Exactly two years ago, I drove with my family to the airport so I could take off on what would turn out to be one of the most significant adventures of my life. The long-awaited day had come at last. It was time for me to show up at the terminal so I could start the beginning of my long-term trip across the world.
The time had come to say goodbye. To my family. Also, to my friends. To life as I knew it. I was leaving the country… and that was all pretty much anyone knew, including myself.
Fear is natural. You can acknowledge it, but you still have to do the tough stuff anyway.
In the weeks leading up to my trip, I was mostly excited. I knew I was going to have the time of my life overseas. It wasn’t until I had been standing at the airport door facing my family that I seriously started to question what I had gotten myself into.
Was it too late to turn back now??
Would I regret this later?
What was I going to do once I got to Europe?
Would I be perpetually lost?
Would I be able to sustain my travels financially?
I hadn’t even left the country yet and my fears of the unknown were already trying to cripple my dreams of traveling the world.
I had to put all of my anxieties about this behind me and do it anyway. I already made the commitment and I wasn’t going to quit before I even started. There was no going back now. I needed to give it my best shot.
Do it anyway.
I had checked in my oversized backpack (I’m still frustrated that I packed SO MUCH) and got on my plane to Athens. In a matter of hours, I was going to land in a city with no plans on what to do next. It was during my flight that I realized I made my first epic mistake.
I forgot to download directions to get from the airport to the first place I planned to stay at.
My trip hadn’t even technically started and I was already lost. Great.
I prayed the airport in Athens would have free Wi-Fi so I could download the directions to have some sort of an idea of where I was going after leaving the airport.
You might say that I had made a rookie mistake. Even Dora knows to carry her map, right? How could I screw up something so basic before I even started?
Well, I’ve come to see that the whole reason I got myself into that predicament was that I was all in on taking chances.
How had I not thought to prepare a map? I should have had one saved on my phone plus another one printed as a backup, right? It certainly couldn’t have hurt, but I didn’t do any of that. I was more focused on planning the big picture than I was on figuring out the technical details.
I was trusting in the process.
Hope is the thing that makes life powerful.
On some level, whether it was smart or not, I was trusting that once I landed in Greece, things would work out. Even once I noticed I didn’t have a map, I had to hang onto a bit of hope that I could get by without it.
You have to realize, when I set off on this trip, I had no idea what was awaiting me in my near or distant future. I didn’t know when I’d ever come back to the United States. I didn’t even know where I’d be in a matter of hours. Everything was unpredictable.
It required blind faith. Taking a risk and betting on myself to get through it.
There was nothing stopping me from ending up sleeping on the streets. In fact, I almost did…
On my first night in Athens, I wandered around the streets at 3 AM without any idea of where to go.
I cringe as I think back to the start of my solo backpacking trip. There was sooo much I didn’t know back then. Really. It’s terrible.
I managed to connect to a network to get my map downloaded but then I realized its usefulness was limited. I still needed to figure out transportation.
I was so scared to talk to people. I was struggling to HAIL A TAXI.
Something so basic. You can tell I’m a millennial who has never lived in a city. I seriously had to think about what to even do. “Do I wave at them? Am I supposed to raise my hand like I’m in a classroom? Or… do I put my thumb up… No, that’s for hitchhiking.”
Some of it was fear of what was to come. I could not bring myself to get a taxi driver’s attention because I was so afraid of how this mysterious conversation might go once he pulled up to me. I wanted to think the taxi drivers might know how to speak English… but what if they couldn’t?
Would they be angry with me? Or would it get really uncomfortable all of a sudden?
Put yourself out there.
I kept trying to get any taxi driver to acknowledge me (I certainly stuck out like a sore thumb with my giant backpack, but I think that detail also caused a handful of them to actively avoid me because they could see I wasn’t a local.)
Once certain taxi drivers pulled up and realized I only spoke English and had a map address written in English and not in Greek, several of them DROVE AWAY FROM ME. Without saying anything. Silent rejection.
*Poof* On my own, alone in a city with nowhere to go… again. And again. And again.
I almost decided to just curl up by a bunch of trees and cry on my first night because I realized I made my first major mistake. I didn’t translate my map to the local language so I couldn’t ask for help. Great job, Rocky.
It’s okay to make mistakes. Don’t give up.
Even though a lot of people turned their backs on me and refused to help me, I learned my first lesson that night.
You have to keep trying even when you feel like you’ve lost control of a situation.
Everything in life is a numbers game. If you approach enough people, eventually SOMEONE will help you.
I walked into a small convenience store in Athens and tried to ask for directions. THANKFULLY, one of the workers spoke English and pointed me in the right direction. That kind young woman helped me figure out exactly where to go.
Long-term travel can rock your world.
To just get up and go like that… it’s not an easy thing to do.
I think back to that first summer night in 2018 while flying over the ocean to Europe, looking out at the endless sky, and I remember thinking to myself, “WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO?”
I was willingly leaving behind all the comforts of home. A family who loves and accepts me. Friends who care about me. A place I’ve always called home. So why, then, might someone still walk away from all of that?
You learn by doing.
For me, traveling solo had always been about growth and self-discovery. I realized that if I wanted to ever achieve something big, I’d need to widen the scope of my vision.
I’d need to become financially independent by taking on a higher degree of responsibility for myself. I’d need to start taking ownership of my failures and for my successes.
I would need to get uncomfortable.
I’d need to take chances.