I can still remember the feeling as I gingerly stepped through the ancient gate onto the Great Wall of China; the wall snaking off in either direction as far as the eye could see.
It was just me, alone with my guide, Tao, on top of a mountain ridge in a strange land thousands of miles from home.
Retired now, I had compiled a bucket list of places to see, experiences to tackle, and photos to take. But what I lacked was a travel companion to share the adventures and the excitement. And somehow, the notion of traveling alone, to far and strange places was daunting.
Those who knew me might think that was odd. I had spent the last decade of a successful 30-year business career in an executive position, leading a group of 400 people. I had regularly spoken in front of large groups. I had worked the room confidently at endless business and networking functions. I was used to traveling alone on business trips and eating alone in restaurants in cities across the country.
But the idea of packing my bags and flying off to the other side of the world, to a country I did not know, where I could not speak the language somehow shook my confidence to the core. Perhaps it was the fear of the unknown. What if something happened?
That is, until I stumbled upon the perfect companion… a group of photo and travel enthusiasts with the same passions that I had. The carrot I needed was an upcoming expedition to Thailand, promising spectacular photographic opportunities, once-in-a-lifetime adventures, and an introduction to traveling to the far corners of this amazing planet to meet up with a group of people just like me! That was enough to get me going.
“If you’re traveling all that way,” my daughter urged, “you should make it worthwhile. Where else would you like to go?”
At the very top of my list, beckoning to me was The Great Wall of China. Not exactly next door, I’ll admit, but close enough. I could work that in, but it would mean a four-day stop in Beijing, and my long anticipated hike on The Great Wall, alone.
Stepping off the plane in Beijing, the realization hit me—I knew not a soul in this metropolis of 27 million people. For three days, I wandered the streets of Beijing, not a word of English around me; street signs and bus stops in indecipherable characters.
I stumbled into enchanting little tea shops offering dainty walnut cookies with steeped green tea in delicately hand-painted pots.
I followed the small streets as they wound through the Hutongs of old Beijing, stopping to watch an elderly man straining as he navigated the streets in a rickshaw, his equally aged wife clutching a small bag of groceries in the back.
I watched the sun set over Tiananmen Square and explored within the walls of the Forbidden City.
And each night as I found my way back to my hotel, I noticed I had started to gain confidence again.
Finally, Day 4, here I was stepping out onto the Great Wall. No security blanket, no comfort zone. But the greatest feeling of confidence and pride.
I knew now that I could do it. That I could tick off those places on my list.
Thailand beckoned. I was ready, I was eager. New friends awaited, new adventures called.
My confidence is back. There’s no stopping me now.
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