Finding The Courage To Fully Live

At Her Bags Were Packed, we’re not just about travel; we’re about helping women overcome and release emotional baggage to live, love, and travel lighter. This week, I’m excited to have Jamie share the story of her first real, big adventure, and how it helped her overcome her anxiety and low self esteem. 

If you're interested in learning more about how to get started with solo travel, check out 5 Steps to Start Traveling Solo

Solo Travel Stories - Her Bags Were Packed

Many travel the world to “find” themselves. I don’t know that I set out with that intention, but it has become my story. I, too, found myself through travel; not in some mystical way, but because travel can be a struggle at times. When we struggle, we learn new things about ourselves and what we’re capable of accomplishing.

I grew up in a tiny town in Florida, where not much ever happened. I was sheltered, never meeting anyone different from myself, never experiencing change or challenge. I wasn’t very social and spent most of my adolescence hiding behind the computer.

While this low-stress lifestyle may appeal to some people, for me it meant never having the chance to overcome hurdles and prove myself.  I craved the excitement of experiencing something dramatically different, like travel; but anything the slightest bit outside my “normal” gave me debilitating anxiety. I’d chicken out of even the smallest adventures, resulting in extremely low self-esteem.

When I finished college, I realized that I could continue to stay safe and sheltered the rest of my life, or I could go out to the world and deal with my problems.

Taking The Leap

I took the leap and moved to Madrid, Spain to teach English.  But the anxiety didn’t stay behind in Florida. I was already socially awkward in America, so moving to a non-English speaking country, alone, was terrifying.  

I spent most of my first few months sitting in my room, scrolling Facebook, too afraid to go outside and explore even the neighborhoods around me. If anyone spoke to me - even to ask for simple directions - I was unable to communicate in Spanish the simplest of phrases.

I struggled to learn the transportation system, resulting in arriving to work an hour late every day my first week. After a week of tears, I decided to start getting up at 5 a.m. in order to arrive at work an hour early.  I did this every day, for the next 3 months, until I was confident to leave a little bit later and still arrive on time and dry-eyed.

Get up, go to work, come home, stay home -- that was my life for the first three months.

I went home to Florida for Christmas. Reflecting on those few months abroad, I realized I’d seen nothing but the inside of my bedroom and the screen of my computer reflecting back at me the lives of my American friends via Facebook. Had I really moved to Europe just to scroll through Facebook, to watch my American friends’ lives? What was I doing?

madrid - her bags were packed

Second Time’s The Charm

Heading back to Spain, after Christmas, I made a plan. No more spending my life on my computer; I was going to explore Madrid, and travel Europe!

I signed up for classes at a language school to improve my Spanish. To connect with local Spaniards, I set up language exchanges after work. We’d meet at restaurants so I could try local cuisine.

And, of course, I traveled! After finally figuring out Spain’s awesome public transportation, I visited most of the major cities, viewed famous buildings, explored medieval towns, and joined historical tours.

At first, it was hard. I constantly had to push through the anxiety in my head telling me that I should stay at home and save money or reminding me that I wouldn’t know what to do in a new place.  At times, the stress and constant travel made me sick and physically exhausted.

Although I got myself out there, cultural differences still made it difficult to develop authentic and lasting friendships. One particular incident was when I had plans with a Spanish friend to go see the snow in the mountains of Madrid. It rarely snows there, and I was very excited about our plans. When I texted the day before to confirm our plans, my friend said she could no longer go because she was having lunch with her father.

While I did leave Spain with more confidence, I did not make a single lasting Spanish friendship, perhaps my only regret.

Gaining Confidence

My time in Spain made me a different person. Because of my anxiety,  simple tasks for some are major challenges for me. Before Spain, at home in Florida, I’d be anxious about approaching an associate at a grocery store. In Spain, I learned to communicate with associates, get my own price tag for the fruit I was buying, purchase my own bags, and bag my food myself. This may seem small, but to me it was huge.

The language barrier, the transportation system, the difficult relationships - all challenges -- but I did it. I pushed through the struggles, found myself at the other end, and taught myself that I could do anything I put my mind to. I left shy, insecure me in the past, and became a world traveler!

Now that I’ve had this experience, I don’t know how I lived before taking that leap. The truth is, I didn’t live – I existed. And when you spend your life giving into your fears, that’s all you’ll ever do.

Real, fulfilling life is scary; many people never live their lives. I am so grateful that I found the courage to live mine. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it, a million times over.


Jamie is a world traveler and language learner. Her dream is to see all of the world and learn all of its languages. She inspires her readers to do the same with her Facebook group for Spanish language learners, and on her blog at CrashedCulture.com.

If you're interested in learning more about how to get started with solo travel, check out 5 Steps to Start Traveling Solo