We are creatures of habit, and we like our safe little world where everything is familiar.  We know what we’re doing, where we’re going.  Chances are, you’ll see someone you know at the coffee shop or grocery store, because you’ve been going there for years.  Stepping outside of our safe little box can make us feel off balance, nervous, perhaps know our confidence down a peg or two.  It might make us feel foolish or scared.  My response to this, and it’s a response I could not have uttered even two years ago, is — SO WHAT CHICKENSHIT??  DO IT ANYWAY!!  I know what you’re thinking.  “Easy for you to say!”  No, it’s not.  I have always had trouble pushing the boundaries of my safe little box.  Each time i did over the years, it was a tiny but significant victory.  And it was frickin’ hard.  Each and every time.  Whether it was going to my first movie alone (remember, I picked a Sunday afternoon because I knew it would be less busy and just a bit easier to complete the challenge to myself), walking into  bar alone to meet friends (yes, there was a time that I couldn’t do it and always had to go with someone so they could walk in with me), or signing up to volunteer at the film festival to meet new people.

I was bullied in elementary school, which affected me quite dramatically as an adult.  The building blocks of confidence were many and at times, despairingly difficult to piece together.  It has been a long, hard road, and I’m not at the end of it yet, but there is so much of that road behind me.  And that self-doubt can rear its ugly head time and time again.  How many times have you been at work, had your boss walk in looking grumpy and barely barking out a greeting, and your first thought it “crap, I must have done something wrong!”  Like we are so important in their world that all of their troubles and bad moods must be attributable to us?  Not bloody likely!  It took me a quite some time to figure that one out.

What makes my love of travel so great is that it has empowered me and built my confidence like nothing else.  It is almost magical in its ability to create this feeling of wellbeing and happiness.  It is almost like falling in love or having really, really great sex – drug like in its effect.  But when you’ve never made the leap to travel solo, how do you break that crushing inertia that holds you back, anchored to all that is safe and familiar?

It is ridiculously easy to allow excuses hold you back.  We make excuses all the time for why we cannot follow our dreams, why we won’t leave that job that doesn’t make us happy, why we won’t get off the couch and exercise, why we don’t travel to that dream destination — what holds us back?  No, it’s not lack of money, or lack of time.  It is FEAR.

I was determined not to allow fear to rule me, and frustrated with my own inaction.  Other people can tell you something, but until you’re ready in your own head, nothing seems to push you to move forward.  I was ready.  Now, I didn’t feel like I had to jump on a plane with a backpack of survival gear, and trek through Mongolia on my own.  It’s about baby steps, as long as those baby steps aren’t so small that they never really take you anywhere.  So I booked a tour.  This way, I would be with other people in the same situation as me, and there would be a tour leader that would do all the hard stuff.  Plus, I booked it far enough ahead that it didn’t seem totally real when I booked it.  No need to be nervous, as I wouldn’t have to start thinking about it until next year!

With my guided tour under my belt, the second trip was easier.  So I decided to combine a tour with some travel time without the tour.  I did have a friend with me, but had a couple of days at the beginning of the trip and a couple of days at the end where I was on my own.  Dipping my toe into the deep end so to speak.  And good things happened!  On my first day in Paris, I get as out by an adorable young Parisian.  In Venice on my own, I get the nerve to ask a table full of Aussie women if I can join them and end up having an incredibly fun night with many a glass of vino.  It’s not always easy.  Sometimes things go wrong.  Like when Alison and I got on the wrong bus at Lake Garda and began hurtling toward a town in the other direction (the bus driver kindly let us off the minute we realized our mistake).  When we got on the correct bus to Verona, the bus driver (a Telly Sevalas look-alike) was a complete asshole, not only making us buy a completely new ticket, but mocking us in front of the entire bus load of Italians.  I would have told him what a prick I thought he was, but didn’t want to get kicked off the bus on sparsely populated stretch of road.  Instead, we fumed in our seats, and I had to settle for flipping him the bird once I got off the bus in Verona.  Yes, we felt stupid when he was mocking us, but we survived our little.  My show of defiance with the middle finger did make me feel a little better.  And Sirmione, the little town we visited that hugged the shores of Lake Garda, was so beautiful and charming, that it made it worthwhile to experience one asshole bus driver.

Sirmione was as picturesque as it gets, with an old medieval castle rising up out of the middle of the main square, which afforded fantastic views of the coastline and the crystalline waters.  Children rollicked through the warm, shallow waters of the shoreline.  One little cutie was dressed in her bather bottoms, a bathing cap, and was running around, not shy or self-conscious, and free as a wee bird.  She had no qualms about using my arm to pull herself up on a large rock in the water!  Speed boats were moored by the pedestrian walkway with signs that hilariously welcomed tourists to rent one – no license necessary!!  A bar in the main square offered up pitchers of cold white wine, which we quaffed in the shade of a colourful umbrella.  All too soon, it was time to leave, and I found myself wishing that I had more time to explore the little towns around Lake Garda, but grateful to have seen lovely Sirmione.

Now, I am back home and itching to board a plane and touch my feet once again on European soil.  Next year, I think I may apply for a bursary through the Italian government to study Italian in Italy, perhaps Firenze, perhaps in the south, or perhaps in beloved Venezia.  With each adventure I am able to spread my wings just a little further.  There is a whole world out there, waiting to be explored, and I want wring every drop out of life that I can.  After all, who, at the end of their life, ever said “I wish I’d played it just a little safer.”