This is a post I’ve been really excited to write, so I only allowed myself to begin writing it when I had a full first draft completed of the essay I’ll have to hand in to pass this year… just hoping it’ll be good enough.
On the 21st of February, I set off on a solo travel journey – we’ll define that as a trip I planned myself, for only myself, and set off on by myself. I ended up a few of those days hanging out for a few hours with friends I’d just happened to bump into or friends who were in the same area, but only for a couple of hours (minus Nara, where I spent the whole day with Tamsin feeding deer).
I spent 4 days in Kyoto, and a single day each in Nara, Osaka, Himeji, and finally 2 days in Hiroshima before returning back to Tokyo on the 2nd March – 9 full days of travel, and wow, did I travel. I finished every day with a pair of incredibly sore legs because I just couldn’t get enough of how different Kansai is to Tokyo. I’ve seen a few Ghibli-esque sites in Tokyo, but nothing at all like what’s in Kyoto or even Hiroshima (which was surprisingly gorgeous). I’m incredibly grateful that I was able to have this opportunity.
I could detail every little thing that I got to see, but it would just be a huge post filled with nothing but the words ‘gorgeous’ and ‘breath-taking’ and a million photos a minute, so instead I’ll be writing about a few things I got to learn on this trip. People aren’t lying; solo trips really do open your eyes. So, with that being said:
#1 I’ve forgotten what self-consciousness is
After my confidence (and total structure as a person, I guess) took a massive blow a while ago, I spent a long time trying to pick up the pieces and try to re-develop myself. I’ve come out the other side a very different person as a result, in the best way possible. As horrible as it sounds, I needed to have a shut down, because it gave me the drive I needed for this year abroad. Had I stayed as I was, I would’ve never have been able to do this trip – I’ve always felt like the whole world is constantly judging me, even though I know that that’s a ridiculous notion.
All my bravado was just a cover up for how small and invalidated I felt inside. I’m still working on it, but I can say for sure that the bravado is just part of my personality rather than a coping mechanism. I’m never going to be perfect, but I can sure work on getting as close as possible to where I want to be.
Before, as in a few months ago, I always used to think people would judge me greatly for doing a solo trip – that I was lonely, or I had no friends to travel with. Even though that’s not how I ever thought about other solo travellers. It’s all in my head, obviously, but I got proper confirmation of that as I was doing this trip. I didn’t feel self-conscious at any given moment. In fact, for the first time, I noticed just how many other people were travelling solo – from girls my age, to guys my age, to older women and men. You don’t notice things until you’re put into something unfamiliar, and I suppose subconsciously you look for solidarity.
The thing is, I wasn’t consciously looking out for other people like me – it was just a thing I’d notice and think like, “wow, that’s cool. Good for you!” before carrying onwards. In fact, for maybe the first time in my life, I felt like all eyes weren’t on me for once. Is that what pure enjoyment is? Being so absorbed in your mission that you don’t pay any kind of attention to negative thoughts?
I returned to Tokyo, feeling noticeably different. It was like I didn’t have a physical form at all. Like I’d left the room and was observing everything like some kind of ghost – and I realised that no-one was looking at me, judging me, thinking anything about me at all. I feel more free to be myself now, my previous inhibitions having moved out of my head without me even realising.
#2 I hold more confidence than I ever even knew I had
It’s weird, because I always used to think my friends were my strength and allowed me to be me. But now that’s been turned on it’s head.
Don’t get me wrong – I am a very confident person. I’m bold, stupidly stubborn, I like to take the leadership position, and I’ve been told plenty of times that I’m inspiring, or intimidating, or people wish they were like me, which I’m not sure I entirely agree with. I just don’t really have a filter, like I took the word YOLO and branded myself with it (sorry). But that confidence can be shaky sometimes. I’ll meet an intimidating person and feel like I have to turn myself down a notch – essentially, shut down what makes me me. And sometimes I’ll meet the same crazy type and it doubles my confidence and together we do incredibly stupid things, which are better off not being written on this blog.
But I’m also the type of person who gets tired out very, very quickly. I’ve done all sorts of things to try and ‘remedy’ this, but I understand now that it’s just the kind of person I am. I think when I’m constantly around other people it wears me out super quickly. I’m a whole bundle of contradictions, but that’s just the way it is.
