*Beep…Beep…Beep* The piercing yet familiar sound of my alarm clock jolts me awake. I roll over to silence the annoying ringer and glance at the time; it’s 4:32 AM and still dark out. “Who’s idea was this?” I think to myself, still half-asleep. I hurriedly get dressed and make a few last minute adjustments to my pack before doing my final check. “Phone, wallet, keys, passport” I whisper to myself, making sure I have everything. What a disaster it would be to make it all the way to Canada, only to discover I left my Passport on the counter, so we’ll consider this crisis averted.
As I head to the airport, I can feel the butterflies start fluttering in my stomach and have to remind myself that I am strong, capable and smart – I can do this! If solo travelling to another country isn’t jumping in head first to this self-exploration thing, I don’t know what is. After checking my bag and breezing through security, I realize how real this trip is – there’s no turning back now. I can’t tell if I’m more stoked for the sights and sounds of new cities or to turn my phone on airplane mode and enjoy 10 days of uninterrupted ‘me time’! Either way, it’s time to unplug and do this thang!
I’ll be honest that the idea for this trip was rooted in FOMO. For those not up to speed on the lingo, that means Fear Of Missing Out. I spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, looking at other people’s pretty pictures on Instagram for work, and developed a bad case of wanderlust, almost overnight. When you see photos of your friends (or strangers for that matter) soaking in the views of a Scottish vista or enjoying a pastry in Italy, it starts to make you think your mountain side coffee view isn’t enough. That was the all the motivation I needed to set off on a solo trip…but I digress.
As soon as my flight landed in Calgary, I could feel my heart beat faster and the nerves set in. Welcome to Canada, land of sweeping vistas, Mounties, amazing maple syrup and freedom; freedom from calls and texts, freedom from email, freedom to make each day your own. There is something liberating about not consulting other people about your plans for the day. You get to do what you want, when you want, for how long you want! And so, I began to do just that.
Lesson #1: Trust your gut instinct and don’t be afraid to stop and ask for directions
I spent my first day walking around downtown Banff, enjoying the festivities for Canada Day which included a parade, the farmers market, a hike up to the local waterfalls, and finished with a soak in the hot springs while the sun set over the mountains. While the rest of the day went smoothly, getting up to the hot springs was quite the challenge and I learned I need to work on my map reading skills. They were supposedly only 5k outside of town but there was a foot path that avoided the highway which seemed like a shortcut, so I tried that first. The path wove through a dark forest that reminded me of a scene out of Stranger Things, and being a solo female, started to make me nervous. Was a bear lurking in the trees, camouflaged by the fading light; was I going the right way? The map didn’t seem to match my surroundings so I dipped into the neighborhood and found my way back to my starting spot…great. I just wasted 45 minutes being lost and the only option now was to walk along the highway up to the hot springs. An hour later, I was rewarded with relaxation and an amazing view as the sun started to set in the valley; it was totally worth getting lost for!
Lesson #2: Make the best of your current situation
I spent the next 2 days driving the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper. If you haven’t already, add this to your bucket list right now! The drive started out looking a lot like Colorado but I was quickly reminded that I was in Canada as the views around each corner got prettier and the mountains got bigger. It could have been my wanderlust in full swing, but I started to feel like I never wanted to leave this place. The drive was supposed to take about 4 hours but I made lots of stops and arrived in Jasper around dinner time. I made the mistake of assuming Canada, like the US, had public land where you could pull off and park your car…wrong! After stopping at 2 campgrounds that were full, I landed a spot in the overflow camping lot, which was as unglamorous as it sounds. I pulled in to find a giant field where you could set up camp anywhere, so I parked my car under the shade of some trees and settled in for the night. Mind you, I had rented a small, economy size sedan, with a backseat fit for someone under 5 feet tall. It was a squeeze and I didn’t’ sleep very well. In the end though, I had a safe place to sleep for the night and made the best of what I had to work with. Note to self: next time do a little more planning.
Lesson #3: Slow down and enjoy even the small moments
All too often, I find myself attached to my phone or using social media as a crutch in awkward social situations, so the decision to unplug from the updates for 10 days was tough for me. By doing so, I found that I was able to be more present for conversations with new friends and I was open to new experiences and emotions that I was afraid to feel before. Being aware of the sounds the forest makes while your hiking and physically feeling your heart and mind slow down is a beautiful thing. You can’t experience FOMO if you’re busy having the time of your own life.
Travelling to Canada not only improved my self confidence, it also helped me fall back in love with my passions. I re-discovered the cathartic effects of writing and learned to appreciate nature without headphones blaring the latest pop jams. I became so much more aware of who I am and what makes my heart jump out of its cage that it terrifies me…in a good way! So what’s next on the bucket list, you ask? I’m thinking Europe 2018…summits and castles and cobblestone, oh my! See you across the pond.