Now if you had told the 21 year old me that I would've stepped foot in 18 different countries before I was 30, I would never in a million years have ever believed you. I could never afford that, where would I get the money? The thought of being able to explore that much of the world was only something I could only dream of. Only rich people could have those luxuries. I had been supporting myself since I was 14, living pay check to pay check. It would take me to win the lotto for this to happen. If you had also told me that I would spend a couple of years living abroad and also visit a few of these countries completely on my own, I would've thought you had gone mad.
At 21, I was a very clique' person. I kept to myself and had my friends that I kept extremely close but wasn't really open to letting anyone else in. It took me a lot to trust people. This was due to a lot of factors growing up, but that's another story for another time. Anyone that met me thought I was a snob, stand offish or even intimidating at first glance. I know this now, as a lot of those people are now my friends and this is the feedback they gave me! (I know what you're thinking, why would they become my friends when they thought I was a snob?!) - I wonder that sometimes too!
It was only when people would make an effort to get to know me or if they proved that they were trustworthy, was when I would slowly decide to let them in. Once I trusted them, they saw the outgoing, playful me and were usually so astonished that I could possibly be that same girl they once thought was a stuck up snob.
When I decided to take the leap, I organised a massive going away party. I think this was so I couldn't back out as I had made it known to everyone what I was planning. (Call it pride). I remember one of my close friends at my party telling me that they couldn't believe I had booked a one way ticket to Thailand and that they gave me 3 months max. "You wouldn't be able to survive without your safety net of friends." Little did he or myself know that I wouldn't return for 3 years.
I have travelled alone, with a friend or a group of friends. I've stayed in 5 star resorts to cheap, dingy backpacker hostels. Seen first to third world countries but yet there is still a lot more I want to see and experience.
I will however say that out of all my experiences so far, going to another country completely alone changed me the most. It took me out of my comfort zone. I could no longer be clique' or have the safety net of my friends around me. I knew no one and no one knew me. If I wanted to make friends, I had to make the effort. I had to approach people or groups of people whether it be for directions or to have someone to hang out with. You couldn't go to a bar/pub/club and hang out alone could you? This was extremely daunting for me.
I remember being in Kuala Lumpur walking through a mall alone. A little petrified as not many people spoke English and I was kind of lost. I was also too scared to ask people to help me. A tall African man started calling out to me. I turned around and pretended not to see him but he kept walking towards me. I walked faster and he kept following. He called out and I heard an accent, was that American?
There was a split second where I was choosing whether to run or turn around then a voice in my head said. "Maz, you don't know where you're going and you kind of need someone that speaks English," I stopped and turned around. Something I would never have done before that moment. This was a game changer for me. This moment changed how I react to others moving forward.
My intuition was right. The American guy was really nice, we had a drink, walked through the city exploring while he taught me about the culture differences there. I learnt a lot about him and of Malaysia. He had been studying and living there for the last couple of years. Then as any gentlemen should, he asked where I was staying, walked me to my doorstep and wished me well for the rest of my travels. I was actually quite astonished that he wasn't being a creep.
These days, I have no problems talking to strangers. I actually quite often make a lot of friends when I am out and about. I have also found that this has also helped me in the business side of things. I have a new found confidence that wasn't there before and I always give people the benefit of the doubt, unless of course, straight off the bat you feel bad vibes.
I wonder what it's like for others on their first trip alone? Did it change them?