To own the truth, St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands wasn’t even on my radar.
Last March, a perfect storm of conditions converged to make a completely unexpected trip a reality: an inexpensive airfare that coincided with my spring break weekend and the discovery of a ridiculously affordable campsite on the island. It was much too good to keep to myself. I shared my trip with friends on Facebook in the hope that I could convince a few of them to come along. Days passed and weeks went by. I had no takers. Even two separate people I’d met online who’d be traveling to St. John at the same time as I was bailed on me at the last minute. No worries. I was going anyway. That is, up until the night before I was scheduled to travel.
Packing my bags at the last minute, I had what I could only describe as an anxiety attack. My trip was now mere hours away, and reality had begun to set in. In all of the excitement of planning, it truly hadn’t dawned on me that I would be traveling alone. Solo. Just me, myself, and I. A torrent of wild thoughts and emotions rushed through me. What if…? What if…? What if…? All of the dangerous possibilities of traveling on my own as a woman presented themselves to me like a many-headed monster. Theft. Kidnapping. Assault. Rape. Murder. I almost collapsed emotionally beneath the weight of my burgeoning fears and my weakened will to go began to crumble.
So what if your airfare was non-refundable? I asked myself. What’s 300 bucks compared to your safety? You could easily cancel your campsite reservation; you’d probably only have to pay for the first night. Before long, I had convinced myself that the hundreds of dollars that I’d scrimped and saved for were disposable. That I didn’t have to wake up in the morning to take the train to the airport. That my trip to St. John wasn’t going to happen. Fear had me in its grip and I was almost completely on the verge of surrender.
I’d like to say I got indignant with myself, that finer stuff rose up in me and that I mustered all of my latent courage to overcome my terror. But I won’t say that because it isn’t true. I did wake up that next morning and take the train to the airport. I did get on a flight bound for the airport at St. Thomas. I did spend six days on St. John. But it wasn’t courage that helped me to triumph over my fears in those anxious moments the night before I traveled. It was pride. Going to St. John had become all about saving face.
That night, I had begun to fantasize about actually having to tell people that I was too scared to go off on my own. No way. Not gonna happen. Me, actually admit that I got scared? Never! It was that same indignant pride that moved me through and past those hours of sheer dread. That tipped the scales in favor of traveling alone in spite of my fears. And I’m not in the least bit ashamed to confess it. Hey, whatever works.
I did go to St. John–and I had a marvelous time. I swam, took walks along the beach, kayaked in a lagoon, hiked the rugged trails. I befriended locals and travelers alike. I hitchhiked my way across the island (a whole ‘nother story). Basically, fear went right out of the window. St. John had become the locus of my liberation.
I will always remember those six days I spent in St. John as though they were magic. Like a giant, organic coming out party where I announced to the world that I was ready to seek out and embrace all of its secrets, travel partner or no.
I haven’t looked back since.