by Jill Robinson
At 17 years old, Zac Sunderland has become the youngest person to sail around the world solo, and after 13 months and 28,000 miles, he successfully returned home yesterday to Marina del Ray, California. Battling sleep deprivation, storms and mechanical problems during his journey, Sunderland’s challenges were a far cry from the usual teenage stress of finding a prom date and passing algebra class.
His record is quite a feat. Handling a 36-foot yacht in the pounding waves with a never-ending horizon to sail toward is an accomplishment in itself, but what really struck me was the idea of spending over a year alone in the open water.
When I was seventeen, I didn’t even want to “cruise the strip” on my own, and I was terrified to make the 50 minute drive to the nearest “city” (Omaha, NE) despite the fact that my first car was actually the size of a boat. To have the confidence to set sail on the open waters of the ocean takes guts, as well as a slight sense of indestructibility. By no means was I scared of being independent at that age, but taking on mother nature on thousands of miles of water was not on my agenda in high school.
What’s exciting is we don’t have to sail the world to get this adrenaline rush; but traveling alone can present amazing challenges and rewards as well. Women especially have a reluctance to travel solo, and from personal experience and stories from fellow independent travelers, it is a shame that more people don’t make that leap and set sail on their own independent travel adventure.
There are some great sites to help prepare for a solo trip. Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree travel forum is one I go back to often, and I recently came across Fodor’s site that had some helpful hints as well. Last summer I spent about a month in Spain, and as stated in a previous blog posting, my Spanish is lacking in skill level. However, it was one of the most amazing travel experiences I’ve had. I do recommend learning a basic level of the native language, but just smiling can make all the difference when hand gestures and 15 maps are involved.
Do your research. Knowing the safe areas of a city and booking your first few nights’ accommodation before arriving can help you ease into your surroundings. Staying in hostels are a great way to meet others interested in travel, just be aware that the age range can average on the 18 -22 year old level. I learned the hard way that I no longer enjoy sharing a room with 10 bunk beds, but there are single room options that give you the best of both worlds in accommodations.
And by all means know how to laugh at yourself. It took awhile for me to get comfortable in my own skin when I could barely order my lunch in Barcelona, but after awhile I just accepted that my attempts at saying “Gracias” like the city natives came out sounding like I had something stuck on my tongue and more often than not my “thank you’s” were met with blank stares. That’s ok.
Traveling means getting out of our comfort zone for a bit. This can be a day trip to the next town over or immersing ourselves in a completey new culture. The point is that exploring on our own allows for a new awareness in our surroundings. Our senses are heightened, opportunities to meet others happen more readily when there aren’t 15 people waddling around with digital cameras, and a boost of confidence is inevitable in solo adventures. Jumping in head first to those dark waters and floundering about a bit is definitely more rewarding than wading in the kiddie pool of cultural experience.