Reading week is almost over. You probably spent your break reading your friends’ text messages about how they’re enjoying their ski trip in Blue Mountain or Mont Tremblant, or how they just can’t get enough of the amazing food and bars in Montreal. Perhaps your friends are extra fancy and decided to leave the country and are vacationing in warm, sunny Cuba. Maybe you were the one sending those texts, or maybe you were the one who’s sitting bored in Toronto.
That was me last summer – after working for almost three months I needed a break. All my friends had either used their leave to visit their families or had plans to go camping. Not being an outdoors-y kind of person I was kind of stuck. My options to break away were extremely limited, and that’s when I had a realization: who needs friends to travel? I could go anywhere I wanted on my own and the world was out there for me to discover—why should I let my companions or lack thereof prevent me from exploring?
So that summer I decided to go to New York City alone. My friends and family initially admonished me with cries of “Oh, what if you get pickpocketed, or lost, or hurt or-,” but their real fear was that I was a woman travelling alone, and of course that’s not safe. Right? I gave them detailed plans on where I was going, and ensured that I lived in a safe area – Wall Street. They didn’t have much to cry wolf over anymore, but I could feel their discomfort. But I still went, and believe it or not I came back with everything that I had left with, including all my limbs (except a couple of hundred dollars).
In NYC, I found a new sense of confidence. I had moved to Toronto on my own but living in residence is a much different experience than travelling alone. Coming from a family of women who had never lived alone, travelling alone for me was extremely empowering. But aside from that, the freedom to work with my own schedule, the freedom to get lost in a neighborhood because I found it charming, and the freedom to explore everything that struck my fancy was absolutely liberating. I have travelled with friends and family before, and every time I’ve been left craving. This time I felt complete; I felt the power of my stride, and heard the assertiveness in my voice. For the first time, I felt like the woman I always wanted to be.
When I travel, I travel to discover—to discover a new city, a new culture, and myself. In the noise of daily life, we tend to forget to look inside and make sure that we are being true to who we are and living up to our potential. Travelling alone helps get rid of that noise: being mildly uncomfortable because of being in an unfamiliar place forces one to really look inside oneself to find comfort and to ensure survival. It brings out your basic instincts, and then you can understand and hone them. Travelling with friends and family on the other hand is comfortable, and it doesn’t change you the way the travelling alone does.
This reading week, my friends invited me to a ski trip, but again not being the outdoors-y type I knew I would have to create my own adventure and my own escape. So again I decided to travel alone. As I write this from my seat in the train, and watch a flock of birds flying away from a farm, I know I chose correctly. In Montreal, I had the option of choosing to spend my days exploring McGill’s libraries and cafés (studying for my midterms next week), or to go to poetry readings, or to watch French theatre that I don’t understand, or to be enthralled by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for several hours, or even perhaps to wake up at 4am to watch the sunrise over Mont Royal. One day I chose to spend most of the day in, playing with the dogs at my Airbnb. And not even once did I have to step in a place where I felt anything less than exhilarated.