Real Talk

This is how Contiki helped me to become independent

After being in a bad place mentally and fed up of the lack of progress in my life, I took off to Lanzarote for a week, and spent hours by the water, watching the waves lap gently against the rocky coastline and reflecting on everything. I needed something more...

I was desperate to get over my anxieties and self-belief issues and start making positive changes, doing things for me. I’ve always wanted to see the world, but had no one to go with. I’ve already been blessed enough to go to so many great places and I’ve seen so many magnificent things with my family, from the might of the Untersberg mountains in Austria, to the bustling medinas in Tunisia. But sometimes you just need that space, that independence – time to grow and learn on your own, away from the nest.

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I was officially done with wasting my money on trashy drinking holidays with my friends. I wanted to do something more interesting, more meaningful, whether they’d join me or not.

I flew alone for the first time in the summer of 2017. I’d been on planes before with friends or family, but never on my own. Waving off my parents after finding my desk and checking in, I took a deep breath and wandered through to security, no longer having that other person there to have my back. Thankfully I’m a good flier and so I passed the time in the airport shopping before boarding the plane and burying myself in a book.

It wasn’t until we landed and were ready to disembark that the anxiety really began to kick in. It was a peculiar feeling, one of fear and excitement, all bundled into a single package. I’d actually done it. The furthest I’d been on my own was Bristol, which is a mere few hours’ drive away from my own hometown in England. Now I was in another country. For so long I’d compared myself to others, and many people younger than I am have already been on all kinds of adventures, but for me this was a huge step. I had to keep reminding myself that whatever they’d done, my journey was only just beginning, and that was ok.

Budapest-landscape

I had booked my transfer in advance for ease, not knowing how easy or hard it would be to improvise. As I overthink and worry about everything, this worked for me and took the edge off (one less thing to worry about!) but I could have found a way into town there and then if I’d needed to. This was my first Contiki. The main destination was Croatia, but we started in Budapest. Before I could back out and change my mind, I booked a flight the day before I needed to be there to make myself spend some time experiencing the Hungarian capital.

Spending the day alone in Budapest was a real eye opener. No, things didn’t go exactly to plan, but it wasn’t as catastrophic as I thought, and I came to realise that I had it in me to get myself out of any mess caused by translation issues on my own all along. I was proud of that fact – step one towards believing in myself.

Group-wine-toast

Eventually came the moment I walked into that hotel foyer to be faced with crowds of strangers who I’d be spending the next week with. For an introvert and someone with zero self-esteem, this is about the most intimidating situation you can be put in, and I think anyone else who feels this way would agree. My mind was a whirl. What do I say? What if people hate me? Will I annoy them by talking to them or will I just look weird if I don’t? This was my chance to become the person I wanted to be instead of the timid wreck I really was; I simply couldn’t mess it up. Gathering all my strength, I found someone English and wandered over, casually standing there on the outer edge of the circle and trying to slip naturally into group conversation as they noticed they had company and finally prompted me to actually announce myself.

After that point, I never looked back.

Now I know people from across the globe from all kinds of different backgrounds, my hometown seems smaller than ever and all those people who picked on me at school and university just aren’t important anymore. All it took for me to finally accept this was that single leap of faith.

If, like me, you’re anxious about going it alone, an organised trip like this one I did is a Godsend. That first morning had me an anxious mess, but spending six hours on a coach sitting with someone whose name you’ve only just learned is the best kind of therapy, the natural push that you need to put yourself out there – because you don’t have any choice in the matter. If you’d have asked me a year ago if I’d want to do something like this, I’d have thought you were having a laugh, but now I’ve done it I never want to stop.

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This one short trip has changed my entire outlook on the world. It’s exhilarating, empowering, and leaves you with lasting memories you’d never want to forget. Life is for living, and I believe now more than ever that the most important thing is doing what you love – not giving a damn about what anyone else thinks.

Has travel pushed you out of your comfort zone and changed your mindset? Share your stories with us here and you could see your work published on six-two…