Throughout 2012 I was desperately trying to solve a puzzle about how to change my life. And to my surprise, the final piece that completed the picture was the first international solo trip to Helsinki, Finland, which I described in the previous article “How traveling solo with a one-way ticket changed my life?
After that one-day trip, I returned home inspired and enthusiastic about traveling more. It felt like that short trip removed all my limiting thoughts, and I became fearless in envisioning myself traveling far away to different continents. Maybe even to some Spanish-speaking countries. And to make that trip more exciting, I needed to speak that language.
Learning a third language was always one of my dreams. However, I couldn’t decide whether it would be Italian or Spanish. Both sounded musical and romantic, so it wasn’t easy to choose. Until I met Gabriel, whose native language was Spanish, and the choice became obvious. So, in March 2013, I started learning a new language, using online resources that offered free information. Soon enough, I realized that I needed some professional guidance, and I found an excellent teacher of Spanish and started taking private classes once per week.
Meanwhile, I returned to the hotel Holiday Inn where I worked as a concierge, and combining it with my photography business helped me start saving money for my big dreams of traveling to Spain and maybe even further. I calculated that with one job, I would not be able to travel because my rent was taking a significant percentage of my income. So, having two jobs was a reasonable temporary solution.
At the beginning of May, I came up with an additional idea to save more money for my trips – move to a smaller apartment or just a room. A week’s search for a better rental option ended better than I expected. My good friend’s husband offered me to live in a room he was planning to sell in early autumn that year. And until then, I could live there, and there was no rental cost. That was an unexpectedly inspiring present – “Thank you, Universe!”. And all I had to do was ask myself, “How can I save more money for my dream trips?” and search for an answer. The Universe is abundant, and there are millions of ways to make your dream come true. Sometimes all you have to do is stop complaining, start dreaming and look for ways to make it come true.
In the first week of July, in the midst of a crazy work schedule, I surprised myself and booked a one-week vacation in Madrid. That trip turned into a little adventure of its own, primarily because of my transportation and accommodation hectic movements. I booked a flight with Finnair departing from Helsinki, and to get there, I had to take a train. A day before my trip, I realized I had made a mistake when buying a train ticket, which meant I had to stay in Helsinki for almost two days. Mistakes happen, it’s a part of life, but we always have a choice in how to perceive them: with anger and complaining or with grace and appreciation. I choose the second version. As a beginner traveler, I was able to use that time joyfully and visit sightseeing spots downtown without “freezing my nose,” which happened on my first trip to the capital of Finland in February.
Flying with Finnair was memorable. I was 30 years old, and it was my first time on a plane. I remember standing in a boarding line and looking at the plane when I thought: “It’s so big; how can it stay in the air!? It’s truly one the most amazing examples of human evolution.” Just several hours flying, and I am in a new world that I am eager to explore. Up in the air, there are no borders, no limits; you are free to imagine your life in a new reality. Since that trip, I started associating a plane with the freedom to change.
A week of July that I spent in Madrid became a romantic chapter of my life-changing-2013-year. I met with Gabriel, who was spending his summer vacation in Spain and visiting his family. He showed me around Madrid, introduced me to Mediterranean cuisine, shared facts and myths about Spanish culture, and drove with me to beautiful towns Toledo and Segovia in a convertible car.
In Madrid, I stayed in two hotels – Holiday Inn and Intercontinental, that are a part of the IHG brand. And since I worked at Holiday Inn in Saint Petersburg as a concierge, I got a special employee rate, a common practice in that company. There are more details I would like to share, but that will be included in my upcoming book.
My first trip to Madrid, Spain, showed me the beautiful side of life, something new for me. Before that, I didn’t know it was possible; I doubted it could be real. I was born in a formerly communist society whose culture was based on the ideology of achieving “happiness” through pain and suffering. And when you hear something regularly you start believing that that is the only reality. The breakthrough in my perception of reality started happening while working at Holiday Inn IHG. I was exposed to international tourism, met people from all over the globe, and understood that something nice and different was happening on the other side of the border. It took me some time to start dreaming about traveling. I went through a divorce, tried to make money just with my photography business, and finally made my first international trip.
