Janice Holly Booth is the author of Only Pack What You Can Carry: My Path to Inner Strength, Confidence and True Self Knowledge, a new book published by National Geographic about her deepening sense of personal understanding and appreciation of the travel experience through adventures she took by herself, for herself.  She stresses that everyone should learn to overcome unhealthy fear and do things that make us feel uncomfortable, so that we can learn and grow.

In the spirit of self-discovery and adventure through travel, Intelligent Travel wants to hear how you faced your fears through solo travel and how it has changed you.

From mastering that hike, to getting on a bus to an unfamiliar city, or just wandering off to explore a new neighborhood, transformative travel doesn’t have to be expensive or take you far away from home. We invite all readers to participate by commenting: Tell us about your most transformative travel experience and how it changed you. We will choose one lucky commenter to win a copy of Janice Holly Booth’s new book!

Courtesy of National Geographic Books

Intelligent Travel: What is it about traveling solo that allows you to have a different experience?

Janice Holly Booth: When you are traveling alone, you get to have the experience on your own terms, and you don’t have to pull yourself out of an experience, compromise, or check in with somebody.  There is a beautiful flow that goes with moving from one nuance of the experience to the next that’s really only possible if you’re not distracted by travel partners.

But in this book, going alone isn’t about being by yourself. It’s about having a tremendous amount of influence and control.  In this day and age it’s nearly impossible to be truly alone, but with solo travel, you can chose whether or not to seek out other people. This should be an introspective thing.

Throughout the process of traveling and compiling these stories, what would you say has been the hardest thing to come to terms with about yourself?

There are two aspects: physical and emotional.  The hardest thing to face physically was that I thought I was stronger and braver than I am. It was a hard truth to face at the time.  Nobody is born brave, we become brave by challenging ourselves and finding the inner resources to rise up to the challenge. Emotionally, I had withdrawn from society and slid into the background– it was in my nature to not trust other people, and when traveling, I found myself clinging to that old behavior.  So, I made a real effort to step outside of the place that was familiar, to try new things. Eventually I began to open up and I noticed it transferring over to my regular life.

Would you say that, for you, stepping outside your comfort zone is not so much about traveling to exotic locales as it is about getting away from a routine?

It doesn’t really matter where you go, as long as it’s going to put you in a place where you can think new thoughts, experience new things, get away from the familiar and have an opportunity to really think about what you want to think about. Nowadays, we don’t give ourselves enough time for introspection. Solo travel might be as simple as addressing “ever since I was little girl, I wanted to go camping.” Just about every area in the U.S. has parks where you can go camping and get a little taste of it. Camping at a nearby spot, still has all the elements that I spoke about– getting out of the place, fulfilling a desire, mustering inner resources and taking a leap of faith– but you don’t have to pay a lot of money or travel a long distance.

In your book you say that there are two kinds of fear: “The kind that keeps you from stepping of a cliff when you shouldn’t and the kind that keeps you from stepping of the edge of a cliff when you should.” Explain the difference.

Fear is primal, and it’s not rational. When you’re trying to step off a cliff, fear is saying ‘you weren’t born with wings so get away, or you’ll die.’ But, if you’re in a harness, on a rope threaded through bolts that are not going to come out of the rock, fear is going to try to talk you out of going over the cliff when you should, even though your rational mind knows that you’ll be fine. It’s important to recognize the difference, so if you happen to be afraid of heights, you get to the edge and your instincts say ‘get back, you’re in danger,’ you can recognize that you can still do this and that you can deal rationally with your fear.

What is it about fear that allows you to understand more fully who you are?

We don’t really understand what we’re capable of before we put our feet in the fire.  Even if we fail, as long as we go back and try again we’re learning more about what we can and cannot do. In facing up to a challenge and winning, (or at least overcoming) we’ve learned something about ourselves we didn’t know before.

I’m really stubborn and tenacious and I’m not afraid to try again.  It was really comforting for me to know that a single failure wasn’t a death sentence.  It took me 14 visits to the slot canyons in Utah before I built up the courage to fulfill my dream of canyoneering. Now, I’m capable of enjoying life in a different way than I was before that fear: How would I ever have learned that if I hadn’t pushed myself?

For me, it was canyons, for others it might be something else. We should not judge or base the worth of our experiences against the accomplishments of others. The experience is yours alone.

