What Traveling Alone Taught Me
October 29, 2017
I had not intended to journey through Cape Town, South Africa, on my own. I am not a solo traveller. I enjoy shared experiences and nothing makes me happier than trekking through an unfamiliar place with someone I know intimately, chatting about the strangeness of things that I don’t.
But a miscalculated timeline left Chantelle – a content creator at Forward Forty and my travel companion – in Qatar for a week. With my ticket already booked and Air BnB paid for, I decided to go it alone for 6 days until she arrived. I was nervous but largely unafraid. Mostly, I was just happy.
You see, I had all intentions of keeping the promises I made to myself some years ago: to live more boldly, to travel and see more. It had also been a month since I had an unapologetic argument with someone I loved and I was craving introspection, exploration and clarity, all things I felt I needed in order to hit the proverbial reset button in a purposeful way.
So I did it. I began my journey alone and to be honest, it was one of my best weeks ever.
I’ll never forget on the drive from the airport watching the sun glow like a peach against a deep blue sky. It lit the green vastness of the city’s rolling hills that at once pulled you in and then drew your eyes upward to the iconic Table Mountains, a flat-topped natural formation that was named one of the new 7 Wonders Of The World.
In that moment, soaking it all in, I felt insignificant and connected. Tears leaked onto my cheeks.
The moment felt holy.
Before Chantelle arrived during the second week and our filming began in earnest I felt lighter, clearer, connected to a better ‘me’.
The week also allowed me to open myself up to many South Africans. Typically, I love talking to strangers. I met Omaya (Son of a King) a Ugandan transplant and his wife, Rosie, only because Talpelo, the Capetonian security guard at my Air BnB, took me down the sloped hill and showed me how to grab a taxi. Omaya was the driver we met and one taxi ride, and a laughing conversation later, he became my official chauffeur for the week. That was how I met Dianne, a woman I struck up a conversation with when Omaya dropped me off at the V A Waterfront, an upscale space for tourists to delight in handmade South African design.
Dianne, a trader in beautiful cotton sweaters, fixed one of her gorgeous knitted caps on my head, proclaimed it a gift and then invited me for tea. Later, I would meet Tony in the oldest township in South Africa, Langa, where I learned about his work in transforming townships into enclaves where black South Africans could succeed.
These South Africans, black and white, old and young became my ‘friends.’ In each of them, I recognised pieces of myself, because in some very different ways we were all trying to do better, be better with the lives we were living.
There is great joy in seeing and being in a new space with your eyes and heart wide open. Travelling to another continent is a real privilege. Travelling alone is courageous. Going to great distances to be connected and yet gain a sense of self is not available to all. But it can be and it sometimes doesn’t require a 48-hour plane ride.
Wherever you live, take the time to really look around. You can stay where you are and soak it all in with a big and courageous heart. Try different things, have conversations with people you would never have spoken to. Head to new restaurants. Take a cooking class or something else new. Be open to others. Challenge yourself. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable, even in your own neighbourhood. Have fun.
I know that my own definition of fun has deepened to include more meaningful experiences. I’m older, wiser, more giving, I hope. Plus, I feel I’ve earned the right to spend time doing only what matters and brings me joy. For a few days this month, on my own, I did just that.
Thank you, South Africa. Thank you, Cape Town for a week and experiences I could never have imagined.