This week marks three months since I returned to the US after taking a nearly two-week trip to New Zealand. I have tried writing blog posts about this trip in the weeks since my return, but I’ve been unable to put my experience into words. Then I realized that I had too much to write about, so I would simply split it up into several different posts. They might be themed posts, they might not be. Either way, I’ve got a lot to say about my trip, and I feel like this is a great space to really explore the things that happened, and how they impacted me.

I first decided to go to New Zealand about 6 years ago, when I was a junior in college. I don’t know why, but once the idea of it was planted in my head, I knew it was something that I absolutely had to make happen. When the time came that I was financially (and physically…damn knees) capable of taking the trip, I booked it and never regretted it. I had originally planned on going with friends, but none were able to swing it when I was ready to go. I didn’t hesitate to book a solo trip, and I’m incredibly glad that I did so.

The reactions I got when people found out I was flying across the globe and venturing around completely alone were unexpected. There was the “Oh my gosh, that’s sounds awesome! Wait, you’re going alone? Aren’t you scared?” response. Why would it surprise people that I was traveling alone? Is it because I’m a young, white female? Why would I be scared? How would having someone else with me make it any less dangerous? Obviously, this was a decision I made for myself. It wasn’t something I was forced into, I wanted to do it. I knew exactly what I was signing up for when I booked the trip. It’s not like I haven’t had experience in unfamiliar places while alone. I’ve moved away and attended schools out of state, where I knew not a single soul, not once but twice. I managed to come out of both experiences relatively unscathed. Why would a two week trip be any different? I also got a few “You’re going by yourself? Wow. That’s really impressive. That takes guts. I really respect that.” reactions. Those caught me off guard more than the “Aren’t you scared” responses. Is it really that out of the ordinary for a female-identified person to travel alone these days? According to a 2013 Consumer Affairs article, no, it’s not. One of the reasons cited for solo travel in the article was one of my main reasons for going alone. I wanted a vacation where I got to do what I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it. Something about that type of travel-selfishness felt decidedly un-womanly, since society tells us that it’s terrible to be simultaneously female and selfish. So I flipped societal expectations the bird, took that feeling and ran with it, and had the time of my life while coming back all the better for it.

I went to New Zealand with an open mind, flexibility to roll with whatever happened (good or bad), and a sense of adventure. Ever since moving back to Ohio after grad school, I had become incredibly complacent with everything in my life. I had a routine: get up, go to work, come home, eat a boring dinner, watch tv/read a book/do whatever, go to bed. I was in a deep rut and didn’t realize it. While I was traveling, I tried new foods that I never would have at home, I completely unplugged from all technology, except for a half hour or so each day that was dedicated to keeping a video journal on my phone, and I tried new activities. I went and strapped myself to a middle-aged man in Queenstown and ran off a mountain with him, paragliding our way over a it and landing in a field. I openly talked with strangers about anything and everything, which was especially shocking considering that I am usually crippled by my horrible social anxiety. The morning of my return flight home out of Auckland, I knew that I would not be returning as the same person that I was when I had left. The complacency that had plagued me for months and months without me even realizing it was gone. My mind had been reinvigorated, and I never wanted to slip back into the numbness that seems to be a side effect of my every day office job. So, at 10 am the morning of my return flight, I got a tattoo. It serves as a reminder of several things. It reminds me of the person I was when I was there, and pushes me to be better, to do better, and many other things. It also represents something else. The tattoo I got is the outline of New Zealand, filled in around the shape of the silver fern. I chose this design because New Zealand seems like a place that has things figured out. The silver fern is a plant with a leaf that is dark green on one side, and rather lightly colored on the other. The kiwis chose this as their national symbol of sorts in part because each side of the silver fern represents the citizens who live there, the native Maori people, as well as the Europeans who built settlements on the islands, united and represented together. It honors difference and similarity, all at once, which I believe is something that everyone, as humans, can do.

I see that tattoo every day, and I’m reminded of why I got it, how I felt when I got it, and what I want to do in the future to honor the reasons I got it. None of this would have happened if I had waited for a friend to go with me on this trip. If I had decided to “play it safe” and go somewhere closer, somewhere more familiar.  I don’t think I’m the “play it safe” kind of person anymore. And I couldn’t be happier about that.