From Tourist, to Traveler
Courtesy of Sophie Stickelmaier

From Tourist, to Traveler

As a kid, I remember listening feverishly to my dad tell stories of when he hitch hiked around the United States.

After graduating high school at 17, he left home and went all the way from Indiana to California, thanks to the kindness of strangers. Well, most of them were kind. Regardless, when I heard his stories of broken down cars and nights on strangers’ couches, I was exceedingly intrigued.

“I want to do that!” I said, imagining myself trekking along a busy highway with my dad’s leather messenger bag strapped across one shoulder, flowers in my hair… my daydream was immediately put to a halt.

“No, no, no. People don’t do that anymore… besides you’re a girl. It’s not safe.”

It is these things that people, especially women, are repeatedly told that make us feel as if we can’t experience the world on our own. In my opinion, if people are well prepared and conscious of their surroundings, there is no reason they shouldn’t travel on their own.

So ensued my solo journey to Barcelona. I made the very mature decision that it would be best to wait until AFTER my trip to tell the old man – didn’t want the poor guy to get jealous.

Upon arrival, I checked into my hostel, the Black Swan, and immediately met a lovely Canadian girl who invited me to head to the beach with her and some friends. However, I was really excited to explore Barcelona on my own, so I politely declined and said I’d see her back at the hostel.

I loved every inch of Barcelona. Laundry hung out every window, and palm trees made me feel like I was in paradise. Day slowly turned to night, and I began to feel something I rarely encounter… loneliness. Normally, when travelling in groups, I like to break off and explore on my own for a bit, however this time I didn’t have a bunch of friends to go home to.

When I got back to my hostel, my room was still empty and after sulking on my bed for a minute, I thought about my dad’s stories. The man trekked across the country by himself. Not only that, but he would take himself to movies no one else wanted to see and when on business trips, he would take himself out for delectable steak dinners.

There is nothing more admirable than someone who is confident and comfortable, someone who does exactly what makes them happy with no regard of what people may think.

After this subtle wakeup call, I quickly threw on the only semi-nice outfit I had and took myself out for a skillet of veggie paella with fresh sangria.

Sitting alone in the dimly-lit restaurant, I was definitely uncomfortable at first, but the longer I sat there the more I enjoyed not having to tend to anyone else’s needs. I could order another plate of paella or simply leave the moment I felt like it. I relished that freedom.

I spent the next two days meeting the most wonderful, inspiring people. I met a woman in her late 20’s who had recently ditched her job as a well-paid bio-chemist because she thought that doing the same exact thing every day for years would kill her.

Another girl, left in the middle of her college career because her restlessness was causing her studies to suffer. She figured she’d just take some time off and get it out of her system.

Knowing people would judge, scoff and shake their furrowed brows at them, these women made this grand decision to do something for the sole purpose that it would make them happy. And they did it on their own. So as far as advice goes, that would be it. Do what you want and don’t let society’s preconceived notions of ‘acceptable behavior’ defer you or else you’ll never have any stories to tell.

In addition, when traveling on your own do not by any means go on a pub crawl the night before your 5 a.m. flight, drink loads of sangria and end up as that sweaty, crazy-eyed person running through the airport. That’s not acceptable behavior.

Sophie Stickelmaier


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