarious. Granted, it might not seem like it right now, but I promise. It’ll get better. How do I know that? Well, because I’m you (duh) and you always look at the bright side of things.

Remember last year? You were just as busy and you survived. Life might seem monotonous, fast-paced, and stressed-to-the-max, but everything comes to an end. And pretty soon, this constant go-go-go will end.

Just think, in two weeks one job will be done for the season. That’s one less place for you to go, one less thing for you to answer to, and one less—I know you’re thinking paycheck; STOP IT—thing for you to squeeze into your already jam-packed schedule. Soon, you’ll have more time to focus on school and more time to spend with the people you care about.

In the meantime, focus on what makes YOU happy. Say no once in awhile, take time out for yourself, do what you love. Remember that bike? Get back on it; no more excuses. Make the time to put some rubber to the pavement because the harder you pedal, the faster your frustrations disappear. And if all else fails, breathe. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, let it out, and go back at it. After you open your eyes of course.

Love,

Yourself

I’m back!

What a hectic, crazy, whirlwind of a summer. I’ve hardly had time to write, let alone breathe. In between working two jobs, traveling around the state, and taking a summer class, I’ve really only had time to sleep and, sometimes, that hasn’t been for very long.

In June, I had the opportunity to travel all across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with my Geology professor and 15 other students. Every night, we camped on the shores of either Lake Michigan or Lake Superior. We explored caves, waterfalls, sand dunes, cliffs, and even private property to see the unique geology of the state.

July consisted of a summer class that lasted a short six weeks. The workload was fast-paced, but it got me three credits closer to my degree! I also took a weekend to visit my friend in Charlevoix. Towards the end of the month, there was a murder of a 14-year-old girl in my hometown. As a small town, we never imagined anything like that could happen here. It shook us to the core, and changed the entire air of the place.

Perhaps the most hectic month is the one we are almost over with: August. The first week of August was spent in Traverse City, MI with my cousin and my sister. Of course, I just had to go and fall in love with the town. I’m an avid biker and would love to be able to commute to school and work, but where I’m at, there are no bike-friendly routes. In TC, however, there are bike lanes everywhere! I was so tempted to quit my semester at the community college I attend now, move up north, and enroll in Northwestern Michigan College.

The next week was our hometown fair that I have been going to for as long as I can remember. When I aged out of 4-H, I knew I eventually wanted to return and help put the fair on, and this year I did just that. Somehow, I landed a volunteer position as a superintendent for the 4-H craft judging. Being a part of something bigger than myself, and helping youth achieve their goals and enjoy something that I used to love, was the best feeling in the world. After working a 15 hour day for 4-H, I was right back at the fairgrounds the next morning working for the fair itself. Long story, but the week started out very stressful, and after finally getting some closure on something, I was able to fully enjoy the week.

The fair has always been the mark of the end of summer, and as soon as it ended, I had one week before heading back to school. This semester is my final semester at a community college before transferring to a university. While I’m excited to obtain my associate’s and move on to a new school, I’m so grateful for the time I’ve had here. Last year, I met some amazing friends who I couldn’t imagine living without. With two years left of school, I still have no clue where this path is taking me, but I can’t wait to see where I end up.

I don’t want this blog to go by the wayside. I hope to continue to write and post as I get the chance, and hopefully there won’t be so many months in between!

Free Write Friday: Quote Prompt

This is kind of a continuation of something I wrote earlier in the year. Check it out here first if you’d like. I haven’t done a FWF in awhile, but as soon as I saw this one, the words just started pouring out.

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The snow had finally stopped falling and was beginning to melt away. Spring was still a long ways off as the long winter finally came to an end. It wasn’t the easiest winter for the girl, that was for sure. Not just because of the bitterly cold temperatures, but because of the dull ache that had been in her chest for months until she finally learned to let him go.

On a day when the grass was just beginning to show through the dirty snow, and the air was tempting her with a hint of warmth on its wind, she received a text that stopped her dead in her tracks. Looking at her phone, she saw a number that had been long deleted from her contact list. It was one that instantly transported her back to warmer days.

It was August, during the week of the local fair, and she was sitting in one of the ticket booths when he came up. In her mind, it was a typical meeting. Introductions were made, they shook hands, and they parted ways. By the end of the week, however, things were shifting slightly. She had observed the way this man handled himself, worked with others, and as much as she hated to admit it, she was hoping he’d ask her out.

By the end of the week, he did. Of course, it took her by surprise; she mumbled something about how hectic her schedule was with no time for dating. However, he was undeterred. Countless text messages later, she was able to see just how amazing he was. The thought of him consumed her mind, and soon she was sneaking away to see him every chance she got. The next few months were filled with walks, phone calls, and sitting with him on the combine during the harvest.

By mid-November, she knew she couldn’t go on with this anymore. It wasn’t a relationship; she didn’t know what it was. So, she decided to cut things off. She needed time to think, to be alone, and to try to get over him. For five months, they never talked or texted. Finally, by late winter, she had begun to get over him and even went on a couple of dates with someone else. Yes, things were beginning to looks up and he just might now be a part of her past.

Staring at her phone, hundreds of thoughts were rushing through her mind. Even though his name was no longer in her contact list, the number was all too familiar. Confusion came rushing in. At last, curiosity got the best of her, and she opened the message.

I Have A Confession

I have a confession to make: writing scares me.  There, I said it. Now, I’m sure you’re probably wondering why someone who is scared of writing would a) be a writing tutor and b) start a blog. It just doesn’t add up, does it? But before you go jumping to conclusions, let me explain myself.

Honestly, I’m not scared of the actual writing process itself. I love being able to put my thoughts down on paper (or screen) and see them all laid out in front of me in black and white. It’s a way for me to organize all the jumbled words in my head and make sense of them. I like being able to paint a picture with my words and immerse the reader into the world I see in my head.

What really scares me is the vulnerability I feel and the potential criticism from others. When I write, all of my thoughts, hopes, and dreams are out in the open. They aren’t locked away in my head anymore, and anyone—invited or not—can see them. I’ve opened myself up, and I’m scared of the judgment. Will people like what I write? Will they think my writing is awful, or worse yet, will they not even get what I’m trying to say?

I need to remind myself that I’m not writing for the approval of others. I’m writing for myself. I write not only improve myself as a person, but also to improve my writing. I believe Rodolfo Costa sums it up best, “Criticism is just someone else’s opinion. Even people who are experts in their fields are sometimes wrong. It is up to you to choose whether to believe some of it, none of it, or all of it. What you think is what counts.”