Independence may have a definite, universal definition as “free from the influence, control, and support from others” but for me, and I’m sure others, it has personal meaning as well. Because I found myself again in traveling, I define independence as being content with being free from the influence and support.
I was bitten by the travel bug as a 16-year-old high school student on spring break, school-chaperoned trip to Edinburgh, London, and Paris. I was HOOKED. I kept a journal of my trip and about 8 months ago, while packing to move into my smallest apartment yet (because downsizing means more money for travel) I found the journal, read through it and laughed at my younger self but I also realized how astute I was and how big my dreams were as a 16-year-old girl. I wrote at the end of that 1998 trip “I hope to come back many times before I am 25!”
Well young Sonya, you did, two more times by the age of 22. In fact, I celebrated my 22nd birthday, twice, in Bologna, Italy and in Dublin, Ireland, on a 2003 trip. I had so much fun and self-discovery on those trips. I planned them all for myself and 3 friends, each time, three different friends on each trip. I learned to negotiate with friends, book flights and hostels online back in the early days of the internet, and how to mediate arguments amongst friends. On one trip I even got very ill on the way over and we navigated ourselves to a doctor in Geneva, Switzerland and I explained what I thought I had and my friends and I pooled our resources to pay for the doctor visit and a prescription for me. I did all of this without a cell phone too! I was independent and travel savvy from an early age.
Then, I graduated from college and moved to Chicago for graduate school – which I did not finish and afterward, I entered a period that I like to call the Dark Ages, where I was latched on to the first person who paid me any attention and I let that relationship last way too long. During that long relationship (almost 9 years) my heart ached to travel and I was very jealous of any friends who were traveling the country and the world. I tried to hide it, but it was difficult for me to be happy for others when I was so unhappy with my own situation.
Why am I retelling this long-winded story? Because the proverbial light at the end of my tunnel came in late 2012 when I ended the relationship. I started sorting myself out, got out of a lot of debt that had acquired in that relationship (a story for another day), and started rediscovering previous passions. By the end of 2014, I was just itching to travel again and I had a friend who had inspired me to run another marathon since my last one had been in 2006. I decided to register for a race in a foreign country and stay there for a week in addition to running a race.
In August 2015, I traveled to Reykjavik, Iceland and ran the Reykjavik Marathon. It was my first solo trip and the first time I’d left the United States for a vacation since 2007. It was long overdue. I was a little nervous about going somewhere on my own, but I honestly could not have picked a better destination for my first solo trip. I was out of my comfort zone, talking to other travelers, talking to people in restaurants, bartenders, talking to locals about their city, just basically being my true self, exploring a corner of the world and loving every second of it.
It seems cheesy to say I had some kind of awakening in Iceland, but it’s true that I did. The place felt magical and otherworldly to me. I didn’t mind wandering the streets by myself, eating alone and reading a book while I did, or talking to strangers when I’d had too much alone time. For me, independence was getting myself back and realizing that I create my own life and destiny. Travel did that for me. Since then, I’ve been making an effort to travel at least once a year internationally on my own and personally, I’ve made it a goal to visit forty countries before my fortieth birthday mid-2021. Traveling makes my heart happy, feeds my soul, and it fuels my independence in a way that nothing else does.
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