Traveling alone is a bit like riding a Ferris wheel. You savor the ride knowing that the views from the top will be worth it but there is always that lingering doubt that you could fall out of the carriage at any moment. A thin piece of metal is all the separates you from certain death. Aside from short occasional solo trips, I’ve mostly traveled in small to exceptionally large groups. My family enjoys exploring the world but we venture out in packs, taking on the unfamiliar in safe numbers.
I stave off a brief moment of panic as I sit waiting for my flight to Lima. Up until this point, I hadn’t given much thought to what traveling alone would be like; however, when I get up to go to the bathroom there is nobody to watch my bag and incidentally a kind woman returns my cell phone I unknowingly lost in my first few minutes at the gate. Off to a roaring start. In six hours, I will step off the plane in a country where I don’t speak the language with the hopes that “Julio”, a man I’ve never met will be there to pick me up. I’m learning that traveling alone requires innate trust in the merit of strangers as well as one’s own ability to combat our natural weariness of the unknown. Travel companions act as buffers against this panic; you lean on each other and know that no matter what happens, you will not have to go it alone. But I chose to embark on this adventure by myself and like many of life experiences, there is much value in doing it alone. Too many people cannot step out of the monotony of daily existence in their small worlds. They miss out on the extraordinary because they never venture out to find it.
I gather myself and board the plane. Six hours later, we touch down in Lima. I get my passport stamped, officially declaring the first step in my journey a success. They let me in! I am here! Weaving through the throng of other passengers, I step out into an open circle surrounded by people holding named placards over their heads. I scan the signs, my eyes rest on “Karikuy” and Julio, who smiles and motions me over. I let out a breath. He is here, I am here, and another leg of my journey begins.
Yvonne Leclair is a researcher and blogger for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru