Another week, another inspiring solo female travel story. For those who don’t know, Women Who Wander is a travel series I have on my blog where other bloggers can share their stories of Solo Female Travel. It’s something I personally have not done enough of but reading all these incredible stories inspires me to no end! This week, Lumen shares her story of how she found solo travel, and herself in the process.
Lumen (Lulu) Beltran began her travel blog, Lulu Meets World, in 2015 as a school project to document her adventures on the Semester at Sea student exchange program. She continues to write today because she loves sharing her travel stories and her passion for makeup, fashion, and all things beautiful in the world. She is currently an expat in Mumbai as the social media manager for MissMalini, one of India’s most recognized Bollywood, fashion, and lifestyle authorities. When Lulu is not working, she can be found playing the piano, dancing, or pursuing her never-ending bucket list. Follow along with her blog at Lulu Meets World
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One Half of A Whole
For much of my adolescent and young adult life, I was known as “the girl who’s always with her boyfriend”. Or even worse, “so-and-so’s girlfriend”. It was almost as if I didn’t have an identity of my own. I was always the plus one. Part of a package deal. An extra. At times, I felt like my existence wasn’t valid if I wasn’t an extension of another. I had been in a relationship all throughout high school and, almost immediately after the first, in another until the beginning of my junior year in college. As much as I was – and still am – inspired by the strong, independent single woman “who-don’t-need-no-man!” trope, I just wasn’t one of them. Not until I was forced to be.
I knew I wanted to participate in a student exchange program from my very first day of university. I remember looking through brochures of schools abroad and imagining how fun it would be to study in a foreign country. The problem was that I didn’t know which country to go to. I was paralyzed by the plethora of choices laid before me. They say that less is more, and when it comes to choosing travel destinations, it couldn’t be more applicable.
Chance of a Lifetime
But then, by some miracle, I opened one of those e-newsletters your school administration team sends out weekly, but no-one ever reads. Inside, there was an advertisement for Semester at Sea that piqued my interest. It was a student exchange program that allows students to live on a cruise ship and takes them to ten different countries on three different continents to learn about the world through a comparative lens. Not only was it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it was the solution to my dilemma!
Me being me, I decided to go big or go home (or should I say, stay home?). If I was going to study abroad, it would be on Semester at Sea. I was all in. After months of health clearances, visa processing, and writing scholarship essays to finance my trip, September 2015 came around and I was sitting on a plane headed for Europe to board the MV World Odyssey. Just in time, too, since I broke up with my boyfriend just days prior to my flight. We were arguing daily, and the breakup was inevitable. Although I would miss him, I wanted to be independent on my big adventure. Besides, I figured I’d be too distracted living life on Semester at Sea to mope over the loss of my “other half”.
Can I Really Do This?
When I landed in London, I got exactly what I wanted. For the first time ever, I was truly alone. But I didn’t expect it to be so goddamn hard. I was in a foreign country with no friends, no family, no boyfriend, not even a WiFi connection. Imagine being a diminutive girl – hardly 90 pounds and barely 5 feet tall – lugging 3 months’ worth of baggage around London Heathrow. That was my reality. Lost and weary from running in circles, I broke down and cried in frustration. Hey, can you blame me? When your sense of direction is as poor as mine, one of the world’s largest airports might as well be a labyrinth. On the bright side, my eyes were already bloodshot from my long, sleepless flight. At that moment, there was no way I could’ve looked more haggard.
Before I knew it, it was 1:00 am and I still couldn’t find my hotel. Standing in the pouring rain, I began doubting myself. Can I really do this? Am I really independent or am I just faking it? Was it a mistake to break up with my “better half” right before my trip? All I wanted at that moment was a steaming cup of tea and a Facetime session with my (now) ex-boyfriend.
Little did I know, that was just the beginning of hardships I would face on my own.
Solo Female Fears
Tipsy after a night of debauchery in Greece, I hopped into a cab by myself. Not wanting to be a killjoy, I left the club early as my friends danced the night away. All I wanted was to be in a cozy bed. I began feeling uneasy as the driver maneuvered through empty, narrow streets. And it wasn’t due to the copious amounts of alcohol in my system. Suddenly, the driver turned into a dark alley. I didn’t know how to get back to our hotel, but I knew something wasn’t right. I began weeping, screaming at the driver to stop immediately so I could exit the vehicle.
Holding my stilettos in my right hand and wiping away tears with the other, I wandered through the streets of Athens aimlessly until I reached a familiar landmark. By the time I reached the hotel, the morning light had touched the Acropolis in the distance. I kept thinking about how I never would have landed in such a situation if I had been traveling with my boyfriend. He would’ve made me feel like the life of the party. He would’ve made me feel safe and made me feel whole.
Don’t Need No Man!
During my time in Brazil, I unknowingly drifted away from my group of friends. The thing about Semester at Sea is that you don’t have very much time in each country. I couldn’t afford to waste an entire day looking for my friends.Wanting to have a good time, I headed off on my own. I spent the entire day roaming Rio de Janeiro on my solo, lacking any means of communication to even attempt finding a familiar face in a city of over 6 million people. As I sipped on coconuts by Ipanema beach, I realized how comfortable I became with my own company. Hiking up Sugarloaf Mountain, I thought to myself, “Wow, I love being able to travel at my own pace”. Standing in front of Christ the Redeemer, it hit me.
I don’t need a “better half”. I’m already whole.
Finally, If you are interested in writing for Women Who Wander, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Can’t wait to share your stories
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