While I could create a long ongoing list of what I have gained and learned from traveling, the one that is at the top of the pyramid is to take a risk. Until I met my husband almost all of my travels at least started out with me traveling solo. Every time I board a bus, train, plane, ferry, rickshaw, etc...to some place I have never been before there are varying degrees of nervousness that goes along with the excitement. I rarely know anyone at the next stop and usually don't even know where I am going to stay. How does it work out? I don't know, it's a mystery. Yet somehow how it does. Not to say that I haven't had nights where I have had to sleep in a train station but usually I find a place. Occasionally that has even been staying in someone's home that I met in a chance meeting, waiting in a queue or someone I started talking to at a nearby table in a café.
I have found that most people in the world, when given the opportunity, love to give you the best of who they are. I try to travel with an open heart and a smile and I have been rewarded with the same all over the world. Don't get me wrong, I do try to exercise good common sense and instincts, especially from the viewpoint of being a solo female traveler. I'm not afraid to stay firm and say no to unwanted "guides" and aggressive behavior. However, sometimes I find that taking that risk and letting myself be vulnerable as a person can be a strength. One that can put you in a position where the women you just sang with in a temple in India are fighting over who gets to have you over to their home for lunch. I, also, always do an immense amount of planning before I go on a trip. I might not do any of it but at least I know where the train station is if I need it ; ).
The best part of learning to take risks is that it doesn't end with traveling. It becomes a part of who you are in your daily life. After I backpacked across Europe in my late twenties I came back to my home in Chicago. I felt like I needed to do something different with my life so 6 months later I took one suitcase and flew to LA, not knowing a soul. I didn't know if I would stay or fly somewhere else in a couple of weeks. Years later I happily still call LA home.
Taking a risk can be so many things, from initiating conversation with a stranger, trying to speak a new language even though you know your pronunciation is terrible (people still appreciate your effort), trying a food that the merchant offers you to try in the Medina, going to that village, whose name you can't pronounce and have no idea where it is, on the advice of someone you met in a park, or helping out that backpacker that looks lost on the streets of the town you live in and offering them a cup of coffee. After all, next month it could be you.
Even though traveling makes your comfort range bigger there is still always room to stretch past it. I find new risks daily, while traveling, while raising my daughter, in my everyday life. My mantra whenever I come up to something that feels a little bit like I'm at the edge of a cliff that I'm about to drop off is to...
Take A Deep Breath.....and Just Let Go......................................................................................
"Listen, Make a way for yourself inside yourself. Stop looking in the other way of looking."