I wrote this letter about 3 years ago when I had just started to travel solo. I was still so uncertain of how big a role travel, and backpacking, would play in my life. To be honest, the letter is as much a letter to myself, as it is to other women travelers. Since 2013 I’ve backpacked around 10 more countries, taken numerous trips within the U.S. and I’m still madly in love with “getting out there.” But it hasn’t come without feelings of doubt, or skepticism from others. It felt appropriate, coming up on the 3 year anniversary of my blog, to post this one again since it still rings so true, today.
In your life there are going to be people who tell you what you “should” do. In most cases, it won’t be with negative intentions or purposeful neglect to your feelings. But, hands placed on your shoulders, concern built in their eyes – they will try. If and when these people find you, I want to give you one piece of advice:
Listen to them.
Listen, ponder, wonder and question every word that spills out of their unassuming mouths – riverbanks trying to contain the flow of your own untamable ambitions. Think about their words. Gnaw on them again and again until you truly understand the marrow of what it means to make your own decision. Then, throw them out. For they are of no further use to you.
As you plan and scheme and chart the direction of your own decision making, remember the words of those who doubted you. Remember the people who told you that you couldn’t or shouldn’t; every person who tried to pour into your mind their own doubts and limitations. And as you think on these, also remember that you are a conqueror, more than able, and born to be set apart.
Then, take a step. Fall with the freedom of knowing you have weighted the reasons, excuses and deliberations; and they have been found wanting. Walk forward and be guided by the northern star of your own intellect and courage. For, remember, castles are seldom built by staying in our own valleys; dare to dream of venturing to the highest hills.
Remember who you are: a woman fully competent, fully capable and stubborn to a fault. Plan. Plan like you’ve never planned before. Spend every minute researching the world you’re about to travel into, so that when you step outside your front door you can throw the guidebook to the side, and enjoy your experiences fully.
Make friends with everyone. And I mean everyone. Bus drivers, taxi drivers, hotel staff, baristas, post office workers, random people you meet in museums and that mom with a stroller at the bus stop. Keep your ears open, your mind clear and your possibilities endless.
Experience the culture. Don’t ever block yourself off in the comfort of a hotel room or the emptiness of an American chain restaurant. Eat the local food (I don’t care how gross it sounds), go dancing – always go dancing, look for events in local papers and billboards. No matter how tired you are, remember: You only need 8 hours of sleep, and you have a TV at home. Get outside! Parks, museums, art galleries – go.
Write down everything and send yourself (home) postcards with notes of encouragement. Remember, you won’t be here forever, but the memories will. Remind yourself of your accomplishments, so when you’re feeling lost a week after getting back, you have a piece of mail to remind you that it was only one passport stamp, and there are many more adventures to come.
And last? Stop making excuses.
If you have the ability to hold a job, you have the ability to save money. If you have the ability to save money, no matter how long it takes, you have the ability to buy a ticket to somewhere and go on an adventure. Be smart with your traveling. Challenge yourself to save as much money beforehand so you don’t have to worry about it when you’re exploring.
You are a woman, not incapable. You are an Exploress, not unable. You have intellect, an open mind and a heart that loves – use them. And while you’re standing there, looking at something more beautiful than you could have imagined, meeting people who open your mind to more than you could have grasped before – breathe; deeply and slowly. Remind yourself, “In this moment, I am happy.” And then, as you start to walk toward the beauty that’s before you, remember all those people who told you it couldn’t be done – and smile.
This post was originally published on The Exploress blog September 27th, 2013