Sometimes, I don’t even realize how much I’ve changed over the years. We all hear the notion that we change a great deal in our 20s, but in my case, it goes as far back as my teen years. Every year has been filled with radical evolution – some of it, for the better. However, there are aspects of my previous self that I tend to miss. While I consider myself more capable and responsible now, not to mention outgoing, my progression towards extroversion has made me miss my ability to be alone. As a traveler, having an aversion to doing anything on your own is a huge hurdle to overcome.
When I imagine my 16 year old self, I barely recognize the girl that used to be me. I still enjoyed being with friends, but I was much more wrapped in my own thoughts, creativity, and dreams. I could read and write for hours and not feel the need to interact with anyone. I enjoyed extroverted activities – team sports were a huge part of my upbringing – and always genuinely loved getting to know and being with people. However, I never felt the need to do everything I wanted to do with another person. Playing a sport alone at the park was something I would do in an instant, without a moment’s hesitation. There was something in me – call it motivation, or a “fire” if you will – that pushed me to be brave on my own. I wasn’t as comfortable striking up a conversation with a stranger, and felt satisfied keeping to myself if necessary, but I found enlightenment in things I tend to overlook and not notice as much now. I created more, was inspired more, and focused less on needlessly complicated social intricacies. Fast forward to my current – and now 23 year old – self, and I’m strikingly different. That love for team sports? Still there. That love for exploration, being bold, doing new things? All still there. I could never make the claim of being shy, yet, I find myself unable to do as many things alone. Maybe my teenage self had absolutely zero desire to appease others, to do things conventionally, or maybe simply felt more comfortable navigating on my own. Regardless of the reasons, I’ve found myself struggling with different issues. While I define myself as more of an “ambivert” (someone whose extroversion and introversion is balanced), I know that as every day passes, I become more and more of an extrovert. And you know what? Right now, I kind of hate it.
Now, to insist this is a negative aspect of any person’s make-up is almost to dismiss what society constantly tells us; that being extroverted, outgoing, and social are all traits we should aspire to. This isn’t to say that I don’t agree in the need for open experiences. What it does mean, however, is that when living in a foreign country alone, it’s kind of hard to be so susceptible to needing constant or dependent social experiences when a lot of traveling consists of finding your way on your own.
There are plenty of things I’ve never actually done alone. A few years ago, before any serious contemplation about living abroad, a friend and I discussed how we had never been to the movies alone. Thinking back on it, it makes sense in a way; going to the movies is rather social, at least it was and remains to be in my hometown. Going to the movies was how you saw your friends in school when you didn’t go to parties. Yet, for someone so invested in film as myself, and so capable of standing on my own, it seemed absurd that I had never done something so simple on my own. So, at around the age of 18, I challenged myself to do it. This was just the beginning of the next few years that would be defined by my goal to constantly push my comfort-zone. “Never be too comfortable” became my way of life.
I’ve since flown alone, moved to a different country alone, had to figure out my legal status and situation on my own, along with explored a bit on my own. However, something has been nagging at me since I got here – my constant desire to find someone to do the thing I want to do with me. This has been true for traveling to other cities or countries, for going to any establishment, and even walking around the city. I’ve come to find myself embarrassed with my dependency on others, and although one could argue that it’s excusable for anyone being so far away from their family and friends, it has undoubtedly kept me from traveling or exploring. It’s even made the younger version of myself – the version that dreamt of the days I would be so lucky as to say that I lived in a different country – disappointed.
Today, I bought a ticket to a football match to take place here in Madrid in a month from now. I could have waited for someone I knew to decide they wanted to come along – which was actually the case until I mentioned how much I was going to spend on the ticket – or sought someone new out for the simple act of sitting with me. However, it seemed absurd to me to keep myself from doing what I wanted simply because of anyone else’s plans. It was something I had been looking forward to and had been hoping would happen while I was here, and when the opportunity arose, I didn’t allow myself to question it. The teenaged hipster-before-hipster-became-popular, cynic of society resurfaced for a fleeting second, and made the purchase.
Normally, this would seem dismissive, but it reminded me of my current problem, and that if I let it get out of hand, it could even be detrimental to the time I have left here. I have even made it a goal to travel to a city alone – of course, a city as safe as possible for any solo traveler – and to force myself to explore things more regardless of whether I’m alone or not. As much as I’ve felt I’ve grown over the past few years, it’s time I allowed myself more independence and less need for the things that never seemed to be an issue in the past. It’s time I became the real explorer I’ve always claimed to be – independent and free.
(Upcoming trips to London, Barcelona, Paris, and Italy in the works. Maybe one more – on my own – to add to the list? Any suggestions? More to come.)