Have you ever planned something that made you feel so brave as you thought about it, only to get more and more scared as the planned date approaches? That feeling of just letting go and saying “whatever, I’ll do it another time,” or “I’m not ready for that yet,” or even “fuck it, what was I thinking?” But then there is also the fact that this is something you feel you have to do and you know that deep inside you still want to do it, and you’ll be angry at yourself if you miss the chance?
Well, it happened to me recently. Actually, as I thought about putting my experience into words, I realised that it wasn’t even the first time I launched into something unexpected: ten years ago I signed up for a semester abroad completely on my own. I’ve been thinking about it for three years back then, but I always chickened out just before applying with a variety of excuses. You see, you might think it’s not a big deal, but for someone with my social anxiety (back then it was definitely worse, I assure you) and my uneasiness when it comes to making new friend spending a semester completely on your own can be a daunting idea.
As an unconscious celebration of the tenth anniversary of my first act of bravado, this year I decided to do something that looked even crazier to my younger self: going on vacation completely on my own. Sometimes it seems like society puts a stigma on people who spend time alone. Especially when we’re younger we are so used to the idea of going places in groups (sometimes very large group) that when we see someone on their own we assume that there’s something wrong with them, because they’ve got no company. Sometimes people choose to spend time alone, and we have no clues nor any right to judge them, but this is a thought that only occurred to me in more recent years.
It was seven years ago. Before I realised it, my mindset about spending time alone began to shift. I remember meeting a German woman who was hiking the Dolomites Alta Via 1 on her own, and instead of wondering why couldn’t she find anyone to go with I felt a kind of sincere admiration for her, because she wanted something enough to do it alone if needed. Or maybe she didn’t want anyone to slow her down, or she’s made a promise to someone, or whatever any reason she could have had: she was on vacation alone, but she was super cool.
At the time I thought that I still could never do something like that, and for a few years I didn’t even try to think about it. But this year it felt different. At first I thought my girlfriend wasn’t going to be able to go on vacation on August, and I was forced by my company to take two weeks of vacation in that month.
I began to think about what to do in case she couldn’t come with me, and after browsing a few organised photographic trips I decided that they were too focused on the photography part and less on the hiking part. I wanted to do both, but I wanted to do in my own terms, even if this meant finding the courage of going alone. And picking up my phone and my email to book my stay in the chosen mountain huts before I had the chance to think twice.
It took a while for the realisation to hit and scare me, even though everybody says it’s not recommended to go hiking alone. I know it very well, and this is why I chose a very known place in the Dolomites, hoping it would help me to feel a little less lonely. Because deep down I was beginning to wonder whether I had made a mistake, the feeling of anticipation and pure dread at the thought of being on my own for real.
Five days are not an eternity, not at all, but they can feel like one if you spend them all alone. I’m not bothered if I have to walk alone, because I’m so caught up in what’s around me and in a few random thoughts that it doesn’t matter if I’ve got nobody to talk to. Also because talking too much when you’ve got to walk uphill and climb for hours is not easy nor recommended. But what about the time you spend in the huts? The meals, the off time you usually spend recovering and talking to the people you’re walking with? This was the aspect I was dreading the most: long hours sitting on my own.
But something happened as soon as I got to the first hut, something I had not foreseen even though I had been thinking about her for the last seven years: I had become the German lady, the one brave enough to go on her own. I saw it every one of the following days in the eyes of the people I was able to talk to during the meals in the huts, and I have to say it was flattering. The idea of being at the table with total strangers (yes, hello again, first Erasmus week) talking about the path we just did on that day or on the following one. The thrill in asking people who went in the same direction as me if they wanted to go together at least for a bit.
It felt very good, and I think I could spend days and thousands of words repeating myself about it. I’m actually planning to do it again next year, choosing a different area, but there’s still a long way to go and I’m terrible at planning. What matters, and the reason why I’m sharing it with you, is that it made me really happy, both when I was there and now that I look back at it.
I don’t know if this is ever going to inspire anyone to let go of those little fears and do something that scares them, but I’d love to hear from you if it does. Or even if you’ve ever felt the same way about overcoming your own limits and fears.