5 things I learned backpacking solo through Central America
A terrible break up + all your friends off on adventures around the world + a job that you don’t love + a very cold Canada winter = “GET ME OUTTA HERE”. Those were my feelings in early 2014, and I knew I needed a change & fast! So one night during a bout of sleeplessness I somehow managed to book a flight to Costa Rica. With no knowledge of the Spanish language other than “Hola” (hello), “cervasas” (beers) and “Gracias” (thank you) and absolutely no plans at all I was headed off in the spring.
This was going to be my first solo backpacking adventure. A year before I had taken off to Australia but left Canada with a friend (we split up soon after ) and my ex had come over to meet me so I wasn’t ever alone for more than a month or so the whole year. I knew virtually nothing about Costa Rica(besides a serious amount of beaches) but I knew I needed to leave in a big way. And so I did. I left Alberta and my life was forever changed by the time my 2 month adventure ended. I left with no expectations, and returned with a confidence I never knew I had. So to anyone who is toying with the idea of solo travel, here are the five things I learned while exploring Central America:
1. You are more than capable (something I’ve posted about before)
There is a quote that I keep stumbling on that goes “As you travel solo, being totally responsible for yourself, it’s inevitable that you will discover just how capable you are” and although I still haven’t been able to find out who said this, nothing is truer. When you travel on your own you are the only one making decisions, you are making the choices, calling the shots – all of it is up to you. And that is the most empowering feeling in my opinion. Here I was leaving a place where to be frank, after my breakup, I was the most insecure I had ever been. And I held all the cards, I determined what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go & why. No longer was I relying on someone else for happiness, or looking to a friend to make plans. It was all on me, and man was I beyond capable! Any doubt I once had seemed to float away within my first few days in Costa Rica. I was doing what I wanted, I was happier than I had been in a long time and it was all because of me. Solo travel gives you the opportunity to exercise a confidence you may not even know you have in you. And from that point you won’t want it any other way.
2. You are your own best friend
Maybe you already love your own company, which is awesome! At the time I left I couldn’t stand being around myself, listening to that little ‘downer Debbie’ voice in my head all the time. Yet, being on my own was a choice I had made, and it took some time but I was able to get to that place where you can enjoy your own company for days or weeks on end. I got to meet a whole new side of myself that was outgoing and adventurous, a side that seemed to attract all kinds of equally as adventurous travelers through my time in Central America.
3. You will never be alone
As I just mentioned, the confidence and overall attitude I had when exploring Costa Rica, Panama & Nicaragua throughout my trip had me attracting people from all walks of life that I never would have met otherwise. A pair of Seattle’s finest orthodontists on week-long vacation from braces & retainers, A German girl who was doing the “sell everything you own and travel the world for a year”, two Welsh doctors taking a month-long holiday before getting back to the grind, and countless other incredible people I became fast friends with and still keep in touch with now.
When you travel solo you are forced to put yourself outside of our comfort zone, sure there are days where you’re more than happy laying on a beach, or going for a surf on your own, but for me personally I crave human interaction while travelling. I thrive off the people I meet and the stories they tell. So yes, should you decide to take on a trip solo, you will depart to your destination but you won’t be alone for very long. And just think of the couches all over the globe you’ll have waiting for you on your next adventure.
4. Just wing it
I was a planner. That’s just who I was, it was what I did. I felt cool calm and collected when I had everything planned out. So the idea of only having a plane ticket, a hostel booked for one night and my backpack pretty much scared the hell out of me at first.
I knew I had to get out and go, but that didn’t stop my planning brain from freaking out! But after a few days on a tiny Panamanian island that anxiety seemed to slip away. I was on an open ended vacation, I had no plans, and nowhere to be for the next 9 weeks, so why not wing it? This goes hand-in-hand with the friends I made travelling through Central America. I met a group of people in my second week in Bocas Del Toro, Panama and together we had similar ideas of where we wanted to go next, and so we did. The group of us just went with the flow and traveled together up through Costa Rica and into the middle of Nicaragua, sometimes leaving each other for a few days only to meet back up in the next town. It was amazing, the freedom to come & go as I pleased was exciting. Not knowing where I would be sleeping two nights from then was something I looked forward to. The unmade plans that always ended up in incredible moments with incredible friends are what I love about solo travel. My planner brain, after much debate, seems to love the “wing it” attitude I adopted in Central America and has followed me closely since then.
5. You’re safe
This was the biggest concern for absolutely every one I told I was going to Central America. First and foremost my parents – my mom who originally thought I was joking and dad who, bless him, sent me every travel advisory from the tip of Central America to the bottom of South America. My friends who questioned the decision entirely “why would you want to travel alone?” And a fair few people I’ve spoken to since returning from that trip wondering how it’s possible I’m still alive. I’m here to say, yes I backpacked through Costa Rica, Panama & Nicaragua as a single female traveler. Was I scared before I left? Sure I had my reservations, but I’d like to give everyone I meet the benefit of the doubt, and I’d also like to think that in my twenty something years of life I’m fairly intelligent. And I’m here to tell the tale, and to be quite honest I never feared for my life during those nine weeks.
If you think smart then a lack of safety should be a concern. It’s probably best not to go throwing around how much money you’re carrying, or wielding that ‘insert name brand item here’ while walking through the streets. Keep only the money you need on you for the day, most hostels have safes for you to keep you credit cards, passports (smart to carry a copy if necessary), extra money and anything else you’d be worried to lose or have taken from you should you end up in a not-so-ideal situation.
So if you think before you act, and consider yourself a fairly intelligent person looking for a trip of a lifetime then put those worries to rest and take off to experience the la buena vida (the good life).
Guest post published by Laura from – shewhowanderstheworld.com