Culture & Entertainment

Solo travel: 3 simple lessons I learned during my year abroad

By: Simone Castello
Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

Solo travel: 3 simple lessons I learned during my year abroad

By: Simone Castello
Seou_Gyeongbukgu_Palace I was 23 when I decided to pack my bags and move across the planet. At the time, I had just finished journalism school and was a few months into a fantastic stint in the media industry. I had a well-paying job at one of Canada's top consumer magazines, and yet, despite living what I thought was my dream life, I wasn't happy. Having been in Toronto for a large part of my life, I saw no reason to leave when I was a student. I commuted to university every day so that I could save some money, and then, when it came time to find a job, I didn't see the point of leaving one of the most influential cities in the world, in terms of media. This was, after all, the plan: To finish school and find my dream job as a magazine journalist. My decision to leave didn't happen overnight. It built up over the course of months. There was an ongoing battle between my head and my heart, and between my conscience and my desire to fly. Eventually, after collecting every ounce of courage within me, I made the decision to leave. I chose Seoul, South Korea as my landing destination. I would go on to spend a year in this fast-paced Asian city, teaching English to middle school students, travelling, laughing and learning to love someone who had been on the back-burner of my life for a long time: myself. Simone_In_Thailand Here are  three lessons I learned during my year abroad, and why I encourage every woman to embrace solo travel. 1. You experience a shock to your system (in a good way). I often describe Seoul as similar to Toronto, but with a language barrier. This shock happened instantaneously, the moment I stepped off of the plane. Rather than stress about it, however, I embraced it. As the year rolled out, I realized how desperately my body and mind needed something like this. I felt alive, reinvigorated and so happy to be experiencing something new. When you think about it, we're just these tiny beings, existing on this massive planet. This was the first time that beautiful quote by Oscar Wilde resonated: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” 2. You learn to live, rather than simply exist. I had to remind myself that my year abroad had an expiry date. I knew, going out there, that I would be returning to Toronto, eventually. Sure, there was this small part in my brain (actually, my heart) that wondered if I would meet someone and have this whirlwind international romance that would result in me moving to some remote part of the world, but I digress. I chose to embrace everything that happened to me while I was away. The good, the bad and the difficult. From spending a weekend at a Buddhist monastery in complete silence to teaching my students the lyrics to "L-O-V-E" by Natalie Cole (complete with hand gestures) for our Valentine's Day lesson to spending the night at a KFC, waiting for the subway to start running again (after a long night dancing in the local university district) to trying a Dr. Fish pedicure -- I soaked it all in. Everything was brand new, and every experience placed a permanent mark on my heart. When I moved back to Toronto, this way of living stayed with me. I now try to look at everything I do with enthusiasm and joy . It helps with perspective on the harder days. 3. You learn to roll with the punches. And there are a lot, don't get me wrong. Travelling is great, but if you don't keep an open mind, take precautionary measures and have faith that everything will work out (even if it take a long time, in some cases), you will set yourself up for a terrible experience. One of the biggest lessons I learned during my time away from the comforts of home is that I can't control everything. I learned that I can only do what's within my means and capacities, and have faith that things will find a way to work out. I learned that in many cases, the outcome may not be what I pictured in my head, but it doesn't mean that it's bad. A good example is when my friends and I decided to take the train to a local butterfly festival during a long weekend. What we didn't take into account was that everyone had plans to escape the city at the same time as us, but had booked their tickets in advance. We still wanted to go away, so the alternate route was to hop on a tiny bus (well, two of them, actually) and keep our fingers crossed. We eventually made it to our destination, but also lived to share a fantastic tale of a tiny bus going at top speed through winding roads (phew!). Hampyeong_Butterfly_Festival I was inspired to write this post by a beautiful article I saw on BuzzFeed : 26 remarkable places for solo travel. My time abroad, fortunately, kick-started my wanderlust, and I've gone on to visit four of the places on that list so far, and have been lucky enough to live in two. The year away from home let me form close friendships with people from different corners of the world, and I still stay in touch with many of them. The ability to travel is a wonderful gift, and I honestly believe you'll always gain from visiting somewhere new. Remember: “We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharlal Neru All images courtesy of Simone Castello
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Solo travel: 3 simple lessons I learned during my year abroad

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