Traveling alone as a woman of color on the Camino de Santiago revealed wisdom of self-reliance, love and perspective.
1: Don’t wait.
There is never a perfect time to take that trip, book that flight or learn that language. Life is really good at throwing us plenty of valid reasons not to do something. Family obligations, work, bills, you name it. It all adds up and gets heavy. Suddenly, it can feel like there aren’t any options to break out of your comfort zone. Of course, there are better times to take the risk, but ultimately there is no best time to change your life. There is only the present and the direction we want to go, so take the leap!
While solo hiking the Camino de Santiago, I had a ton of autonomy and honestly, it’s the best. I’d never had a time in my life where I could just do what I want to do. But with solo travel I could, and it was freeing! Spa day and chocolate tasting in Astorga? Check. Late night tapas with new friends? Sure! Hike 15 miles from town to town and just see where I end up? Why not?
At first it felt risky, and even selfish. I was asking myself judgmental questions: Was it “okay” for me to spend money on some luxury experiences? Was I being responsible, was I being safe?
But then I realized that this was self-doubt. I had carved out this time intentionally to travel and live! At home, I typically did the 9-5 work grind, a schedule that left little time for spontaneity. Solo travel reminded me that I am made to enjoy life, not just “get by” during the day. I can choose to be more than a passenger on my journey. More than that, I realized that trusting myself with my own discernment and decision making was empowering!
2: I can rely on myself
If you’re ever looking to get closer to yourself and get clear on who you are, let me tell you, take a long hike by yourself. Literally.
Modern life is so fast paced that we seldom have enough time to reflect on our lives. But the quiet of a few weeks in the woods eroded the internal busyness in my mind. My anxiety about work, relationships and the future (anyone else grappling with a quarter-life crisis here?) was calmed. I was able to hear my inner voice – the one that asks you the big questions about your values and joys. And the even smaller voice that asks what you’re willing to do to live in alignment with it. The beauty of this time was that it allowed me to marinate on these questions without pressure. I was surrounded by nature and able to look at the questions without judgement.
Ultimately, I can choose what works for me. There’s both responsibility and freedom that comes with that because it means that I decide my fate (and accept the consequences of that choice). It’s also super relieving because I don’t have to decide “the rest of my life”, only the next step.
At the end of the day it’s up to me to decide what makes me happy. I trust myself enough to know that I can handle what comes my way.
3: Play and experiment often
Hiking through Spain taught me to enjoy and be mindful of the present.
Some days I felt invigorated and other days I felt frustrated. By approaching the difference in my emotions and my body with curiosity, I was able to be less judgmental of myself. I learned to play with what felt right for me in the moment and adjust accordingly. Sometimes that meant walking alone to think; other times it meant I needed to speak with others and challenge myself with new ideas. Either way, viewing myself and the journey with levity and flexibility made it much more enjoyable.
I’m trying this new approach to life at home. Everything can be changed and most problems can be fixed. I challenge myself now to lean into the unknown and play with my decisions and figure out what will work for me. Life for me has gotten better since realizing that everything is a grand experiment and we’ll get to the solution eventually. Finding what brings me joy and what doesn’t in relationships, work, hobbies, etc. is a form of play. I’m trying to embrace the experiment!
4: I have what I need
Abundance mindset was definitely a theme on my solo-hike. I can get so in my head sometimes about planning and providing for a “better” future. I’ve realized that this way of thinking sometimes causes me to not appreciate all the ways I’m provided for now. I am so blessed to have shelter, food, clothes and loving family and friends. I have enough of everything I need.
I’ve realized that constantly striving for the next career move, relationship, apartment (fill in the blank) actually just leaves me stressed and unfulfilled. While hiking all I had with me were the clothes on my back and just enough supplies to keep going. I wasn’t worried about what else I needed because I trusted that I would find what was meant for me.
Obviously, having an abundance mindset can be much harder when the realities of everyday life hammer us (if only life was as evergreen as a cross-country hike through Spain). I also recognize the privilege that comes with being able to safely assume that I will be alright despite taking risks. However, realizing that things don’t have to be perfect (or planned) to be worthwhile has allowed me to shift to being grateful for all that I have and less preoccupied with what I don’t. I have what I need and what is meant for me will find me.
5: Ask for help
Remember old adage, “ask and you shall receive?” Call it what you want – God/fate/the universe; part of believing in abundance is also believing that I am worthy of help and rest. Learning to ask for help when I need it, or when I don’t have the solution was and is a huge part of the journey.
Hiking across country is certainly not without its challenges. There were days when I needed to ask for help for so many things! Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers who offered directions when I lost my way, KT tape when my muscles were sore, and even for a rest break when my legs decided that we would not be walking any more that day.
In each of those moments I stopped and reminded myself that I am human. Sometimes humans need help from other humans, and there is no shame in asking for it. Luckily, I met other people who were so kind and willing to lend or give me help – one trail angel even gave me her trekking poles so that I could use them to get uphill on a particularly difficult stretch.
6: Love comes in many forms
Can I be honest? This one feels a bit vulnerable to share.
As a woman of color solo backpacking abroad, I prepared myself to encounter bigotry or prejudicial comments, because, well…racism. My first instinct was to be more guarded around other travelers. I practiced steeling myself for what negative encounters could happen, because I have had hurtful experiences in the past. Now, while there are definitely valid reasons to be self-protective, I realized that the extent to which I mentally prepare can sometimes rob me of being open enough to enjoy the moment or experience people more freely.
I was so pleasantly surprised that the 99% of people I met while traveling were kind and decent humans. I met people from all over the globe and we approached each other with openness, humility and curiosity – traits that I struggle to find in lots of people at home. I felt more relaxed and realized that most people were happy to meet new friends or lend a hand if I needed it.
Appreciating love in the ways that it shows up , from simple kindness from a stranger to meaningful care and connections with friends. Moreover, I’ve learned that it is okay to accept these gestures from others and be more open with myself and what I share with others. As a result of being more vulnerable with others, I was able to do the same. I love the spirit of generosity that comes with travel. The ability to connect with so many new people that each can contribute a new perspective or experience and then take that with you.
#7: The best is yet to come
I developed a mantra on the tough hiking days: The worst is behind me. Thinking about the mountains I’d already climbed and the hard stretches I’d overcome helped me to keep going, because I’d already made it this far. But now I want to reframe my mantra now to being more forward thinking and positive: I’ve made it this far and the best is yet to come.
Solo hiking taught me so many lessons in self-reliance, trust and caring for myself. Traveling alone also allowed me to approach others with kindness and curiosity. I’m learning how to stay in the present moment and play with the process in a way that works for me. I’m definitely an imperfect human, but I’m learning to embrace the mistakes along with the wins. The worst is behind me, and there are even better things ahead!