In late December of 2017, I embarked on one of the most memorable journeys of my life. Earlier in the year, I thought about traveling somewhere during the December holidays. It had been an incredibly busy year as I finished my master’s internship, received my master’s degree, and soon after, started my new job as a school counselor. I definitely needed to get away for a bit to get some much-needed relaxation and come back ready to start the new year feeling fresh and rejuvenated.
[Read Related: 5 Not-So-Obvious Reasons for Traveling Solo]
After exploring potential travel destinations, I made my decision. I decided I was going to travel to Belize for six days — alone. I had never traveled solo, but I decided that I would take the plunge and try something new. Initially, I was unsure of what it would be like as a woman traveling alone outside of the country. Naturally, I thought a great deal about safety concerns and whether I would be bored and lonely without a travel companion.
However, soon after I landed in Belize, these worries and doubts quickly faded away. My solo trip to Belize was eye-opening and filled with adventure. I had an amazing time, and I also had the opportunity to engage in meaningful self-reflection.
Here are some of the takeaways I gained from my travels.
1. Don’t wait around for anyone
This one was big for me. I have lost track of the number of times in my life in which I have waited and waited to do something I have really wanted to do simply because I did not have a partner. At the end of it, I have missed out on a lot of amazing experiences which, in hindsight, I realize I probably could have enjoyed on my own.
My trip to Belize taught me that I shouldn’t spend my life waiting for others to accompany me. If I keep waiting, life will pass me by. This time, instead of postponing my plans until a family member or friend was available and willing to join me, I decided I would experience Belize by myself. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed zip-lining, cave tubing, hiking, exploring the Mayan ruins, relaxing on the beach, etc. on my own.
2. Keep an open mind
My decision to travel to Belize reiterated the importance of stepping outside my comfort zone and being open to new experiences. It is very easy to become “stuck in our ways” and as a result, not seek out new adventures or experiences. In my opinion, to live a fulfilling life, it is essential to keep trying new things and not let fear or preconceived notions get in the way.
In this trip, I made it a point to select multiple outdoor activities which I would not usually do. In the past, I often opted out of anything outdoorsy because of my mental block. I had convinced myself that because I am a fashion and beauty conscious “girly girl,” outdoor activities weren’t meant for me. However, this time, I shed any such labels and didn’t let any self-limiting beliefs hold me back. I trekked through the Belizean caves and rainforests, paddled my canoe down Rio Macal, and rode a bike for the first time in 15 years throughout the fishing village of Placencia. I realized that I shouldn’t let any labels (whether placed on me by others or self-imposed) prevent me from experiencing all that life has to offer. Plus, I think I pulled off the outdoor adventurer look pretty well, and that’s a plus point!
3. Be present and mindful
I am continuing to work on this pointer, and I recognize that it will be a life-long process. These days, there is a lot of talk about mindfulness and appreciating the present moment. I was able to put this concept into practice during my trip, and it made my experience all the more enriching and pleasurable. As human beings in a fast-paced world, we are always “on-the-go” and thinking about what we have to do next. We very rarely take the time just to appreciate what is in front of us.
[Read Related: 5 Travel Tips for the Wanderlust Brown Girl]
In Belize, I made it a point to focus on the present and pay attention to the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes around me. During each excursion, I only thought about the activities I was participating in that day and took in all that was around me. Instead of thinking about what was next, I took the time to listen to the chirping of tropical birds, the ripples of the river, and the waves of the ocean. I took the time to appreciate tall trees of the jungle, the warm tropical weather, the tranquility of the caves, and the beauty of the Belizean towns. As I focused my energy on the amazing experience of being in Belize and enjoying each moment, I felt calm and relaxed. I hope to continue incorporating mindfulness into my life and to channel the peace I experienced during my trip into my daily routine.
4. Don’t worry about what others say — live life on your terms
This one is huge.
I firmly believe that being preoccupied with what others think, whether it is people in your life or society, brings unhappiness. At the end of the day, you have to find what makes you happy and live a life that you can be proud of.
Let me be completely honest: one thing I worried about before I left for Belize was what it would “look like” if I traveled by myself. Some of my concerns included, “Would I look like a loser with no friends?” “Would I look like a recluse?” “Would people pity me if they saw I was traveling without friends or a boyfriend/husband?” Given that our society places such a strong emphasis on constantly being with others, it can be challenging to venture out and do things alone. However, this is something that I believe needs to change. We really need to champion the mindset that it is OK to be alone. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t always need a pack of friends, a significant other, or family around us to have fun.
My experience in Belize truly helped me become more comfortable with the idea of doing things alone and not worrying about whether it is “weird” or whether people will think less of and feel sorry for me. I learned a life-altering lesson that I can have the time of my life on my own, provided I let go of what others think and realize that the only opinion that truly matters is the one I have of myself.
Natasha Sharma is a recent graduate of the masters in social work program at Washington University’s Brown School. Her area of focus is issues affecting immigrant, refugee, and minority youth. Natasha hopes to eventually pursue a career in the field of ethnographic research, human rights, and community development. Alongside her social justice related efforts, Natasha does some fashion modeling. She hopes to use modeling as a platform to increase representation of women of color in the media.