Embracing the moment

It all began with a late-night travel search … typed on a whim. Tokyo was a destination that seemed so exciting and vibrant but just out of reach. The desire to visit the city started in early childhood, before the internet, social media, or even cable television. Despite growing up in the nation’s second city, Grand Bahama, there was still a delay in many of the amenities that New Providence had long since enjoyed. But, I took comfort in the entertainment options available, which included five basic antenna-fed television channels, one of them included the Public Broadcasting Station (PBS).

Cartoons were a Saturday morning treat, so the rest of my days were spent playing outside or watching whatever my mother happened to be tuning to. Despite my and my sister’s protests, she would turn the TV to channel two – PBS – and we would sometimes get to enjoy the Magic School Bus, Sesame Street or Arthur, but more-often-than-not, we would have to sit through countless cooking and travel show reruns.

Now, as a food and travel enthusiast, I can appreciate the gourmet theatrics of Julia Childs, Martin Yan, and Jacques Pepin, but as a five-year-old, I was less than enthused. I usually half-watched these shows, just enjoying the company of my mother. But one day, a show caught my eye. It was a travel show hosted by a bespectacled and slightly monotone host. I’d seen him before, and hated his travel musings that were clearly meant for retirees who wanted to take long train rides and tour groups. However, this episode was different. It featured Japan and it was colorful, and vibrant, and beautiful. Everything from the music to the art, to the culture, drew me in. And at age five, I remember telling my mother that I wanted to go there.

As I got older, my intrigue grew. I added many countries to my list – Canada, Jamaica, South Korea, Cuba, and Italy were just a few – but Japan was at the top. However, a debilitating fear of flying, lack of money, and a lack of interest from my friends and family made traveling beyond Florida, let alone halfway across the world, seem very unlikely. Little did I know, I would visit all of these places one day and many more … as a solo traveler.

Beyond having a lack of means to see the world, there was also a stigma around traveling to certain locations. It was considered weird or odd to want to travel to certain parts of the world. This aversion to travel, I can only assume, was fueled by a mixture of fear, lack of awareness, xenophobia, general disinterest or perhaps a feeling of not wanting to go against the norm.

The idea of solo travel was not even an option.

“We don’t do that” is what I was told whenever the idea was even lightly broached. I knew without having to be told what that “we” was referring to – men and women who looked like me, spoke like me, grew up like me. There was an unspoken rule that Bahamians, and those from similar backgrounds, were meant to live a certain way, and to stray too far from the norm was just odd.

I put my travel plans behind me, but while working in the Turks and Caicos Islands and attending university in the United States prior, I got to meet men and women from around the world. My coworkers hailed from Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Canada, the United States, China and Nepal, just to name a few. It was an extremely rewarding experience to learn about so many countries and get to know people from around the world. And it was eye opening to realize that we weren’t that different despite our backgrounds and accents.

Years passed, and I started to travel a bit more. After earning a place at a company that required me to travel often, I had no choice but to tackle my fear of flying or risk losing a great position. I started closing my eyes, imagining I was riding in a car, and took some comfort in the loud vibrations of the plane as I drove down the runway and hummed all the way to my destination.

Short trots to the various Bahamian islands soon became less frightening. I no longer held my breath and white-knuckled the seat handles with every bump of the plane. My fear slowly waned and my travel confidence grew, and I started taking longer trips with my friends. Travel was like a bug, and my group of friends and I soon started WhatsApp chat groups full of funny travel memes and GIFS and ideas about where to head to next.

But the schedules of young professionals, living all over the world, didn’t always align. The group couldn’t decide on where to go. Flights didn’t work out. And, travel dreams remained just that – dreams.

That is until the night that I typed in “Nassau” to “Tokyo” in Expedia. I’d done that countless times before but nothing ever came of it. On that night, I found a flight from New Providence to Atlanta then Atlanta to Narita, Tokyo. The flight time was shorter than I had seen before – 17 hours. The price was reasonable given the route, and there was a sale on the hotel that I had been eyeing for so long. I did my dream itinerary, closed my eyes and pressed the purchase button. I was shocked by my own actions. This was not me – I didn’t do things like this.

When I told my mother — the unknowing inspiration behind my out of character purchase — she had questions, concerns and many fears. But to her credit, she heard me out. I was an adult and the approval of my parents was not required, but having it made making such an intimidating trip much easier. Having that sign of approval did not make getting on the plane any easier, and I was terrified during the lead-up to the trip and the entire 17-hour journey. But it gave me some comfort.

Once I landed in Japan, I felt calm and excited. The trip inspired me to make many more solo trips and also fueled many questions and comments of disbelief from friends, family members and strangers. However, the inevitable questions about why I would travel alone, proclamations of disbelief and statements about my travel habits being weird, soon turned into curiosity and a desire to learn more.

Since that initial trip, my solo travel adventures have extended throughout the United States, Canada, other parts of Japan, South Korea, several Caribbean countries and the Bahamian islands. There are also several more solo trips planned for the coming months and with each journey, my travel confidence and sense of adventure has only grown.

• Nikia Wells is an avid traveler with a passion for seeing the world, learning about new cultures, trying unique dishes, and raising awareness about the freedoms of solo travel. Her website, PinkSands242 is devoted to spreading her passion while demystifying elements of world travel. Nikia Wells can be contacted on Instagram @Pinksands242 or via email at pinksands242editor@gmail.com.

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