I keep waking  up in the middle of the night with no clue where I am while my heart feels like it’s beating out of my chest.

This is surely a symptom of a two week solo backpacking trip to the Dominican Republic. It’s been almost a week since I got home. I’m extremely passionate about getting a good night’s sleep so I hope this symptom resolves itself soon.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: travel–solo travel, specifically–is the biggest and best shortcut that exists for personal growth and self-awareness. I get that travel is not for everyone. To be honest, I don’t know if travel is really for anyone.

That’s the point.

Traveling alone to a foreign land you’ve never been before where they don’t speak your language sounds almost ridiculous on paper. It sounds like a romantic and exciting adventure to bring only yourself and a backpack to a place where nobody knows you and anything could happen. It is definitely both of those things. It’s also a lot of other things, too.

It’s turning a quick 3-4 hour bus ride turned into a 12 hour mess that included one overpriced taxi, one missed bus, one wrong bus that broke down, one wrong bus that dropped me off on the side of the freeway, another taxi, one right bus, and one moto ride from a kind stranger to get me to my hotel. It’s drinking rum and eating grilled lobster on an island in the middle of the carribean sea.

It’s getting stared at and whispered about because you’re the only white girl for miles. It’s misunderstandings and miscommunications and never really knowing for sure if you understand or if you’re being understood. It’s meal after meal alone, and always with a prayer that you’ll actually get what you ordered and that it won’t make you sick. It’s sunburns and bug bites and wearing the same dirty clothes for two weeks. It’s paying extra for a special car to get to your friend’s wedding early, and being told that it starts at 4pm in the church when the wedding actually starts at 5pm on the beach.

It’s completely trusting strangers with your life because you have no other choice, and because the only way to know if you can trust someone is to trust them. It’s completely trusting yourself and your gut to keep you safe.

These things happen, and then something else happens. You find yourself in a moment, completely in awe of where you are and what you’re doing. It is beautiful. You are grateful. You also might be crying.

You know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you can go anywhere and do anything and be anyone you want to be.