Solo travel for me grew out of wanting to be self-sufficient and handle my own baggage, literally and metaphorically.  I wanted to get away from expectations about what I should and shouldn’t do. I don’t even really think about the notion of being a woman traveling by myself– I really just think that I’m a person out there seeking new experiences.

Tell us about your most transformative travel experience and how it changed you in the comments section below. We will choose one lucky commenter to receive a copy of Janice Holly Booth’s new book! Commenting ends Monday, August 1 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

Comments

  1. Meghan Miner
    August 5, 2011, 10:02 am

    I see the previous mention of our announcement day, August 5th, was removed. Sorry about that!

    Congrats to Jae Heidenreich and her winning entry on traveling alone, even close to home!

    Thanks everyone for your great submissions, and look out for more Intelligent Travel book giveaways in the future!

  2. Anonymous
    August 4, 2011, 5:21 pm

    So who is the winner of the book?

  3. Meghan Miner
    July 27, 2011, 5:05 pm

    We added more time to allow for more submissions! The new deadline is August 1, 11:59pm EST. Tell your friends! Great submissions so far!

  4. Anonymous
    July 27, 2011, 4:05 pm

    What is this? The deadline was July 26!! Didn’t you think any of the comments left until then were good enough or?

  5. Vanessa
    Geneva
    July 26, 2011, 4:10 pm

    Looking back at my photos now, I’m amazed at how close I was standing to the edge of thundering Victoria Falls: close enough to capture the rainbow in the water droplets as they splashed over into the abyss. Even though I know my feet were firmly anchored to solid rock and that my guide wouldn’t have led me astray, those pictures make my palms start to sweat. But even more amazing is that at the time, I felt no fear at all. I wanted to clamor over rocks, see every angle of light, feel the water rushing over my fingers. The profound beauty and power of the place overwhelmed all other emotions. Being absolutely and completely in the moment, I discovered the fearless explorer hidden within me. And I know she’s still there – standing ready to guide me through life’s challenges, and waiting patiently for her next opportunity to get out and explore.

  6. Rosemary Bloch
    The Grotto of Mary Magdalene at la Sainte-Baume
    July 26, 2011, 1:02 pm

    The cave is located in a cliffside, that overlooks a lush forest, that is so out of place in the rather scrubby Provincial countryside.

    This is a place i have been to twice in the past few years.
    First discovered on Oct 31, 2009 on a hike with a good friend. Second time I returned with my husband and a niece, to experience the holy week in the town of St. Maximin la Ste. Baume and my husband helped to carry the 600 lb reliquary in the procession thru the streets. we made the pilgrimage up the cliffside, and caught mass performed by a Dominican monk from Vietnam.

  7. Carolyn Emigh
    Sofia, Buglaria
    July 26, 2011, 11:36 am

    I moved to Bulgaria on a Fulbright and realized in the spring that I was never going to see Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro or Croatia if I didn’t go on my own. I was worried about everything where I would stay, how I would travel, what I would eat and the morning I took the bus from Sofia to Belgrade I thought I might throw-up at the station. I didn’t. And the result was that I conquered my fear of solo travel. I opened myself up to new experiences–experiences that you never would have traveling with a friend, in a group or with a significant other–and now I that I can rise to any situation. http://www.karolinkabulgaria.com/

  8. Erin B
    Rockford, IL
    July 26, 2011, 9:39 am

    Traveling in Italy solo post college. the best thing i learned being alone is okay. As well as you i wll make friends along the way and creates a more organic method of travel. This method showed you can end up in a town’s little wine festival. End up cooking with your pension owner and taking in private seaside views. make you confident in negoitaing in a language you don’t speak. The ability to acquire directions when needed and get beneficially lost at the same time.

  9. rjvesper
    Seattle area
    July 26, 2011, 3:58 am

    With time & experience comes wisdom. .. if we’re paying attention; whether travelling alone or quietly listening / watching alongside family, friends, even perfect strangers. When solitude becomes more dominent, perhaps it becomes an exercise in trust (in ourselves) to hold fast to those “moments of instruction that are no longer” or “those quiet paths” illuminated by the light of appreciation. Time invested with people we cherish, instructs who & what we really see.

