I have never labeled myself a brave person. When asked to describe myself, I can think of plenty of positive characteristics: funny, optimistic, loyal, kind, and so on. But, the word brave, has just never found its way onto my list.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I want to be brave. I want to conquer my fear of heights. I want to find the courage to tell people how I feel when I’m upset or hurt. I envy the people in my life who I view as fearless risk takers. Of course, I know that no one is completely fearless, but there are some people who I just notice, don’t seem to be afraid of very much.
Over the years, I have come to accept this lack of bravery and made my peace with it. It’s just not who I am, I think to myself. Well, then how did a play it safe and live life by the rules gal like me, end up backpacking through the U.K. for a whole week – alone?
For many people, 2016 was a rollercoaster of a year and I was no exception. I saw a lot of big changes in my life, both good and not so good. The year began with my roommate of five years moving out and my best friend from college moving into his place. Next, an exciting new job opportunity came my way, only to be immediately followed by a breakup that left me devastated. I made a healthy lifestyle change and over the next several months lost fifty pounds. I rekindled a relationship with an old flame, only to have our fire quickly extinguished once more. Finally, witnessing the Presidential victory of Donald Trump made me anxious for the future of our country and world. Needless to say, by the end of 2016, I was overwhelmed and emotionally drained. I needed something that would close the painful chapters of that year, celebrate the opening of new and exciting doors and also leave me ready to take on whatever 2017 was going to throw my way.
One day, it hit me that it had been almost 10 years since I had really traveled and explored another country. I realized that maybe this was what I needed – a big trip to a new place. But, my excitement immediately vanished when I realized that none of my friends had the time or money to travel. But as the day wore on, the thought of travel just wouldn’t leave my head. I realized, I needed this to happen, even if it meant doing it alone. I mentioned the idea to my roommate, who has traveled all over, even doing some of it alone. She fell in love with the idea and urged me to still go – even if I had to do it solo. But, I hesitated. I can’t even go see a movie by myself, let alone travel to another country! The idea seemed ludicrous…but intriguing. And after a few days, I made my decision. I was going to backpack through Scotland and England alone for eight days.
As the day of my trip grew closer, I began to get more and more nervous. Maybe the voices in my head were right and maybe I couldn’t do this. My roommate did it, but she’s brave. I’m not brave. I’m going to fail. These were the thoughts that consumed my head. But, the day of my trip finally arrived and I flew off to Edinburgh in Scotland to begin my adventure.
As I got off the plane, the feelings of panic were still looming in the back of my mind. But, as I sat in a small cafe that morning in this beautiful city, I realized – you’re here. You did one very brave thing, already. You took the leap, got on the plane and here you are.
So, by acknowledging that I had done something brave, I began the first day of my adventure. And as I explored Edinburgh, I told myself to embrace every good feeling and to enjoy every second of this journey – which is exactly what I did.
On that first day, I remembered why I wanted to do this trip in the first place – to break me out of a funk, re-energize me and most importantly, to step outside of my comfort zone. I wanted each day to be about doing something that I’d never done before. And I did a lot of things on this trip that I’d never done before. I hiked to the top of a huge hill in Edinburgh, even with my fear of heights. I sat by myself at a bar and shared a pint with a stranger, who by the end of the evening felt like a new friend. I ate most of my restaurant meals alone with only the comfort of a good book to keep me company. I went to a play at Shakespeare’s Globe and was content with my single ticket. I even went on a date with someone I knew I’d probably never see again! But, how nice to sit there holding someone’s hand, not worrying about whether or not he would call the next day.
I became comfortable with silence and being a passive observer of my surroundings. But, most importantly, I remembered how much I value spending time with myself. At the end of my trip, as I sat on the airplane flying over the Atlantic, I bathed in the memories of my solo adventure. Even now as I write this, my face is plastered with a big, goofy grin thinking about the places I discovered and the people I met. Simply put, this trip was the best thing I ever did in my life.
So, why would I ever argue that this trip didn’t, in fact, make me a braver person? I mean, I conquered fears and did things that, at one time, made me anxious, didn’t I? What I’ve come to realize through this experience is that, I have always been a brave person, but through telling myself over and over again that I wasn’t, I was never able to discover that part of who I am. I’ve lived much of my life with this level of acceptance that I just can’t do certain things because I’m too afraid.
There are a lot of brave people in our world – people who put their lives on the line every day to make our world safer, cleaner and free from hate. But, bravery comes in a lot of different forms and we can find ways to show it on a daily basis in our own lives. Are you frustrated at your boyfriend because he cancelled your date night two times in a row? Tell him! Have a great idea that you want to share with your boss, but you’re nervous she won’t like it? Share it! See someone being put down or bullied by another? Say something! Stand up for others when they may feel like they can’t stand up for themselves. Dream of going somewhere, but keep putting it off because there’s no one to go with you? Do it! Be brave. As always, with any act of bravery – never put yourself into an unsafe situation.
If you are going to travel somewhere alone, do your research. Read the reviews of your hostels, take care of your belongings and share your itinerary with family and friends back home. There is a difference between being brave and acting carelessly.
I hope there is someone reading this who feels that they can relate to me and my story. If there is, I hope you feel inspired to explore your own bravery that you may feel doesn’t exist. Trust me, it does. It might be buried beneath a lot of self-doubt and some fear, but it’s there. There’s a great line from Game of Thrones that reads: “How can a man be brave if he’s afraid?” The response from another character is simple. “That is the only time a man can be brave.” Remember, being afraid of something doesn’t make you a coward. It’s just an opportunity for you to dig deep within yourself and find your courage.
Traveling alone scared me, but it also allowed me the opportunity to discover something that I always had inside of me. Truth be told, I’m still afraid of heights and will probably never bungee jump, but who’s to say that one day I won’t fly?