Flying Solo (Part 2): Facing fears in Bali

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I felt like I was in a movie.

I was racing with my taxi driver, Wyan, to see the sunset at the Uluwatu Temple. This temple is built at the edge of a 70 meter high cliff jutting into the sea and the views of the sunset were said to be spectacular. Not to be missed.

This was the third day of my solo trip to Bali and I most definitely did NOT want to miss this view, nor did I want to spend another day fighting traffic to try and reach the temple a second time. We were stuck in a massive traffic jam up a windy two lane road. We weren’t going to make it by car, that much was becoming clear … so we made a split second decision. A guy on a motorbike passed us (he was the motorbike equivalent of a taxi), we flagged him down, I hopped out of my taxi and onto the back of the bike, put on my helmet and he raced me to the temple, weaving in and out of cars with mere inches to spare.

He was a pro. I had nothing to worry about and yet I clung to him like a spider monkey. In short, I was TERRIFIED.

The motorbikes were the fastest way to travel in Bali as the roads are narrow and windy and there are very few street lights or stop signs … which mean traffic jams galore. A motorbike allows you the freedom to get around an major blockages quickly, but I was too afraid to drive one and had been (up till then) too afraid to hop on the back of one.

But I wasn’t gonna miss the temple. And now we were racing up up up up the cliff and the sun was just starting to set. It was absurdly breathtaking even on the back of his bike. I had a moment. Another one of those beautiful moments of supreme gratitude. And supreme pride. And supreme wonder.

I made it.

Cliffs at Uluwatu Temple


And I did make it. Not just to the top of the cliff to watch the gorgeous sunset but also to this glorious time in my life where I was taking risks and saying yes and living the adventurous life I’d always wanted, but never believed I was capable of.

If you had told me at 30 that I would travel to a foreign country solo, I would’ve laughed and blushed and pulled my oversized cardigan around me tighter while doing my best to shrink into the shadows. First off, I couldn’t even see myself traveling to a foreign country at all. My husband wasn’t on board for that. And alone? Surely not. That was not me. Solo travel was for crazy people or rich people or for confident people who could make friends with just about anyone. Well .. I might be crazy but I’m definitely not rich and I’m one of the most socially awkward people I know (hence my genuine, overwhelming love of vodka).

But yet … here I was … in this big, breathtaking paradise alone. And it was surreal. It was empowering. It was so so healing for my broken heart. And … it was an adventure. And that’s what life can be too, right? If we let it. It can be an adventure.

I recently heard this quote while listening to a podcast featuring Gretchen Rubin: “The days are long but the years are short.” How true. We say make every day count and I genuinely think most of us want to, but it’s so easy to get bogged down by monotonous life – all the mail I have to read, all the laundry I haven’t done, all the debt I’ve yet to pay off. It’s so easy to say, next year, I’ll take the big trip next year. It’s so easy to reason that I can’t afford it, I have to pay for this or that. But the truth is I often spend my money on frivolous things and I waste it regardless.

I used to think I couldn’t afford to travel. Now I realize I can’t afford NOT to.

There’s just too much of the world to see. It’s not to say I should shirk adult responsibilities … but I shouldn’t let those responsibilities stop me from TRULY living my life to the hilt. At least that’s my plan from now on. We’ll see how it goes. It took me 35 years to get a passport and now I intend to use it.

The last two days of the trip were free days for me. I had only booked my stay up until Friday which left Saturday and Sunday wide open to explore. I found out that a friend of a friend was traveling in Bali solo too. I’d never met her but our mutual friend thought we’d hit it off.

Part of me was like, nope, don’t do this. I had to take a speed boat to this other island to meet her. It seemed like an ordeal. What if we didn’t like each other? What if it was awful? What if I was weird and we just didn’t jive at all? And then I was stuck? All these social anxiety fears. Travel fears.

I’ve come to learn if I’m feeling scared it ABSOLUTELY means I should do it.

So I once again found myself racing against traffic and the clock to make it to the opposite end of the island to catch a speed boat. Oh did I mention that there was a volcano about to erupt? Yep. So that meant the speed boats that normally travel from Bali to the Gili islands nearly every hour on the hour were only allowed to make 2 trips per day. Which also meant if you missed either boat you were screwed.

Again there was a traffic jam. This time, I was calmer. You know, if we didn’t make the boat I could just hang out in Padang Bai for a day. But instead, my driver pulled over in front of someone’s home (which was basically just a hut). There was a little family there and they had a motor bike. He politely asked in their native language if they might be able to race me to the port.

The lovely couple obliged. I hopped on back, the wife put my bags in front of her on the bike, then we were off. No helmet this time. No protection. No ability to even converse with this gracious lady, as she spoke very little English. I just had to trust and have faith and take the leap.

We made it … just in time. And man, oh man, was it so worth the mad dash and facing all my socially awkward fears to get there. We stayed on Gili Air and the island was BREATHTAKING. There were no cars on the island. Only bikes or horse-drawn buggies. The water was gorgeous, the weather incredible. We snorkeled (I saw a sea snake which was TERRIFYING to see up close). And I made a new friend. We drank and opened up about our lives and the experiences that motivated us to travel to Bali. She was alone too … but not by choice. She had recently ended a relationship with the man who was supposed to be on the trip with her. It was a painful experience and Bali was provided the backdrop for the personal healing she was in need of.

During our last night in Gili Air, we ate a decadent dinner at this lovely island seafood restaurant. And then the rains came down. I booked my trip so that I was in Bali at the end of high season right before rainy season, hoping I’d be long gone before the rains came. At first I felt annoyed by the weather ruining our last night … especially because there was no way to call an Uber (no cars on the island remember?) and so my new friend and I were going to have to walk about a half mile in mud back to our room. And I was wearing sandals. But then I just gave up and gave in to the experience and enjoyed it for what it was. AN ADVENTURE.

It was an epic rain to say the least, beautiful and fierce. We asked our waiters if they had any trash bags we could wear over our heads for the walk back. They laughed and obliged. My friend and I made ponchos out of the plastic bags and decided to just power through. While walking back, we heard music from one of the other bars we had to pass on the way home. My new friend and I decided to stop in for a drink and listen.

The guys were fantastic. And were playing all the pop American hits from Britney to JT to Tay-Swift. They finished a set and then asked if anyone wanted to sing. My new friend, knowing I loved karaoke, decided to volunteer me to sing. My heart started to flutter with nervousness. But this was usually my tell-tale sign that I needed to do whatever was causing that feeling. So I said yes.

I was soaking wet, I looked like a drowned rat but I got up and sang Blank Space with a random island band in front of a group of strangers. And it was pretty damn legit.

Bali … man. What an adventure.

And this is what it feels like to face my fears in life. To say yes to that thing that makes me excited and nervous … instead of no.

It’s exhilarating. Sometimes that yes is just a small thing. Like yes, I will go out with this new person and hope I make a friend. Yes, I will push myself to be emotionally vulnerable with someone new, though it’s incredibly scary. Yes, I will face my inner demons and all the dark places because I’m ready to be better. Or yes, I will go out by myself, travel by myself, dance by myself because I love my own company and who the eff cares?

Life is a crazy and epic adventure if I trust my gut, take the leap and say YES.


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