  10. Erin
    St. Louis, MO
    July 25, 2011, 9:09 pm

    I went to The Netherlands to study abroad for a couple of weeks. It was my first time in Europe and I figured I was close enough to Paris so I invited some of my new friends/classmates along. Well, the train tickets ended up costing too much for everyone and since I had already booked a hotel room for the weekend, I had to go alone. I was terrified of the idea! I’d never traveled anywhere by myself, let alone to a country where I didn’t speak the language. I made it to my hotel just fine, and although I felt a bit lonely, I’m glad I went by myself. I was on my schedule and I didn’t have to share a room with anyone! In everyday life, I am a very confident person, but this trip helped me quash the belief that I need someone else around to experience any fun!

  11. Marsha Neuman
    Ohio
    July 25, 2011, 8:50 pm

    I have been traveling all of my life; from my earliest memory my family explored the US. At 16 while in California visiting family I met their young Mexican neighbor boy, he changed my life. He talked to me about a cactus and its importance to his culture. A cactus? I knew after that conversation that I would never be happy just traveling the US again, I needed to explore the world and its many different cultures.
    After visiting more than 40 countries I know that I still have a lot to learn. Visit me at http://Ofmyheart.net

  12. aleisha
    melbourne, australia
    July 25, 2011, 8:35 pm

    i always wanted to travel. I had that in the back of my mind, but i took hold of any excuse that arose not to. I had a boyfriend, he held me back. I had no language skills, that held me back. I decided after years of hiding in my safe shell, this is the only thing i am sure of in my life, i need to get out and do it. I went to italy with a friend but i felt restricted and uninspired. I knew i had to take the next step so i just did it! I booked a train out of there and havent looked back. Now i’m in spain, having a great time and learning so much about myself. To anyone out there like me, just go for it! Its life changing and the best risk i’ve ever taken!

  13. Laura
    Athens, GA
    July 25, 2011, 8:32 pm

    I always liked to think that I was the adventurous type, and I usually am more daring than most of my pals. However, whenever I did something crazy, it was always with a support group of others also joining me. So at the beginning of this summer when I got a chance to skydive, I jumped at the chance (literally!). As a student paying my own way through college, I don’t always have the money to just up and fly across the country or world, but this was something I could afford. I tried to find someone who would go with me, but all my acquaintances seemed to have excuses. So instead of chickening out myself, I went for it! Driving across the state to the jump site and then going through the training by myself (or at least without anyone I knew) really boosted my confidence and self-esteem. Jumping out of that plane, knowing that I was doing it for myself and no one else, is a feeling I’ll never forget. And I know I’ll never have the regret of not doing it.

  14. Jae Heidenreich
    Oregon's Mt. Hood Territory
    July 25, 2011, 8:30 pm

    When I was a newly divorced young mom and had recently relocated to Oregon, I made it a priority to organize camping gear so that it would be at the ready for me to take off to explore a few of the thousands of acres of nearby National Forest. The sense of preparedness let me hit the road at a moment’s notice when the kids received unexpected overnight invitations or the stars aligned and everyone decided they were ready for a foray to the coast, the mountains or the high desert.

    I now make it an annual event to head out by myself, having realized there is nothing quite like setting up the tent by myself, enjoying wilderness sounds with no human voice in my ear and pouring over topo maps to decide which path I’ll take the next day. Delicious!

  15. Susana
    London (UK)
    July 25, 2011, 7:37 pm

    I have always had a passion for travelling but I never really thought I would be capable of travelling on my own. A few years ago, my then boyfriend and I took off on what was meant to be our last trip before taking the next step into adulthood and eventually tying the knot.

    Being thousands of miles away from home, our families and friends gave me the courage to do something I had been thinking of doing for quite some time…breaking up with him. He was (is) a great guy but the relationship wasn’t making me happy any more. So, a few weeks into the trip we had a long conversation and we decided to go separate ways. We both still had time and money to keep going for a good few months and even though I wanted to go ahead with the trip I wasn’t sure I would manage on my own. I had been in a relationship for many years and I had got used to having someone by my side who would deal with things if they went wrong.

    Luckily, my ex convinced me to keep going and told me I would otherwise regret it for the rest of my life. And how right he was! The following 11 months I backpacked in South America, French Polynesia, NZ, Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, Lao, Cambodia, Indonesia…

    I had the time of my life. I met some really cool people who, now, almost 4 years later I consider part of my closest group of friends even if they are all scattered across the globe and we can’t meet as often as we would like.

    Travelling is liberating, mind-opening, educative…for me, it’s the best therapy for the soul. Still now I think about some of the places where I ended up ON MY OWN and I feel transported back to the moment when I was physically there and it almost has the same effect as actually being there.

