When I reflect on my childhood, “SHELTERED” in flashing yellow lights with a gigantic red exclamation point appears. Case in point: I’m pushing 25 and still don’t have my license. A factor was cost. It’s more expensive to own a car in New York City than to take public transportation. “Why do you need to learn how to drive? It’s expensive, and we already drive you everywhere you need to be,” said my mom. As much as my parents wanted to blame ridiculously high insurance prices, I knew the main factor was my safety. It is terrifying to watch your daughter grow into an adult. Learning to drive was another step towards independence. Would I be a good driver? Would I be responsible? Would I come home?
My parents are exceptionally loving. Sometimes their love was a bit misguided with thoughts that sheltering me from experiences would be protection from the insane world. The result? I’m uneasy in the dark. I can’t swim. And up until high school, I never walked more than a two block radius alone. Every now and then, I doubt whether I can cross a street properly. Seven years later, I’ve dramatically shifted to forcefully traveling on my own. I’ll be frank: it’s scary.
The first solo trip I ever took was a business trip to Chicago. I was granted the luxury of baby steps with a 3 hour domestic flight. I would be weaned into traveling alone. Yet with my ever overly romanticizing mind, I dreamt a writer’s dream of being sent to a charming European city where I didn’t speak the language. I would come to meet a handsome stranger at an airport bar who would just so happen to be the aisle companion to my window seat on the flight. It would seal the deal to our one week whirlwind romance that I would come to reminisce about on my deathbed.
I’ve found my life doesn’t go that way. Things don’t go horribly wrong- they just don’t go horribly right either. The reality of my first business trip was that a hurricane blew across Chicago, bringing torrential downpours. It was near impossible to sightsee. Chicago was an architecturally beautiful city, but I wish I was able to say the same about my hotel. I slept restless under the musty covers of the Palmer House. The room reminded me of an old Victorian house haunted by the spirit of murdered child. Every night I lay fearful that a demon child was going to crawl out of my antique wardrobe to eat my soul. Were all solo trips supposed to be like this?
Thankfully, no. A few more trips down the line, I think I’ve mastered solo travel. Somewhat. I’m currently at JFK International Airport waiting to board my American Airlines flight to Barcelona. I’ll be in Sitges for five days. Over those days, maybe I’ll break out of my shell and meet someone. I don’t want that whirlwind romance. But I want to strike up conversations with random strangers and locals. Maybe I’ll even befriend them despite my awkwardness. Going solo is still a frightening process for me. I’m jittery up until I collapse onto the hotel bed on the last night of my conquered journey. Part of me thinks I’ll always have that sense of fear because of my sheltered upbringing. If I can control my fear and transform it into a sense of awareness, maybe I’ll be alright. I won’t be the fearless backpacker; I’ll be the girl that conquered her fears.