SHE TRAVELS / by Paris Lawrence

The trip of a lifetime. Going it alone, but never really alone.

A lot of people initially asked me why I decided to plan a trip, just shy nine months, by myself. Was I scared? Was it safe? Was it lonely?

My answer? I didn’t think there was really another option. If I wanted the dreams of travel and exploration to really become a reality; I couldn’t put all my eggs in one basket and wait for the right scenario (or person) to align with what I wanted to achieve.

I did try there pretty hard for the first few months to sell the idea to my friends; but it really brought to light how non-committal and maybe uninterested my friends were in doing something like this. Absolutely no problem with this; they were just set on different life paths to where I was headed. I realised again, just how hard it would be to commit to a trip like mine – and that not just for me but someone else had to – a) catch that vision as well and b) come up with funds and time in a somewhat similar schedule and fashion to me and c) they would have to be willing to make that commitment in advance so they could save in time.

At one point in time, my mum actually started suggesting the pros of me creating a sign-up sheet or something of a similar notion. I had to laugh. As I pushed back her clipboard and pen. It couldn’t be that bad to travel on my own. I felt like I had a pretty good general sense of direction… and I had my head screwed on – mostly.

I knew the general ins and outs of travel and how tough times could be, but it would be a new challenge on my own, and I think the idea of “finding myself” and discovering who I was and how I fit into the world outside of the town that I grew up in nearly my whole life was a real draw card. Although, I did also realize the concept of “finding yourself” though travel gets called out for being a lame point of reasoning. But I think I felt that there was still some truth behind it. How can anyone really gain an understanding of themselves, grow and figure out how they respond to life situations independently unless they are willing to let go of their security blankets or the safety of what they already know?

And so that was it.

Without too much of an extra thought, I booked my flights to Greece. A permanent marker in time. A date. A goal to work towards. This was happening, and I had flights to prove it.

For nine months, I backpacked, road tripped, temporarily took up residence with friends, worked, and continued on backpacking around Europe, Canada, America and South America. I feel like it was the biggest growing experience of my life. I no longer had to be accountable to anyone or anything. I could take one hundred percent responsibility for my life and what I wanted to achieve out of life, and just go for it. Regardless of what anyone might expect from me or those of my generation, I learned that I have the ability to create my future and step into whatever I want to in life.

I met up with people I knew, met loads of new friends; explored and eye-boggled amazing places. I fell in love with the romanticised view of travel and independence, whilst accepting their counterparts: long days in transport, and co-dependence to tight-finance and sometimes lonely nomadism.

There was one day I was walking through the Swiss mountains on my own where I had decided to go for a morning walk, up to visit an old castle ruin. After I reached the castle and explored its remains I thought I’d continue journeying up the hillside which I knew would turn my morning walk, into a days walk. I had some muesli bars and water and started journeying to the sound of my breathing and the birds in the trees. In those few hours I felt both exhilarated at the fact I was doing this alone, as well as having this weird sense of loneliness, and a silent yearning for someone to be journeying with me. But, I kept walking, and before I knew it I was back at my accommodation for the night and proud of my accomplishment.

One of the most amazing experiences that really shaped a few priorities in my life and became a bit of a defining moment was when I found myself at a summer camp in Canada, facing the prospect of taking on senior high counselling for the rest of the twelve weeks of summer. I had been trained in activity staffing (believe it or not – skateboarding instructor), and to change was extremely exciting, but daunting, being unprepared and not knowing any of the counselling staff out of the total 305 staff members at camp.

But it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Although that first week, was harder than I’d expected. I had quite a tough cabin, and consequently there were quite a few tears, but a lot of growth. I managed to connect with another one of the female senior high counsellors who became a spiritual mentor and one of my closest friends. She reminded me of the importance of prayer and building a steady, open relationship with God. Together we sat and prayed over each of the girls every day, praying that we would have strength and the right opportunities to connect with each of them, praying for openness in the cabin, praying for pain to be released and healed in certain girls lives. Each day we would approach each other over any concerns we had, or talk over our personal journeying. We prayed regularly, journaled together, sung together and cried together. And saw miracles we could have never have expected.

That first week, set standards and expectations for my whole summer at camp; showed me the importance of journeying with God on a strong, intimate and regular basis. And it was an environment that every day I felt so blessed to be in. I left camp at the end of the summer literally asking myself, how can I not come back here again and be a part of something so good?

For many years, I’ve visualised my personal spiritual journey as this metaphoric string, that is easily swayed in the wind, it goes up and down; has many highs and lows. In reflection of my time at camp, I feel like my spiritual growth somewhere along the line developed into this large block of concrete. Camp life was exhausting, ongoing, had its usual ups and downs, but I felt this sense of strength in my relationship with God, because I had put in effort. I had been in an environment where good habits could develop and I could see miracles unfold in front of my eyes.

After that, my travel experience changed. I felt this strong sense of peace about taking part in the travel experience independently, but with a knowledge that I had known all along but now felt in my bones, that I was never alone, and had this real relationship with God to fall to. Had I never decided to go travelling, I wouldn’t have experienced what I did at camp. Nor would I have met half of the individuals I did (camp goers or otherwise) who all were able to share pieces of their lives and wisdom with me.

On a trip into Yosemite National Park I found myself wandering on my own, soaking up my surroundings and being alone, just as I had so many times before. But in contrast to my walk in the Swiss mountains, this time I felt ultimate peace about being on my own. Reflecting on all of this, I knew so vividly that God was journeying beside me in a real way and had blessed this choice of mine to step out from my life and see some different parts of the world.

I was truly not alone in my experience. And never had I been, ever.

When someone now asks me about travelling by myself, my answer and story will be the same. Travelling is sometimes tricky to line up and organise, with costing, finding someone to travel with and when to take the time off study or work to do so. But doing something like it opens you to new relationships, new ways of seeing and experiencing life. What I will always say is that you are in charge of creating the life or experience you’ve dreamed of. And, that you’ll never ever really be alone with a belief in Something Greater!