I was traveling to Oregon on a business trip alone. I felt my heart thumping as I walked through airport security. With my laptop bag on one shoulder and my tickets in my other hand, I tried to portray a picture of confidence. I had walked through these hallways many times before. They know me and I know them. Yet, I was feeling the jitters of a travel novice. There was a difference between the many travels I already did to the one I was on today. I was traveling alone!
While most people who see me refute that I am anywhere close to being shy, I know I am an introvert. Since becoming a professional, I go through a million drills in my head before I can converse with a stranger even if that is professional talk. Eating alone is another completely different ordeal. I never ate in front of my husband until we got married. I am terrified of eating in front of people who are not my family and my girl-friends. In college, my two close friends made sure they made me eat, because everyone close to me knew I would starve rather than eat in front of strangers or even eat alone. I am not exaggerating! Every time I was asked on a date, I refused to eat with the guy. I made excuses such as “I have food at home” or “my mom cooked for me”.
I was traveling alone on business to Oregon for three days. Suddenly, I felt the jitters I felt when I first traveled on business to Seattle without family. I still had few people from my work on that trip. An hour and 45 minutes of a flight ride later, we had landed in Portland. I got a cab and made my way to the outskirts of Oregon where the company was located.
Going to work was the easier part. The first night in Oregon, I decided to go to the mall across from my hotel and get something to eat. I decided to eat at the restaurants in the mall, but suddenly as I was walking from work to my hotel, I decided I was not going to eat at any chain restaurants and I was going to eat in a restaurant at least once on my trip. Knowing me, I knew I would chicken out of the second one real easily. I yelped away to find a Korean Fusion place which in layman’s terms is Korean Chipotle with a twist. I walked to the mall, went to the store and ordered my rice bowl. I wanted to sit right there and eat, but I blamed it on the sprinkling rain and walked back to my hotel to eat my food. I went back to the mall again later and walked around the mall. I have never been alone at the mall before either and I am not much of a mall rat. I decided I need to have a victory today so I walked into every store, touched one of two things and walked out.
The next day I ate my breakfast alone at the breakfast area of my hotel. It didn’t feel as overwhelming, maybe because there were four other people besides me. After a full day at work, I decided I was going to go to visit few parks around here. The total distance between the parks, the hawaiian restaurant I wanted to visit and my hotel was close to 4 miles. I had my direction on my iphone, and made my way to the park. I felt adventurous, and courageous.
I have walked alone to parks before, but being anonymous in a different state felt different. I was welcomed with several hi’s and I responded as I walked through two parks. I am very sure they recognized the tourist in me. I had my google maps on my iphone, following every turn even if I had to jaywalk. I am so bad with directions that I did not want to risk it and complicate my trip further. There were green tall trees everywhere as the Tualatin river flowed in the middle. The sun rays against the water glittered everything. It was serene, and I felt my mind and soul being cleansed by the purity around. I no longer felt lonely. Nature was my companion and I felt serene and peaceful.
After walking through the trails, it was time to feed my belly. I made my way to the hawaiian restaurant by passing through the Tualatin community park in Oregon. I went up the counter and ordered my Shu-yu chicken, and the dreaded question followed: for here or to go? I said to go and then changed my mind and said for here. I felt my heart beating fast. I got my food, my Sriracha sauce and took the seat right in the middle of the restaurant. I normally would have drowned myself in the food just so I could finish fast and leave. This time I took my time and ate slowly while enjoying the kids playing in the pond closeby.
I felt accomplished as I mentally checked off “eating in a restaurant” out of my sheet. I slowly walked back to my hotel with airs of pride filling my soul. I was so proud of my accomplishments. To a normal person, eating at a restaurant alone is not a big feat. But for someone like me, who had never walked alone through the hallways of my school, and college it was a big deal. I always have my headphones on with music playing whenever I have to walk alone. At Oregon, the whole three days I walked alone everywhere with no music or headphones. I went back to the mall for a little bit and walked around before calling it a night.
This Oregon trip turned out to be the first for me in a lot of ways. I actually learned how to have fun by myself, and I wasn’t a bad company to myself. All it took was a few pep talks with myself, coaching myself from the sidelines as I ran for touchdown. The next time I am asked to travel alone, I might still feel the jitters but this time I know I have me to have fun with.