It’s nearly six weeks since I flew out of heathrow airport on my way to California. After one week stateside I was sat in LAX waiting for my flight to Costa Rica with a fifty minute layover in the infamous Guatemala City where, during my transfer, someone was bound to rob me. At the age of twenty three I’ve never done anything like this before. My solo travel bravado is based off a trip to vietnam fifteen months previously with my then boyfriend, my Geography degree and the fact I can feasibly pass for a local in most Latin American countries. Everyone knows the human brain is wired to react to the threat of a pouncing mountain lion which is why we see the negative in life first, but my fight or flight mechanism was going haywire. I wanted nothing more than a hug, preferably from a loved one but really I wasn’t fussy.
I was getting messages from my friends saying things like “please for the love of God stay safe” and “don’t get trafficked”; the seeds of doubt had flourished into a serious case of imposter syndrome. The symptoms of this are telling everyone I have everything under control and trying to do everything without asking for help. At its core, I don’t want people to think I’m incapable, ie to feel incapable myself and I don’t want to admit my lack of confidence by asking for help.
Before I left I’d been religiously cultivating a practice of positivity each day, my desk and bedside table were covered in happy affirmations and I was doing yoga every morning. Typically this went out the window immediately and I needed the sound advice of an unbelievably happy Canadian called Lauren, aged 25 and infinitely better traveled than me. She had that easy attitude you have when you’re comfortable in a situation and your own skin. She told me what someone once told her: “the world is a good place”.
Bam. Just like that, the game had changed. Five weeks in and I’m preaching the same thing. I’ve been met with nothing but kindness from strangers when I least expect it. The next person to open my eyes was my taxi driver who met me as I was crossing the Costa Rica/Panama border. After being left to stew by border security for twenty minutes while they debated the validity of my flight ticket out of the country, I was running pretty low on good vibes. After a few minutes of chatter in the afternoon sun, waiting for the shuttle to fill up, he turned to me: “you have good energy” he tells me. “You weren’t giving it out when you sat down, but you are now. You should be more free with it, the world wants to share.”
He was extremely proud of being the one who spotted my good energy while i was doing such a good job of hiding it. Did I want to be that person, the one who ran from hostel to hostel, never smiling? I decided to test run a new game plan – spreading love. Bocas del Toro, Panama’s party island is a fairly good environment for this regardless, but for me it was life changing. Latin America must have the highest concentration of cat-callers than any other continent, but I discovered a friendly smile and an “hola” right back was actually all they wanted. My opening line is a smile now, not an apology for not speaking enough Spanish, and people smile right back.
If I went everywhere expecting the worst I could travel the world and never get anywhere. I have enough self doubt to be getting on with without other people trying to keep me safe. Opening my mind to the potential for kindness has completely changed the dynamic of my day to day life; I’ve gone from jumping at my own shadow in the uptown end of LA to breezing through Colombia on my own. I’m still walking at the edge of my comfort zone, but I’ve pinned down where it is and I’m taking baby steps every day now. Five months of travel left, good times are ahead.