I think that as I was alone for the majority of this trip, I could save up most of my energy and unleash it pretty well on the people I met along the way. My Japanese, which I thought was super sub par before, suddenly came out near-beautiful on this journey. Without inhibition, I was talking to everyone, making requests, taking more risks and challenges (except going up a mountain in Hiroshima that had poisonous snakes), diverging off paths to explore (at one point ending up at an abandoned factory), and grabbing life with both hands. But it’s strange, because I do this stuff usually anyways – yet on this trip, I could do it with just an ounce more self-belief, or feeling like I had to prove things to people around me.
I’ve come back understanding myself a little more. There’s nothing I need to prove to anybody other than myself.
#3 Doing things alone gives you more freedom
Aka. Doing things without having to ask people first and face not getting to do what you want. That kind of deal.
There was one particular temple in Kyoto that was right next to a beautifully mossy abandoned railway. I know for sure that if I were with other people we wouldn’t have walked the 40 minutes through the entire system. Being alone gave me the freedom to sit still – every so often, to find a beautiful place to sit and do some reading, or just gaze into the horizon and take in the views. I always feel somewhat rushed or on a high when I’m with others – like, cool, we’ve finished this section, now let’s run here and here and there and then do this and that – which is totally needless, but I can’t stop myself.
As someone who loves walking, I also found myself constantly wandering through neighbourhoods to get from destination to destination rather than taking a bus or train – not only did it get me away from all the other tourists, but I loved seeing the ways in which people lived their everyday lives around places like Kyoto and Himeji.
#4 The world really is filled with little sparks of good
The amount of people who wanted to show kindness to a stranger like me. I’ve seen my fair share of it – such as when the local grocer gave me some free produce, or when a restaurant will sneak in an extra side dish free of charge. I know that travelling solo I was a little more vulnerable than I’d be with another person, but not once did I put my guard up, because I’m genuinely not afraid of people. I’ve had more than a fair share of horrible people in my life, and that has caused me to slam shut in ways that I’m still attempting to pry open – but I’ve seen enough good in the world, and had enough good done to me, to know and understand that to be human is to be complex. Show everyone patience and kindness, because you never know what they’re going through.
Little sparks of goodness. Such as being served a fruitbowl free-of-charge by the nice owner of a hostel, or being given a whole bunch of hand-made little trinkets by primary schoolers who are happy that you’ve come to see Hiroshima. It’s buying a tiny badge and being given a lovely stack of origami flowers as a gift. It’s a guard who makes a ferry wait for you to get on board so you don’t have to wait for the next one, making it a full minute late (a big deal in Japan) to arrive at Miyajima Island. It’s someone seeing you’re lost and pointing you in the right direction, or giving up their seat to you when they see you’re pretty exhausted.
It really is the little things.
#5 Experience is king
I began learning this lesson a little over a year ago. It was a rocky process.
I used to be that person where I’d be content with people telling me about things they’ve done, before returning to whatever I was doing. Like, good for you, thanks for sharing so now I have an idea of what that must’ve been like for you. I’d also be the person where someone would say “oh, don’t watch that, I’ve heard it’s awful”, and I’d accept that and 1) not watch it 2) judge everyone who watched and enjoyed.
Luckily, I’m a different person now who likes to make her own judgements and have her own experiences. Simple put: you can only grow if you want to grow. You can only grow if you put yourself out there and just do it for yourself. Conquer the scary mountain by climbing the scary mountain – then it just becomes a mountain.
You can do ANYTHING. Anyone who tells you you can’t is a massive liar. With the right amount of determination, anything is possible. The only person you have to convince is yourself. I looked myself in the eye one morning and got over myself and now I’m doing everything I never thought I’d be able to do, with absolutely no regrets whatsoever.
Do a solo trip. Honestly, just go on a solo trip, enjoy the company of yourself and getting to know yourself better, and come out of the other side glowing.
What a perfect time for the cherry blossoms to begin blooming.
(PS. Tomorrow marks 6 months of being in Japan… thank you for everything so far!)