Ability to travel is my most prized possession – ability to travel solo is my most humbling connection with the world. Ability to do either is a luxury that I’m endlessly grateful for, recognizing that most people that I meet in places I travel to don’t have the opportunity to do the same.
I moved to the US when I was 12, so for a long time ‘traveling’ for me meant going home to Ukraine, visiting my father, my grandparents, my friends. Choices to forgo a visit home for a true travel experience were few in between and incredibly bittersweet. Two years ago my last closest family member in Ukraine passed away and shortly after my partner and I split up, breaking an eight-year series of long-term relationships. These two things freed me, and allowed me for the first time, to take a trip on my own, for myself, without feeling guilty about not going back to Ukraine and without having to compromise with a partner. The decisions, choices and destinations were all up to me, and it felt empowering, liberating, and rewarding to set out to explore on my own.
Quads with new friends in Namibia. Image Courtesy: Lina Fedirko
When people ask me why I travel solo, my short response is always ‘I’m great company!’ which is true and prompts a good chuckle. The long version is that I want my travel experience all to myself, I want to be fully absorbed in my surroundings, I want every interaction to have my full attention and I want to move freely between observing and engaging with my surroundings at every moment. This would be impossible to do with a companion, as they are a constant reminder of another world and require negotiations and compromises.
"The most humbling gift of travel is to encounter universal goodness and kindness, to feel a sense of belonging in a foreign place."
There is no particular formula to the places I go, except it needs to be foreign, unknown, unimaginable. I think people usually travel to learn about new cultures, meet new people, come face to face with our vast differences across the world. I seek the opposite. I go across the globe to find the thing that makes us all the same, I look for kinship. I want to see how people live, what they think about, what worries them, what brings them joy. The most humbling gift of travel is to encounter universal goodness and kindness, to feel a sense of belonging in a foreign place.
Improv with Gigio during VAWAA in Colombia. Image Courtesy: Lina Fedirko
"VAWAA helps us find kinship through universal expressions of art and culture — what could be more beautiful."
To me, Airbnb and VAWAA are the gates into the lives of people as much as they are fountains for local information. Airbnb experiences range from several hours to a full day, and can be in a form of a history/nature/food tour, craft/skill class, sports activity and many others. VAWAA, on the other hand, is a mini apprenticeship where you can learn artistic, theatric, culinary, and other kinds of skills. Airbnb experiences offer a quick taste of the city and its vibe, while VAWAA unlocks a deep dive journey into local artistry with the city at its backdrop. And yet, it is Airbnb hosts and VAWAA artists that are the most fascinating aspect of those experiences. Airbnb hosts tend to be local entrepreneurs, full of ingenuity, openness and incredible stories about their lives and how they arrived to host their given experience. I savor complete surrender to their lead, their world, their mind for a short time in a day. VAWAA, on the other hand, is a full step into the world of a stranger, and I always feel incredibly honored to experience someone’s craft firsthand. VAWAA helps us find kinship through universal expressions of art and culture — what could be more beautiful.
Thai dancing in Bangkok. Image Courtesy: Lina Fedirko
"The vastness of kindness and lightness that I’ve encountered has an irreversible effect on how I live my life at home and carries me into new experiences with openness, compassion and peace."
In all my solo travels, I’m grateful to have seen breathtaking landscapes that brought me to tears and have experienced the vastness of the world that made me feel simultaneously small and large, but the most memorable were the very small, very intimate moments with strangers, my reminders of our mutuality, of kinship. Zimbabwean cabbie in Cape Town sharing how he’s saving up to take a 48-hr car ride home to visit mother and father in Harare – familiar longing for home. Shopping for fish at the market in Goa with Joanne for our Bangda curry dish and seeing young boys doing their very best pitch to sell veggies – fearless sincerity and effort. Savoring a meal in one of Medellin’s mountain barrios, humbled by its history, in awe of Mauricio’s and Daniel’s coffee ingenuity and adventures through the Amazon Rainforest – expansive human spirit. Singing Christmas carols with Gigio’s family in Bogota – belonging. Family of six, three generations, inviting me to share their beach shade in Cartagena, the mother reading ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama in Spanish – understanding. And laughter, endless, belly-aching laughter… after I declared to be ‘The Flash’ in one of our skits with Gigio and the improv team, or the time I tried to hold a Thai dance pose and would tip over with laughter, or when I was banging roti on the counter with Nazlina and had to pause to giggle each time, and many more. The vastness of kindness and lightness that I’ve encountered has an irreversible effect on how I live my life at home and carries me into new experiences with openness, compassion and peace.
For anyone embarking on solo travel: seek connections, smiling strangers, heartwarming moments in everyday life, and try to approach your experience with openness, curiosity and kindness. Be gentle with yourself, observe attentively, relish your time to stop and reflect, and if feelings of loneliness come up, unpack its sources and forces - or in the words of the great Thich Nhah Phan ‘keep your loneliness warm.’ As my last golden rule, I keep my next destination a secret until all flights, accommodation and plans are booked. I will say that after meeting faces at the edges of Africa, Asia and South America, I dream of encounters at the world’s heights and depths.
Written by Lina Fedirko