I've read the inspirational articles about how traveling solo will change your life, and I've seen the stunning pictures of sunsets that will take your breath away. But let's be honest ... traveling alone is not always as glamorous as we make it look.
I've spent weeks living out of a backpack in Southeast Asia, months studying abroad in Europe, and have worked in cities thousands of miles from home. I understand the transformation and self-discovery you experience when traveling alone. I've returned with amazing memories and stunning sunset photos to share with my family and friends, but I've also returned with memories that I don't like to share.
It's the moment when you're leaving the airport and start questioning your decision to leave home. You don't want to make things worse by crying, so you wait until you've said goodbye to everyone before bursting into tears. Your friends tell you you're brave for going alone, but you know that's not true. You're terrified of leaving everything behind, but you know it's what you have to do.
It's when you're forced to pay the extra baggage fee because you didn't check airline weight restrictions in advance. You beat yourself up because you know it was an easily preventable mistake. You know you won't let it happen again, but start worrying about all the other mistakes you're going to make.
It's when your plane hits turbulence and you wish the pilot would turn around, when you are reminded of everything that is beyond your control. You crave independence, but desperately wish someone were by your side telling you it's going to be OK.
It's that moment when you're lost in a new town and stop to ask a stranger for directions, before remembering you don't speak the local language. Your attempt at charades doesn't go far and you feel like an idiot for trying.
It's when you're lying awake at night on a hard hostel mattress in the darkness and realize you're surrounded by strangers. By the time you arrived, everyone had fallen asleep. The intimacy of sleeping next to someone you trust is replaced with restlessness and fear.
It's the day after you ate the street food that looked too tempting resist, when you feel too sick to get out of bed. You don't have the strength to go to the doctor and realize that the nearest hospital is miles away. You want to ask your family for help, but you don't want to worry them and know there is nothing they can do.
It's days after you met a stranger who became your new best friend. You've opened up about your deepest fears and your biggest dreams, and feel closer to them than the people you've known your whole life. You found the perfect travel companion, but you've already booked your ticket to another country and they've just arrived. You are forced to part ways, knowing that you may never see them again.
It's when you're carrying your backpack on your shoulders and are too sweaty and dehydrated to keep your pace, but know you must continue if you're going to make it on time for your train. You learn to carry on one step at a time.
It's when you find a piece artwork at the night market that would be perfect in your room, but know that you and your backpack can only carry so much. You learn the difference between luxuries and necessities, and start finding beauty in places you never thought to look.
It's when you've been away from home for so long you start forgetting the person you used to be. The person your family and friends said goodbye to is not the person you are now. You know you'll readjust to your daily life back at home, but you aren't sure if you're ready just yet.
It's after you return home, when you start reading inspiring articles about the how traveling solo changes your life and look through your pictures of laughter and sunsets, that all of these memories fade away.
Even though these memories are the ones we forget, they are the parts of traveling alone that allow the greatest transformation and self-discovery to take place.