the surprising reason solo travel changed my life.

inspiration, life, madrid, solotravel, spain, spirit, travel

Because solo travel has transitioned from just something I do to a way of life, all my solo travel experiences have become a blur. I don’t mean that to say I have forgotten all of my solo travel adventures I’ve taken.

How could I forget my solo trip to Milano where I had a couch surfing experience from hell and a dear friend saved my ass and salvaged what could’ve been a horrible trip? Or the 36 hour solo trip I took to Porto, Portugal and the time spent sitting on a cottage along the Douro River crying because I was verklempt? Or being stunned into silence by the view of Eiffel Tower?

I’ll never forget these experiences. Not for the rest of my life. It’s just it’s been four years of solo traveling. Four years and as of now, 11 countries and 32 cities full of my wanderlust taking me to corners all over the world solo dolo. When it becomes a way of life, it’s sort of unconscious. It becomes who you are and how you see — and experience — what and those you encounter. The beautiful conversations you have. The scenes which beg to be photographed. The culinary bites which you either love or hate vehemently.

Solo travel has changed my life. As a woman. As a Black woman. As an African woman. As a daughter. As a sister. As a friend. As a lover. As a writer. As an artist. As a creative. As an empath. As a spirit-filled and spirit-led person.

I read a lot. A lot of blogs, a lot of tweets. There are more and more women taking solo trips. Which means there are more and more people writing about these experiences. Although most of the written are vaguely surface-level.

 Yes, solo travel will teach you to enjoy and love yourself in new ways and to not fear being alone. Yes, you will emerge from a solo trip with a newfound sense of wonder and confidence. And yes, every woman should have the experience at least once in their lifetime. 

Can we go deeper though? Can we talk about how solo travel creates new neural pathways and shifts you emotionally, mentally and physically?

For me, the most unexpected and surprising reason solo travel has changed my life is how it instilled within me the treasure of still truths. A knowing that it’s okay to start completely over and to not have a plan. Solo travel taught me it’s okay to break the mold and veer off the path lain in front of me that isn’t really mine but instead is one that’s always been taken.

Traveling alone — without friends, family and a significant other by my side — inadvertently taught me how to be who I a truly am, the person I spent most of my life running from. An individual. A woman who lets her heart guide her. A woman who isn’t fearless like most people think she is but instead, a woman who is almost always afraid but is brave and courageous simply because she works with the fear in her life that arises.

I did not have that sense until I dared to start doing things alone. And not just travel either. I mean doing everything alone, from the mundane to the magnificent. To spend a lifetime not listening to your heart and what it wants and deferring to the voices of others, is like living a life chained. A life which is limiting and has limits. A life which can’t expand, grow wings and fly away and reach new heights. A life which is rife with too much comfort, too much familiarity and too much of the same.

A life which wants to change but is afraid to change and rather than look the fear square in the eye, quiet it by staying put.

Solo travel, surprisingly, handed me the rest of my life, my life which was waiting for me to awaken to it, to say I was ready to accept the great challenge and calling I was born and named for.

I’m writing this post from a flat near the center of Madrid, Spain. Almost four years ago, I took my first international solo trip here. No one was excited for me when I announced that I was taking this trip by myself. I was met with endless questions about how safe it would be for a young woman like myself traveling with no companion. People asked me if I spoke Spanish. What I would do if I got lost. If I would run out of money. If I would be able to use my cell phone.

The almost two weeks I spent in Madrid were spent carrying those questions, holding the projections of others near and dear to my heart. At a certain point during my time there, I wanted to enjoy myself without my brain being flooded with other people’s stuff. 

Then was when the magic began.

As you can imagine, being back here in Madrid I am filled with nostalgia from those moments (and others) and remembering. Remembering what my life used to be like when I lived here years ago and how much time has passed. How it seemed so automatic that I needed to relocate my entire life here, my entire former existence, to a foreign country and city after a short period not even equaling two weeks.

I’m also reflecting on the great surprise of how solo travel began much needed healing. Solo travel unlocked my heart. It gave me myself. It told me to not fear, to shake off shrinking myself and settling for good enough. And it told me, with a gentleness, a kindness, it was okay to dream while awake, with my eyes wide open, in my waking, moving, everyday life. To not have to wait until it was night and the stars danced in the sky.

My heart. It told me to lean into my heart and trust. Lean into my heart and leap. 

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Considering taking your first solo trip soon? Join the Afros y Paella mailing list to get solo travel affirmations to accompany you on your journey and to get the scoop on my upcoming workbook Solo Sojourness: A Roadmap to Planning and Bravely Taking Your Solo Adventure. Join my mailing list here.

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a love letter to madrid.

inspiration, life, madrid, spain, travel

A mi Madrid, mi corazón,

Seems nonsensical to have such a deeply intimate relationship with a city. You are not a person. You are not in human form, with a body. And yet, who you are, the beauty of you, has changed me forever.

