Full text of travel writer Teresa Rodriguez’s talk: “Owning Alone: conquering your fear of being solo” at TEDxWilmington conference.
Teresa Rodriguez – Travel writer
Well, I married a beautiful, tall, blond Australian man in a courthouse outside of San Francisco. It was an interesting event. It was short and it was sweet. But we did plan to return.
Shortly after our marriage, we moved to Australia. I packed up my life in San Francisco and I hauled it across the world. There we planned to return after a year to plan the big white wedding. Everything a girl dreams of.
And sure enough, we did return, well at least I returned back to San Francisco to plan our big white wedding. There it all started, the wedding dresses, the cake, and the bridesmaids. And the day that I picked out my dress, I’ll never forget. It was the 80s, it had big shoulders. It was fabulous.
Well, I went home to celebrate my find. And there I found a letter from my beloved. I was so excited. This was before the Internet, this was before cell phones, and this was before Facebook. So I could check up on it.
And the letter read as follows:
“Dear Teresa, the marriage is over. I’ve moved. I’ve disconnected the phone. I put your clothes and personal items in garbage bags. I just need to know where you want me to ship them.”
I was devastated. I fell into a deep place of depression. And I was so afraid to spend my life alone. I was alone, I’m alone up here too.
Well, I started seeing a psychiatrist every week. As a matter of fact, I was seeing her on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. She would give me two Valium, one for that Monday, the one for the Tuesday, and then went on, Wednesday, Thursday.
I was highly suicidal. And she was afraid I was going to hurt myself. So she thought that if she gave me the whole bottle of Valium, that there was a chance that I would overdose. And I have to say that she was probably correct.
It was weeks into this treatment, and I wasn’t getting any better. I lost over 15 pounds; my hair was falling out.
And I came to see her on that Friday at 2:00 p.m. as usual. And I was given the grim news by her that, ‘You know Tracy you’re not getting any better. And I have requested that you start inpatient treatment next week in a lovely facility in the rolling hills of Martinez, California.”’
She handed me a stack of admissions papers that were heavier than my broken heart, and I walked down that sterile hallway in that hospital. And I looked down, and to try — oh, there we go. And it read: inpatient psychiatric services. Provides 23 beds for seclusion rooms and three with straight rooms.
I walked out of that hospital and I looked up in the sky. And I saw a flock of blackbirds dancing like I’ve never seen before. And that line from Ken Kesey’s book came to me, ‘One flew East and one flew West and one flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’
It was at that moment in my life that I said there’s no way that I’m going to let another person put me into a psychiatric ward. There has to be another way of doing this.
So I took those admission papers. I threw them away. I got into my dad’s old Volvo, and drove back to my parents’ house. And I called my girlfriend who had happened to be going to London the following week. I called her and I said, listen, is there any chance that I can tag along on this trip.
And she was a little bit resistant because her sister set it up. And she agreed.
So instead of flying over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I flew east. I took the money that I saved for my wedding and I bought a ticket to London.
Well, we got to the hostel that her sister had organized and it was completely booked out. So there was no place for me to stay. And I was like- ‘Uh alrighty, I’ll figure this out. Hey, I was about to go to a psychiatric ward last week, which could be worse.’
So I grabbed my bags and walked out onto the High Street. And something magical happened. Yes, I was alone, but I was alone in London.
In John Bradshaw’s book- ‘Homecoming’, he talks about one of the best ways to heal our broken child is to go back to that place of discovery, to that little toddlerhood, where we look at things in a new light with new birb and new excitement. And I was there on High Street for the first time in a long time, I was alive.
I was living in the now.
And Eckhart Tolle talks about this now. And it’s so rare that we actually go into this delicious place of the present, because we are so busy worrying about our future and afraid and regretting the decisions that we made in our past that… do we rarely step into this place where we are just happy. And I was there.
So I went down to the underground not knowing where to go, had my bags and I picked another station. I picked Elephant Castle because it sounded magical.
And I got down there onto the platform and it said mind the gap. And I started laughing because it reminded me of Dr. Wayne Dyer and his series on getting into the gap making conscious contact with God. And he says that to create a conscious contact with God with our higher power is, we have to create space. We have to create distance. We have to open up.
We have to leave the monikers of dumped housewife, loser daughter, failing business partner. We got to leave those all at home and step out into something new and something adventurous.
