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Solo Travel and the Unchecked Baggage of Depression (Part 1)

Reflecting on my life thus far, the saying rings true of regret: that the things you don’t do will often hurt you more than the things you do. There are so many what-ifs or wish-I-had moments that haunt my memory that I had every intention to make sure my time studying in Spain didn’t follow suit. With seven weeks ahead in Barcelona, I’d planned to:

  • Dress up well each day (or most) and find unique locations to create content as a way to grow my portfolio, increase my following, and land potential brand deals for my business.

  • Explore nightclubs, beaches, restaurants, and cultural attractions.

  • Build relationships with locals.

  • Take up a class in art or dance.

  • Travel to new countries on weekends by taking advantage of affordable flights and international trains...

Here I’ve arrived at the end of my sixth week having done virtually none of that.

Simple and easy are unequal terms, and that becomes painfully clear when battling mental illness. I still don't believe my agenda was so difficult or complex (albeit ambitious), but that's almost irrelevant considering that it wasn't seen to fruition.

It's tempting to look back and ponder what went wrong, but hindsight fails us in that we overlook the dissonance between our present consciousness and our past state of being. As much time as I spend thinking about how I could have done things differently, I then have to recognize the unfortunate pattern in which I gaslight myself into trivializing my own experiences. When you're accustomed to being a high performer, imposter syndrome sets in when you fall short of your targets. Rationalizing the inability to overcome the challenges in your way is just boils down to making excuses. Especially when stakes are high, you just feel like you could have done more. You should have done better. The decision I made to travel this year had tremendous financial and logistical implications - for myself and for my family - that I only justified by promising myself a significant return on investment. This eerie sense that I didn't achieve, didn't experience, or didn't take advantage of everything I wanted to just feels like I've failed my business, my loved ones, and above all - myself.

But that's not the reality.

There have been so many days where I couldn't eat. Couldn't get out of bed. Couldn't stop crying. FOMO culture and the pervasive wish-you-were-here complex create this romantic illusion that traveling and living abroad is always so glamorous and exciting. Seeing firsthand the bad and the ugly that no one talks about was a complete blow to my confidence, fortitude, joy, and motivation. Reconsidering my goals at the beginning of my trip, I have to remind myself that many of those “missed opportunities” passed by circumstantially:

  • It took a week for me to adjust to the 9-hour time difference, and even longer to reconcile the cultural differences between my new life in Barcelona and my long-term stay in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.

  • I found myself unprepared to encounter frequent instances of racism, marginalization, or targeting like:

  • being asked by someone on the street how much I would cost for the night;

  • a vendor giving me roses said to be sent by some nearby men and taking them back when it turned out to be a joke;

  • trying to see a show and being told the theater was sold out even though the online map said it was still at mid-capacity;

  • being purposely ignored or given bad directions by multiple security guards.

  • Lack of job security made it challenging to keep up with the financial demands of the city.

  • I spent a week and a half in a depressive episode after encountering an unexpected trigger.

  • I spent another two weeks sick with COVID-19...

Not to mention being in a new academic environment and living with a new host family, it felt impossible to rebuild a routine or regain a sense of security, normalcy, and consistency. Solo travel has its advantages, but the absence of community and familiarity can compound the detriments of hardship in a dangerous way if you're already predisposed to mental health challenges or dealing with personal problems. I've dealt with this two-fold trying to balance my introversion and social anxiety with the task of making new connections. Still, my earnest attempts to put myself out there and make the most of things confirmed that fetch just wasn't going to happen.


The Most Terrible Taco Tuesday

Desperate for a good time, I decided to take myself on a date. There was a gorgeous restaurant I'd been dying to try and I just knew it would be the perfect place for dinner. I did my makeup and got all dressed up looking forward to the night ahead.

It started off great. Warm welcome, excellent food. But everything went downhill when my original waitress moved to the downstairs level to assist with the incoming crowd.

11:25PM - Having finished my meal, I'd hoped to place a second order. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to do so because the restaurant was set to close at midnight and the kitchen, therefore, even earlier. Someone came by to collect my emptied plate, but I continued waiting for more specific attention.

11:30-until - At first, I thought the original waitress was meant to return, but when I realized she was busy I tried at several points to call the new server to my table. No matter how many times we made eye contact, he ignored me. By contrast he was very attentive to other customers. He was laughing with them and making jokes, even offering a guest a bottle of stain remover and helping her get a blotch of sauce out of her shirt.

11:43PM - The waiter finally comes over to me, but only to tell me that the kitchen was closing. I asked repeatedly if the kitchen was already closed or if I still had a moment to place a last-call order. He avoided the question, simply stating over and over and over that the kitchen was closing. Thinking he must not have been able to understand my accent, I asked for the check instead of trying to clarify. (This entire interaction taking place in Spanish.) ...

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