The Freedom Experiment

The Freedom Experiment

Everything is possible

The bravest choice of all

Sunset photo by You are so brave.

That's the one thing I hear more often than anything else, when I tell people what I do.

That's what they say, when I tell them that I travel alone. And when I tell them that I do it often – book the flights, rent a room or an apartment, and just go – that's when they say it.

I tell them that I do it because I can, because I want to – and because I choose to.

They shake their head slightly. They widen their eyes.

They look at me like I'm crazy.

And then sometimes, for a fraction of a second, I see that spark in their eyes. That spark that says I wish I would dare to do the same. That's when they say it.

You are so brave.

I'm currently in Aruba, a little island in the Caribbean right off the coast of Venezuela. For a couple of weeks, I've rented a lovely room through airbnb and I'm roaming the island by bike. I came here because I felt a strong need for tropical beaches. I came here to nurture my relationship with myself. And I came here to breathe.

Aruba is a place where a lot of people go to get married, on their honeymoons or with their families to celebrate an anniversary. It's not your common backpacker beach bum village in South East Asia. I knew that.

But it didn't really hit me that what I was doing could be considered brave until the captain came on speaker, 40,000 feet over the Atlantic.

We were about 5 hours into a 10 our flight, and the initial anxiety I always feel when I board a long-haul was slowly being replaced with sheer and utter boredom.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it's the captain speaking. I hope you are having a good flight. I've been informed that we have a very special couple on board with us today, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Would you please join us in celebrating this milestone together with Jane and Jake?" 

Everyone is clapping and smiling.

And I'm having a major moment.

Two thoughts simultaneously run through my mind:

– I'm too old and too single to ever being able to experience a 50th wedding anniversary on board a trans-atlantic

– All these people sitting next to me live very different lives than me

I think it was in that moment that I realised that I was probably the only person on the flight travelling alone. That I was going to a place where people don't usually go by themselves. And that I was, in fact, quite scared of feeling lonely.

And I guess this is exactly why I booked the flight – to spend time with myself.

You are so brave. 

And in those conversations, that's the point where I struggle with what to say next. Because I don't think of myself as particularly brave. In many ways, I am actually quite wimpy. I am afraid of a lot of things. I have anxiety a lot. I feel scared on a daily basis.

You might see me as brave because I live life differently, but I'm also terrified and afraid of not fitting in. I'm both proudly and utterly desperately different. And is it brave, when you have no other choice? I don't really know.

However, I don't really think brave is something you can be at all. I don't think brave is a quality that you can possess, and I don't think any one person is more brave than anybody else. I don't think brave is a passive quality.

Instead, I believe that brave is a choice you make. It's action-oriented, something you do. It's active.

Like booking the flights, when you feel like hiding in your bed. Going out to eat alone, when it's much more tempting to order in. It's wearing that gorgeous pink dress, when you'd blend in so much better in the grey. Brave is choosing the slightly scarier option, facing the fear. Doing it anyway.

It's choosing the unknown over the known. It's choosing to stay instead of to leave. It's choosing to be vulnerable rather than be safe. It's choosing love rather than hate. It's choosing to change, rather than to stay the same.

Make the braver choice. Take the braver action. That's how you expand your world. That's how you grow.

And expand my world, I did. From the moment that plane touched down in Aruba, I was in unfamiliar territory.

I felt it the moment I walked out into the arrival hall, when I walked past the tour company drivers who where there to pick up the families, when I walked past the limo drivers who where there to pick up the newlyweds. I felt it when I walked all the way past everyone, and over to the deserted taxi stand.

When I exited the terminal, I looked back at the crowds for a second, seeing all those people stressfully navigating the world of spouses, kids and a million pieces of luggage.

And I realised, in that moment, that I too, was in fact going on a honeymoon of sorts. I was also there with someone special. I was also there to celebrate a relationship.

I went to a tropical beach paradise because I'm learning to love myself.

And I think that is the bravest choice of all.