My journey with you, my relationship with you, began when I was in middle school. I was told I had to pick a language to start earning foreign language elective credits. I picked Spanish because French seemed too hoity toity and German — well the sound of it I liken it to an angry making, impassioned squabble. I wanted to learn a language which, in some way sounded magical to my ears and sounded marvelous leaving my lips.

Learning Spanish was easy, almost too easy. And perhaps this points to my destiny, my fate and how I would ultimately meet you, how I would ultimately decide to change the course of my life, and move halfway across the world.

It was fated from the beginning. We were fated from the beginning. It was kismet.

You, in all your splendor and glory, were like the most compassionate of teachers, forgiving, always sending reminders that life could be life-ing but that I’d be okay. Like, how when I had the shittiest of days, walking from teaching an English class, missing home (and all the familiarity it entailed) and I’d look up and see an awestruck cathedral and be moved to tears.

That’s just who you are.

But also, you’re firm, you’re a bit rough. You had hard lessons to teach me, too, on the importance of being almost deathly observant and detail oriented. Remember the time when I went to get my formal Spanish identification card and on my paperwork confirming my appointment there was the phrase billete de avión, scrawled in barely legible handwriting with a permanent marker? And remember how time I sat down to that appointment, the phrase, scrawled in barely legible handwriting, was pointed to? I was supposed to bring my plane ticket with me. I had to come all the way back on another day, and I left crying and cried all the way home and took the wrong Metro home three times.

You taught me about perseverance, to an upteenth degree I never knew was possible. From you, I learned sometimes things are not easy to adjust to, sometimes we have to suffer until we can grasp and hold the beauty for ourselves. Sometimes things are just bad. Sometimes we can’t prettify them or reframe or be optimistic. Sometimes the gift we must cling to is the gift of acceptance, of accepting our now so that our future, a better, brighter future, can be had.

The value of a dollar — or should I say Euro — is something else you gently showed me. I learned from you, while living in a city not making a lot of money, I really don’t need a lot to thrive. I learned a full refrigerator often equals a full heart, too, because cooking and nourishing my body is connected to nourishing my soul.

Timing is everything you taught me, and often, the things we want most need a little more time to manifest and enter into our lives. And that time is not on our time or within the realm of our (limited human) understanding of all the things which need to slide perfectly together for the right things to come into being. You taught me that as things not happening or moving oft inspires a rage within me, that fighting what is beyond me, what is not yet ready, benefits me none. That resistance actually stalls the goodness more from being apart of my life. And well, what sense does it make to block my blessings?

People and some friendships and relationships are temporal, you taught me as well. I learned I’m so hungry for people to stay, for as long as possible, because I know in too familiar of a sense the emptiness that people leaving, being abandoned, feels like. I want so badly to prevent myself from experiencing that despair that often I fight like hell for people who have imparted their lessons, wisdoms and love and are slated to leave and move on to what’s next, for them, for the next person they’ll help inspire and heal. And you taught that sometimes, the shortest, most random, most intense people and relationships, have the power to shake us up and change us the most. And that’s certainly no coincidence.

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Outside the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, where I spent time with a friend who, in many ways, changed my life.

You taught me, chiefly, that following my heart has to be a way of life, without compromise, if I want to feel free and come into more and all of who I am. You stressed to me on several occasions the reason I often feel the propensity to take huge leaps and scare the shit out of everyone around me is that I ignore the smaller callings of my heart, those moment to moment, day to day minuscule heart stirrings. Those minutiae decisions which seem ordinary but instead if overlooked mount and build into a massive snowball I have no choice but to take a grandiose leap to surmount it. You taught me life can be different, that life can be filled with ease, if I always listen and trust I will be taken care of when it’s hardest to listen and obey.

Missing you seems like too trite of a sentiment to express. You are etched and embedded into chambers of my heart and the fiber of who I am. When I left almost two years ago, I mourned you for quite a long time. It’s why adjusting to Washington, DC was such a struggle initially. I didn’t want to let you go. I wasn’t ready to.

But as in every relationship, in every bond and every connection — body, spirit and mind — made, there’s an art to honoring the lessons, beauty, the laughter, the growth and transformation offered and parting ways. Honoring what was had enough to create distance. Honoring what was to let go.

I can let go now.

I can let go while reflecting back, seeing the woman I now am because of you, with unceasing gratitude for how the shifts and growths you started, the things you taught me, the love and beauty you never failed to show.

And I can rest the aching, the dull ache, I’ve somehow tried to quiet all these years, with a knowing, a deep knowing, that I ever where to return, if I ever longed to be in your presence one more in the future, you’ll be there to welcome me with open arms.

Besitos,

Nneka