• Catherine Armstrong

Solo Travel: What Does Personal Growth Truly Mean?

July 14th, 2019

Solo travel has become synonymous with “soul-searching” and “finding yourself.”

I never understood how you could possibly find yourself while traveling.

That is not to say that I have never felt lost, but the idea of needing to travel far and wide to have an epiphany of who I am seemed almost as legitimate as the lives some people plaster on Instagram.

I assumed that the term was born out of an amalgamation of pervasive marketing tactics and social media highlights.

Well, my friends, I have discovered firsthand that there is merit to this idea.

Take yourself out of the bubble you have blown in the world around your comfortable, immediate environment.

Take yourself away from the opinions of people who have known you for any period of time (thirty minutes to your entire life), away from the people whose opinions you care about, away from the people who you want to impress (or just not disappoint), and away from the person you have always presented to the world.

Then, throw yourself into an environment that you have no attachment to and has no attachment to you.

At first, you feel as if everyone and everything can sense, for whatever reason, that you do not belong in this new place.

You feel out of place.

No one and nothing know you.

Then, you realize that no one and nothing care about who you are or what you do.

You are by yourself…

…but not necessarily alone.

You are free of all pretense and expectation.

When external pressures have been stripped away, who do you find?

As I come to the end of the first part of my adventure, it is time to do some introspection.

Throughout the past week, I have experienced what I can only describe as a sense of settling – settling into who I am but not necessarily growing into something else.

I have been wrestling to articulate what I have been feeling, until today, when I was Jesus slapped by a random sign in a boutique on South Congress Avenue, Austin, TX, during my last day in the city.

Because it is the weekend, and I could not arrange any meetings, I decided to explore South Congress, a main street filled with quirky shops, boutiques, and restaurants.

I was walking aimlessly through the shops when I walked into a tiny boutique sandwiched between two much larger stores. I would have missed it had it not been for the bright pink door.

As I walked in, I was happily assaulted by the best smelling fragrance I have ever experienced.

I found the source – an overpriced candle that smelled like everything good and holy in this world. As I debated putting it on the company card (Haha just kidding), I set it down.

When I looked up, directly in front of me was a sign with a quote that rocked my world and articulated everything that I had been working through.

“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t really you.”

We all have an idea of who we should be. That person is, usually, super outgoing, always has the right words to say, never experiences an awkward moment, can discuss blockchain and artificial intelligence while actually understanding the intricacies of how they work beyond just what they can do, and has perfect hair.

The word, growth, by itself, signifies a natural progression upwards. It immediately triggers the image of a green plant growing towards the sun and opening its leaves.

Yet, what I have learned on this trip is that personal growth is a downward, inward form of growth – the roots of the plant growing down into the soil to support the plant’s eventual growth upwards.

When you stop striving to be a unicorn of a person, you dive deep and figure out who you really are.

When you get a grasp on who you are without pressure from your environment or yourself, you stop feeling out of place no matter where you are or who you are with.

You build a foundation to begin your growth upwards without being crippled by doubt, fear, and insecurity because you have the roots to support it.

I left South Congress on the first Lyft Scooter of my life with a huge smile on my face.

(Side Note: As I neared my apartment, the sun was setting, and I passed street performers playing none other than “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. I am not making this up. Seriously, I called my mom to make sure someone else was a witness. At the moment, I think someone has mistakenly casted me in a movie without my knowledge. I somehow began and ended my time in Austin with an unintentional theme song. What is my life right now?!)


It has been less than a week since my departure. All I can say is thank you for this opportunity to find my roots.



Travel Tip: You do not have to go to a foreign country to experience personal growth. I grew a great deal in just a week in a different city in the US. The key is to experience new things by yourself. Take yourself out to dinner. Do not hide in your phone. Be present where you are.

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