And I was doing that. I was creating space. And as Debussy says:
“It is the space between the notes that makes the music.”
So how do you create your own music on your solo journey?
Actually, there are seven keys to it. Some are easier than others.
The first is, you have to be brave. You have to take a stand and say you know what, I’m going to do something and I’m going to do it for myself and I am willing to make a commitment.
And I’m not asking you to do an Eat, Pray, Love adventure around the world for a year. Hey I’ll be happy to go to the movies by yourself. It can be something as simple as going to another city or going to a café. But if you want to do an adventure, go for it.
But first step is to be brave and make the commitment that you are going to do that.
The next is to be faithful. And I talk about being faithful, I am talking to being faithful to somebody that we rarely are faithful to. And that’s ourselves.
Buddha says world peace through individual happiness. You break that down, world peace through individual happiness. So the first thing we got to do is figure out what makes us happy, and figure that out is it going to be a day in a park reading a book, is it going to be a trip to Paris to visit the museums, is it going to be a weekend on a beach and getting your feet lapped by warm Caribbean water.
It doesn’t matter what it is, because it’s what you want. This is your itinerary. This is your chance to find your own space.
So after being faithful, be wise. The truth is there are places in the world that don’t like travelers. There are places in the world that are not safe for women. There are places in the world that are at war.
And before you go on any adventure what you need to do is figure out if the place that you want to go, is going to be safe. And it’s going to allow you that experience.
Once you figure that out, you need to be liked. Because when you travel alone, got nobody to help you. And so I ask that you leave a few pieces of baggage at home. The first one is fear.
In her book, in Louise Hays book- ‘You Can Heal Your Life’, she talks about fear as being the biggest resistor that we have. It says, no I can’t do that… no you’re not allowed to… no it’s not going to happen… FEAR.
But what’s so interesting is that when I researched the women in my network about what they were afraid of when they traveled by themselves, it wasn’t scorpions or being taken by terrorists, it was dining alone. It was eating by themselves.
The two words that came up were ‘shame’ and ‘embarrassment’. So please leave those at home.
Once you’re liked, the universe has a way of wanting to fill in the gaps. And so the best thing to do is when you leave something behind is to pick something back up. And so pick up some beautiful.
The one thing that I always tell women when they travel put on a scarf, put on a little bit of lipstick and put a little snap in your step. It’s amazing how the world views you when you’ve got that little bit of confidence.
Another thing is patience. The truth is that a New York minute is not like a Hawaiian minute. Every culture rolls at their own cadence. So allow that cadence of wherever you might go, to just engulf you.
Arianna Huffington talks about we have a deficit in right now, and that deficit is time. We are so worried, we’re so busy… we’re scurrying scurrying scurrying… but the truth is that we all have the same amount of time. Is it what are we going to do with it?
I say I’d rather be on a plane that is late than a plane that is on time and missing a bolt because somebody was in a bit of a hurry. Take a step back for those people that have got kids. Take a step back for those others that are in a rush. Sometimes it’s not about leaning in, sometimes it’s about leaning back.
Next is to be generous. And yeah, I would love it if everybody leaves huge ginormous tips. But when I talk about generosity, I am talking about something greater. And it’s the generosity of you, the compliments, being thankful, be respectful.
The truth is that, when you travel by yourself you have an opportunity to learn about new cultures, about new experiences. And give back: give a smile, give a compliment. How many times have you just had a really bad day and somebody says, ‘man your hair looks great’. You’re like, Wow! That just made my day.
You can do that for people everywhere around the world that you travel. In his book, ‘Flow’, the author talks about that happiness is found when we live a purposeful life… if we live our daily life having some kind of purpose. So make your purpose that when you travel to be generous. Generous with a kind word, generous with a smile.
And finally, and the most important is to be soulful. It is our responsibility to share what we experience on our trips. We’re not the same people when we dine with a family in Italy or we see a beautiful child smiling in Germany or when we walk the steps of Auschwitz or we climb the pyramids of Giza, you’re not the same person. You change, and you turn into something way more beautiful than you were before your departure.
So all of those trinkets that you bring back, make those souvenirs. Be the knowledge that you’ve gained, the encouragement that you found, and the inspiration that you gained. Let it be all of that understanding and wisdom about a new place and a new culture. And then when you get back here, share it with others.
Because it’s through you. It’s through your solo travel that we can truly make this world a better place.
Resources for Further Reading: