The best piece of dating advice I ever received was from a friend who told me that if I wanted to marry a confident and courageous person, I’d have to first work on becoming a confident and courageous person myself. After all, I couldn’t expect to attract Prince Charming if I never left the castle long enough to meet him.
And so began what amounted to a ten-year quest to become a version of the person I hoped to one day marry. Over the years, that quest has seen me through studying abroad in Europe, teaching English in Asia, and dragging a forty-pound backpack through dozens of countries and across four continents. For a couple of years, I even lived on a cruise ship. And though I have yet to meet my Knight-in-Shining-Armor, over time I found, to my surprise, that I didn’t much need one. I didn’t need one because I was one.
No, I never slayed a dragon. And I never fought in a battle or lived in castle either. But I did slay a number of flying cockroaches. And I fought off wild monkeys and muggers and lived within catapult-distance of a castle during a summer in Austria.
More importantly though, the years I spent exploring far-off places helped me gain self-confidence and self-esteem. Traveling alone as I did, taught me how to be myself; even if that self was sweaty and covered in dirt and twelve kinds of animal manure (as it often was, especially in India). When you’re three thousand miles away from anyone you’re remotely interested in impressing, you stop caring if you don’t look cute while shoving your way onto a stuffy bus or hauling your heavy pack up a muddy hillside. I found that being able to feel confident when I looked my worst, made it easier to feel confident when I looked my best as well.
I also learned self-reliance. I learned how to read a map (and in a second language, no less) and how to navigate the labyrinth that was the Japanese subway system. And though I frequently got lost, this forced me to become comfortable asking for help and helped me overcome my fear of talking to strangers. I quickly learned that while stumbling through a conversation in broken Spanish with Juan the Park Ranger is scary, getting lost atop a Nicaraguan volcano at nightfall is far worse. What’s more, I found that when I returned home, a lot of the things I’d been afraid of in the past (small-talk with strangers, karaoke, centipedes) had vanished.
But traveling alone also taught me that though I may not have needed a White Knight, I still wanted one. Riding off into the sunset on a camel in India may have felt liberating, and winning the fight against a Daddy Longlegs in a shower in El Salvador may have felt gratifying, but with no one to share those experiences with, it also felt lonely too.
Though I’ve come a long way in my journey to self-improvement, I know there are certain personality quirks of mine that no amount of solo travel or self-discovery will ever cure. I could pilot a spaceship to the moon and back and still be unorganized and absent-minded as ever. And my closet will probably always look like the three little pigs threw up in it.
But if my friend was right and “we attract who we are”, then I have to believe that as Snow White once sang, “someday my prince will come.” And when he does, I’ll be ready for him; plane ticket and bug spray in hand.