Over the years, I have gotten better at traveling. I should add that I am writing this on my phone while I am waiting for a bus as I missed the train I was planning on taking...but the point still stands.
One of the things that really resonated with me as a moment of "I am a traveler now" was when I started going past where I could easily trace my route back.
When I went to China with my high school, we were given some alone time to wander and see the cities we were visiting. I was 18...a new "adult"...on my way to college in a few months. And the idea of walking or wandering past the point where I couldn't see the hotel if I looked behind me scared the daylights out of me. Sad, but true. To be fair I was in a foreign country for the first time and I only spoke a few sentences of the native language, but I felt disappointed in myself for my lack of adventure.
My next leap in traveling happened in college. I learned, for the first time, the wonderful world of public transportation. I figured out how to take the train home for the holidays, which bus to take to get to the mall and how to navigate the weird and wonderful world of NYC subways. I remember talking on the phone with my mother during a trip I had taken to the NYC Toys-R-Us to do research for a sociology project I was doing (gender roles in toys) and hearing the surprise in her voice that I was wandering the streets of Manhattan by myself. When I realized that it wasn't a big deal to me, but would have been mere months earlier, I felt proud.
When I moved to China I knew I couldn't be hesitant. I got a bike and would ride down streets to who knows where, forcing myself to find my way back. I knew I had no choice but to figure things out. I learned the skyline so I could tell which directions certain landmarks and subway stations were downtown. I always carried a map with me and lived by the rule "who cares if I get lost? I can always take a taxi back." The thought was freeing.
One real turning point was getting home from Japan after visiting my friend D'Arcy. She picked me up at the airport and we traveled together for about a week. When it was time to go home, she gave me directions on how to get to a hostel for the night and then how to get to the airport in the morning. Even with not speaking the language, even with a typhoon delaying my plane for hours, even with needing to take a bus instead of the train as D'Arcy had instructed me because the storm had flooded the subways....I made it to the airport and made my plane back to Shanghai.
I think a good traveler has to be able to roll with the punches and be ok with things not going to plan. That is often hard for me, but at least when it comes to traveling....I think I'm getting better.