People ask me everyday, “Are you excited about Peru?”
I’m so excited about traveling that my body is literally sick with anticipation. My eating habits are all whack, sleeping patterns are more like naps of doom, and don’t even talk to me about ‘the list’. It’s not like I’m getting cold feet, more like I wish this was a spontaneous trip so I can just pack my bag and disappear already.
Here’s the thing, as a frequent solo traveller, I’m used to these pre-travel jitters. You just have to ride it out and check yourself before you wreck yourself. Before leaving on my bigger adventures, there's a mental health checklist I go through to make sure that I have my heart and mind ready before flying out.
Before you go, learn about the local culture and language
English may be the ‘universal’ language, but depending on how far you venture away from the cities, it helps to know at least some basic phrases in the local tongue. As I’m heading to Peru, I’m making a concerted effort to learn basic Spanish so that I can at least greet people in the street. Even if I can’t have a full on conversation in the beginning, at least I won’t lose that ability to connect with people, especially with locals. Loneliness is a big factor and why some people will cut short their travel plans.
As a solo female traveller, I often ask: Are women expected to dress conservatively? What is considered ‘conservative’? Is there a polite way to address strangers? Are there taboo subjects? How can I dress and act so that I can blend in with the locals? The more you prepare and learn about the country you’re heading to, the easier it will be to settle into their way of life. Isn’t that the purpose of traveling? To experience a different culture and way of life?
It’s going to be different,
just manage your expectations
Unless you’re going to a country with exactly the same way of life as yours - there’s going to be a period of adjustment when you touch down. You could be super excited about a resort you’re going to, because the brochure showed a beautiful white sand beach. Then you get there and it isn’t exactly like the brochure - maybe it’s a bit dirty, or it’s peak season and chaos ensues trying to find a space to put your towel down that isn’t next to a sweaty human.
Before you even check in and grab that boarding pass - manage those expectations. Maybe you’re going to a country where basic infrastructure isn’t great, or conveniences we take for granted at home won’t be as easily available in another. Which reminds me of my time in China where the use of toilet facilities usually cost one or two yuan - extra if you want toilet paper (or just bring your own). In New Zealand, public toilets are free, so at the time it surprised me. Though with the population of China, paid facilities made sense.
Instead of feeling frustrated at the lack - learn how the locals cope, what makes it ‘home’ for them, and maybe you will soon see the beauty in the culture and people - not just the scenery.
My good friend, John, wrote a great post called Why Travel Doesn’t Change You - make sure to check it out.
Triggers will surface - the good,
the bad and the ugly
Like many before me who have sought travel as a way to “find themselves”, know that journeys aren’t linear - it’s more like tributaries of the Amazon. Depending on where you start and which path you follow, you may be a stream or a massive river, that may eventually lead to a waterfall.
Each time you come to a fork in your path, triggers and emotional baggage can come rushing to the surface. A few months ago I was feeling low and had lost a lot of self-confidence, which lead to not wanting to make any decisions. Many of those decisions weren’t even that big, yet each time I had to make a decision, it triggered those self-confidence issues and I justified procrastinating so I didn’t have to deal with that trigger.
As I’m writing this, I’m in the middle of a big emotional trigger that has lasted a few weeks already. It’s beginning to affect my health (I’m not eating or sleeping properly again), and I’m experiencing mini-panic attacks. It’s OK not to be OK, that’s what I tell myself in the morning. Especially when I begin to doubt that what I’m doing is right for me. Emotional triggers brings light situations we try to ignore so we don’t have to hold onto them anymore.
Less baggage, more adventures!
Life on the road is still your life
Have you ever made a distinction between ‘travel life’ and ‘home life’ - that what you do on the road is separate from your life at home-base? Like you’ve somehow taken a sabbatical from the regular you, and what you do on your travels doesn’t count. Life on the road is still your life, it may not always feel that way because you’re not living your normal routine.
I’ve done that before, disconnecting who I am during my travels to who I am at home. Probably because I can be who I want to be, I can start over and there's no expectations of who I’m supposed to be.
Be in the moment
You have a million things to do and it stresses you out! My sister once told me that if having a million things on your list is freaking you out, take the top three that needs to be done and ditch the rest. Just three. What are the three most important things that has to be actioned today? Focus your energy on that, not the fourth or fifth, or whatever comes after. Just three.
Being an Aries, the feistiest of the fire signs, I have a lot of natural energy and passion. I can get a lot of things done even when I’m running on empty. Then I burn out. Often we’re so in a hurry to get to where we want to go that we miss the best part of the journey - getting there.
Am I excited about the adventures I will have in Peru - absolutely! Planning this trip has also given me time to see the good in everything around me, the people in my life, the town, all the adventures I’ve had. It gave me the space to understand and feel gratitude on a level I never knew I had in me.
Being in the moment taught me that by having less means I could live more.
Ronna Grace Funtelar is a thirtyish storyteller, creative, writer and slam poet currently based in New Zealand. She is a hobby hiker, photography and sunrise enthusiast with a passion for mindfully helping others live beyond their comfort zone.
Basically, a shorty who knows her life purpose.