On my way home, I felt sad that my vacation was over but also thrilled about new ideas and thoughts that started emerging in my mind. And that’s the result of the enriching new experience I had in the past several months – dreaming about traveling, turning it into a goal, planning and doing it.
I believe in the idea behind the phrase, “Change your thoughts change your life.” First, you must change your mindset, then stay in the flow created by your new vibrations that expand all around your life.
A day that changed my life.
October 4, 2013, 3 AM. It was still dark outside, but I was already in a taxi driving through downtown. It looked so lonely in the early morning hours. Only spots of lights illuminating the monumental buildings were uncovering the existence of life in the city. I tried to embrace all the details my eyes were able to notice: puddles of different sizes – a reminder of heavy night rain, a bridge next to a famous cathedral where I took many wedding photos of my clients, one of my favorite coffee shop next to a subway station, a narrow street I used to walk when I was a student. So many memories kept me connected to this three-hundred-year-old city, but I was ready to leave it all behind. It was my last ride in this city as a resident, but I didn’t realize that. The only thing I knew was the number of one-way tickets I had in my red folder stored in my red suitcase.
My collection of one-way tickets included flights:
- Saint-Petersburg – Barcelona
- Madrid- Cancun
I purchased them separately in accordance with the flow of available money in my bank account, and it took me five months to finalize that. I found the first one to Barcelona, which signified the beginning, on sale in May, and the transatlantic to Cancun in August. When I had the starting point and the destination, it was easy to plan the intermediate stops that I did during September.
Buying one-way tickets were less of a hustle and more fun, which I can’t say about booking accommodations. When planning my life-changing journey, I knew I would stay in hostels, an important aspect of being a backpacker in Europe, and I wanted to experience that. It would be fair to add that what made hostels appealing was that they were a perfect fit for my limited budget. It took me several weeks to book hostels in every city I was planning to visit. And I was happy with every one of them.
A one-way ticket is the unknown.
One-way ticket is the unknown. At least, that’s how it was in my story. The future is unknown. However, every day, millions of people try to predict it. Mathematics has to be predictable; otherwise, it will lose its “Queen of all science” status. How about life? Can it be 100% predictable?
As a teenager and a student, I thought the future seemed so predictable. I just had to focus on getting good grades and, after graduating from a University, find a good job with a stable paycheck. It wasn’t on my bucket list to change my life by traveling solo abroad. In fact, why should I change anything if life works the certain-known way: birth-kindergarden-school-college-work-family-kids-invest-save for retirement-retire-grandkids and the end.
We plan for life, a vacation, a business week and a weekend, the age we want to get married and have kids, and we plan to schedule social media postings. Strange, but we don’t plan to have new enriching experiences and change life’s direction. In fact, those ideas are perceived as a desperate measure to get out of an emotional crisis. And I also thought that way. But traveling solo with a collection of one-way tickets became the most liberating experience of my life and resulted in immense personal growth.
Now, I know a one-way ticket is a chance for rebirth and to start a new chapter of your life. And to do that, it’s necessary to walk through the unknown and enjoy it.
I didn’t know what would happen when I arrived in Cancun, and in a couple of months of living there, I didn’t know where I would live, I didn’t know how to start a business in a new country, let alone I didn’t even speak the language. That was a complete unknown! But for some reason, when I look at my photos taken by my friend at the end of the first two weeks, I see a person shining with happiness and joy. I brought only one suitcase, laptop, and camera and looked extremely happy. That’s when I thought: “Maybe happiness is not about the number of possessions and more about the quality of the experience or the right balance of it all?”