    I came back stronger, ready to face the world, eager to see what the future had in stall for me…I moved countries and started from scratch. Landed in London in the middle of recession with just one suitcase. No money, no job, no friends. Nothing. But knowing I would make it.

    Travelling solo boosts your confidence and allows you to meet like-minded people.

    It has become a healthy addiction and I still choose to travel alone in order to keep in touch with who I really am.

    Since returning from that epic trip I have travelled to Japan, Brazil and Borneo. And let me tell you, if I can do it so can YOU.

    I am not going to claim travelling solo is always easy and fun times but hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! When you encounter obstacles on the road and you are by yourself the survival instinct kicks in and gives you the strength you need to overcome the problem.

    Now, whenever I feel sad or defeated I just tell myself: ‘You made it out there in the world on your own, you can surely make it through this day’.

    This autumn I will be climbing Kilimanjaro and exploring Madagascar. See you out there….X

  16. Susana
    London (UK)
    July 25, 2011, 7:35 pm

    I have always had a passion for travelling but I never really thought I would be capable of travelling on my own. A few years ago, my then boyfriend and I took off on what was meant to be our last trip before taking the next step into adulthood and tying the knot.

    Being thousands of miles away from home, our families and friends gave me the courage to do something I had been thinking of doing for quite some time…breaking up with him. He was (is) a great guy but the relationship wasn’t making me happy any more. So, a few weeks into the trip we had a long conversation and we decided to go separate ways. We both still had time and money to keep going for a good few months and even though I wanted to go ahead with the trip I wasn’t sure I would manage on my own. I had been in a relationship for many years and I had got used to having someone by my side who would deal with things if they went wrong.

    Luckily, my ex convinced me to keep going and told me I would otherwise regret it for the rest of my life. And how right he was! The following 11 months I backpacked in South America, French Polynesia, NZ, Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, Lao, Cambodia, Indonesia…

    I had the time of my life. I met some really cool people who, now, almost 4 years later I consider part of my closest group of friends even if they are all scattered across the globe and we can’t meet as often as we would like.

    Travelling is liberating, mind-opening, educative…for me, it’s the best therapy for the soul. Still now I think about some of the places where I ended up ON MY OWN and I feel transported back to the moment when I was physically there and it almost has the same effect as actually being there.

    I came back stronger, ready to face the world, eager to see what the future had in stall for me…I moved countries and started from scratch. Landed in London in the middle of recession with just one suitcase. No money, no job, no friends. Nothing. But knowing I would make it.

    Travelling solo boosts your confidence and allows you to meet like-minded people.

    It has become a healthy addiction and I still choose to travel alone in order to keep in touch with who I really am.

    Since returning from that epic trip I have travelled to Japan, Brazil and Borneo. And let me tell you, if I can do it so can YOU.

    I am not going to claim travelling solo is always easy and fun times but hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! When you encounter obstacles on the road and you are by yourself the survival instinct kicks in and gives you the strength you need to overcome the problem.

    Now, whenever I feel sad or defeated I just tell myself: ‘You made it out there in the world on your own, you can surely make it through this day’.

    This autumn I will be climbing Kilimanjaro and exploring Madagascar. See you out there….X

  17. Nicole Lang
    Phoenix, AZ
    July 25, 2011, 5:42 pm

    When I was 21 years old, terrified and nervous, I ventured out on my own and headed to Italy for a semester abroad. Now I’ve heard stories about the train stations over in Europe, but I had no idea what I was truly in for. As a single female who does not speak Italian, I knew that if I could make it safely to my final destination, I could conqueror anything. Well, for starters, I couldn’t figure out the train board with the departure times or track number, so when I got on what should have been my train, I thought I was home free. Wrong. My train moved track numbers and I started panicking as the doors were already shut. Thank goodness for the ticket checker, as he was able to open the door and direct me to the correct train track. I did end up making it to my final destination and at the end of the day, when I looked out my hotel window, it dawned on me that I’m alone in a foreign country, but that I survived my first 26 hour travel day. Having this experience really made my confidence sky rocket. In fact, because I survived this terrifying and nerve-racking day, I ended up taking 4 mini-solo adventures throughout Italy all via trains and each of them ended with new friends and new memories. You can say I am now an addict to traveling solo and learning/surviving terrifying experiences.