When I graduated high school I had never stepped foot in an airport before. I took my very first trip in the summer of 2016 to visit a friend who was staying with her family in the Czech Republic, somehow managing to maneuver airport security, long flights and international layovers that had me running down crowded hallways lost in the midst of time changes, unfamiliar airport signs and foreign languages (with only a few tears shed). I have flown many times since, almost exclusively by myself, but there has always been someone waiting for me when I reached the destination.
For the past several months I have had a bad case of wanderlust, spending much of my time researching cheap flights to absolutely anywhere, seeing visions of Expedia deals and Justfly.com in my sleep, begging friends (and some people I barely know) to be my travel partners. I had this idea in my head that the reality of my travel aspirations would depend on the people around me and the limits of their schedules, budgets and desires for adventure, hardly considering my own capabilities. When I saw that I had a few days off in the coming week, I decided to take a leap into something unknown by going on a spontaneous trip to Los Angeles by myself.
The night before my flight I hardly slept. I was eager, yet unsure, worrying I hadn’t done enough research, that I wouldn’t know what to do when I arrived. As part of a big family, I am not used to spending much time alone. Since I moved away from home I have surrounded myself with good story tellers and good listeners, always itching for conversation. There was a small part of me that feared feeling awkward or lonely by myself, but when I stepped off the plane into an unfamiliar January heat, surrounded by families, couples, school groups and friends, I felt confident to be taking on this experience alone.
With little time to spare, I set off into the heart of the city for exploration. I spent hours in downtown Los Angeles observing the buildings, the people, the food, and the music. I visited Grand Central Market and ate lunch outside, entertaining myself with bits and pieces of conversations from those passing by. I checked into a hostel in Santa Monica by mid-afternoon and spent the remainder of the day at the beach and on the boardwalk, watching a magic show in which a man swallowed a twenty dollar bill and then cut open an orange to reveal it inside, and listening to renditions of popular songs on saxophones and ukuleles. Come dinnertime, I found a trendy vegan restaurant and enjoyed dinner and dessert, all the while relying on my own company.
The most unique aspect of my trip was that I never had to compromise. I spent as much time as I wanted in the city before heading to the beach. I ate out at a restaurant of my choice. I went in the direction of anything that caught my eye without having to consult the next move with those around me. It was wonderful and liberating not having to please anyone aside from myself.
The silence that previously worried me became a peaceful way to relax and really take it all in. My mind wasn’t prone to wandering away into a conversation about work stress or otherwise irrelevant matters. I was at ease listening to the sound of crashing waves, stopping every now and then to hear music and observe what was going on around me. I was able to stay present and be engaged in my surroundings, absorbing so much more without the added distraction of a companion.
The greatest thing I learned while on a trip by myself is that anything can be done alone. I met so many people in passing who inquired about where I am from and what brought me to Los Angeles. I explained that I was simply taking a short trip on a whim by myself “just because.” This opened up incredible conversation with people who seemed to fear the thought of stepping outside of their comfort zone the way I previously had, hypnotized by the notion that being alone has to feel lonely rather than empowering. These conversations made me feel more confident in my abilities, questioning why I hadn’t even eaten out alone or seen a movie by myself in the nineteen years of life prior to this trip. I ‘d spent so much time planning around others, constantly seeking the approval of those around me, that I forgot how to just be myself and go after the things that are important to me regardless.
My solo trip came to an end too quickly, but I know it won’t be my last. The morning of my departure from Los Angeles initiated deeper thoughts about my experience traveling alone and looking within myself to achieve the things I never thought I could as I sat on the curb and waited for my ride to the airport. The driver arrived at the hostel to pick me up and we began making small talk about classical music and hiking as we drove into a dark sky soliciting the sunrise. Our conversation took many turns before he asked if I believe in alchemy, a means of creating your own destiny by emitting an energy that attracts good things from the universe, allowing you to achieve that which you desire most. I considered that perhaps this short trip was just a small piece of a larger dream I have of seeing the world and that I need to take responsibility for its execution. I have a sense of pride mixed with exhilaration knowing that I am well on my way to achieving it.
Upon my arrival in Denver I was greeted with a tedious weekend of working doubles alongside some angry and hungover coworkers, confronted by familiar faces complaining about school, jobs and all of the bills they have to pay. I try to resist the vacuum that sucks me into this negativity, making me feel that there is no end to it all, holding tight to a few words that my Dad has assured me with: “It is temporary. You’ll be traveling soon.” And I know he is right.