When I had all my one-way tickets ready and printed, I knew there was no way back. I took a risk with the idea of changing my life and avoiding rolling down the old path. During seven months of getting ready for my big solo trip, I almost felt like the stars aligned for me; that was the right time to do it. And I wanted to make that happen! That’s the power of “I want” strengthened by action!
“Que bella eres, España!” or How to be impressed by Spain?
There are several reasons why I will never forget my female solo trip to Spain. It was the first most prolonged period I spent abroad in a country whose language I barely understood, the culture I knew very little about, with no extended plans for my life. Yet I was feeling happier than ever.
The day when I landed in Barcelona, it was cloudy and drizzling, but all the rest of the trip, I was bathing in the sunshine. I wore summer clothes in every city I visited on that trip, which was a new experience for me. Living in a town with north winds, grey sky, and an overabundance of rainy days, I was used to wearing warm clothes in autumn. So, when I checked in at the first hostel, I immediately changed my warm coat and boots to a denim jacket and casual summer shoes. That felt like an improvement and set the right mood for the rest of the trip.
How to fall in love with Spain? It happens naturally when you inhale the fresh scent of the oranges growing along the streets in Sevilla, observe the rich architectural patterns created by Gaudi in Barcelona, taste “paella con mariscos” and gazpacho, and engage in a visual labyrinth of “City of Arts and Sciences” created by Santiago Calatrava in Valencia.
Spanish history, art, and culture create a consistent blend of warm and welcoming vibe that is easily felt in every corner of the country. And the more days you spend there, the faster your emotional response to its calling, which deepens your sense of belonging to a place where sunshine is a way of living. It captivates you, and you will want to come back years later. And I plan on doing this.
Sharing with you my postcards from Spain.
On October 21, 2013, I used my final one-way ticket to a place that seemed so exotic that it made me doubt it was real.
One morning I woke up in Cancun.
I moved from one continent to another on the opposite side of the globe where I didn’t know anyone. On October 22, 2013, I woke up in a different timezone and climate, where people spoke a language I barely understood and in a culture, I didn’t know anything about. My life went upside down; I had only three thousand USD on my account, no job, no more tickets, and only one way to go – forward. And that is an abundant life cycle – moving forward, growing one inch in a day, one step at a time. Remember a famous quote: Happiness is not a destination; it’s a way of life.
It took me seven months to get ready for my big trip. I started thinking, “I don’t know how to travel solo,” then shifted to “I want,” “I will,” and finally, “I am traveling solo”. It didn’t happen in two hours, like in most of the movies. Planning my big solo trip was a journey in itself, where I learned so much about life that I couldn’t t possibly do it sitting in front of the computer or scrolling through social media. Now I know the only way to be happy is to live this life the way you want. And the only person that can change my life is me!
Two weeks before my trip, I sold most of my belongings, and the one I didn’t, I left on the balcony of my best friend’s apartment. It’s easy to look back and say what I could have done differently, but that’s why we have life wisdom – don’t regret and accept that I did all I could with the knowledge and resources I had at that moment.
We are here on this planet to learn, experiment, and explore. You start – one step at a time. One action at a time. One ticket at a time. One deposit on your bank account at a time. The following is also helpful:
- Hard work in preparation for a trip
- Saving money
- Positively-adventurous mindset
- Envision that everything will work the best way for you
- Unlearning habits that don’t serve you anymore
- Acquiring new ways of thinking based on an open-mindedness
Do you want to start traveling solo but don’t know anything about it? You can learn. The same way as you learned to walk in the early years of life. Just think of it as an adventure and feel yourself an explorer.
There are one hundred ninety-five countries in the world, millions of ways to live life, thousands of routes to explore, twenty-four hours every day, and only one life to explore it all. Don’t you think it’s better to stop using “tomorrow” as an excuse and start now? We all have only one extraordinary life to live, and it’s happening now.
Have a life filled with growth, abundance, and unforgettable experiences!