by Anna Maria Cos Alcantara
Being the youngest of three siblings and being the only girl, I always travelled with a companion. It wasn’t until I got older until my parents trusted me and believed that I was independent enough to be able to travel alone, understandably. Truth be told, it’s true what they said – it can be a crazy, dangerous world, but somehow I was never fazed by it. Not that I didn’t believe that something bad can and may happen, but I guess I just believed that it can be avoided if you’re cautious enough.
The very first time my parents allowed me to fly alone was when I was 18. I flew from Manila to Amsterdam with a connecting flight from Singapore. I already knew what to anticipate – going through security, immigration, and the transfer from one gate to another when I got to Changi airport. What I didn’t anticipate though, was how lonely it can get when you’re waiting at the boarding gate alone, being surrounded by families and friend groups. It got pretty lonely when I boarded the plane alone and realized that I didn’t have a shoulder to lean on in case I wanted to sleep on the plane.
It got pretty lonely, until it didn’t – because I realized how therapeutic it was to watch how people made sense of traveling and how it’s a way for people to spend quality time outside of their everyday lives. It made me realize how traveling truly is a form of escape – because it’s another thing to physically take yourself out of a certain place or situation. It also made me realize how much of a luxury it truly is to be able to travel, when some people simply do not have the luxury of time, or simply the luxury itself.
The very first time I roamed around a city alone was when I was 22, on my last day in Madrid before flying back to Manila. Before my best friend left for Murcia, we went around the city and taught me how to navigate myself around using Google Maps, so I would know how to find my way around. It got pretty lonely when I woke up and had breakfast by myself in a room filled with absolute strangers in a foreign land. It got pretty lonely when I was window shopping and crossing streets by myself, because I didn’t have someone to accompany me and how I like to make funny side jokes out of every situation.
It got pretty lonely, until it didn’t. I realized how amazing it is to see things as an outsider – seeing how other cultures interact within their society, how different their norms are, and how language can ironically unite and divide people at the same time. I realized that sometimes it pays to look past currency conversions if it means gaining an experience that you can’t find back home. (I said this to myself as I splurged on a 10 euros on ice cream in the scorching Spanish heat) I also realized that being alone also means truly being alone with your thoughts, and how it made me look back at how different I was when I was 18, feeling already like a grown woman when I got to fly alone, and how much I’ve actually grown as a person since then.
It was only then that I understood why there really are people that love to travel on their own. I understood how amazing it is to get lost in introspection, and how I learned that self-evaluation is essential for self-growth.
People can and will continue to warn you about the crazy world out there and how your belongings can be taken away from you in a snap of a finger. But traveling alone and all the wonderful things that can come out of that experience, is something that no one else can ever take away from you.