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  • Michelle Riband

A Solo Traveler's Selfie Diary

Exactly one year ago, I started the John Muir Trail—the first chapter of my whirlwind adventure that took me across five continents and thirteen countries. My decision to pack up and leave my life in San Francisco was riddled with self-doubt. Why would I walk away from my job, my friends, my relationship, my apartment, and my city in one fell swoop? It all felt very dramatic. But I had always wanted to backpack and felt a resounding sense of "if not now, then when?" Sometimes you just have to take the plunge.

So, on July 31st 2019, I hiked out of Yosemite Valley, feeling lighter than I had in months, despite the 15 kilograms of cereal bars, dehydrated meals, and ultralight gear on my back. After all of my planning and packing and pontificating, I had made it to the starting line. It turned out that the hardest part was just getting there. That evening, I climbed Half Dome and skipped around the summit at sunset—just me and the mountain—filled with the greatest sense of pride and purpose. It was the perfect start to my travels.

Over the next seven months, I was overcome by the beauty and generosity of each place I visited. I trekked 1,000+ kilometers through lush jungles and glacial valleys; I climbed my first 6,000 meter peaks in Nepal and Ecuador; I swam alongside vibrant fish in Southeast Asian reefs; and salsaed until my feet were sore in Colombia. Each place possessed a unique charm and, in each place, I met the most genuine, open-minded, and down-to-earth people. Locals helped me navigate unfamiliar streets and fellow backpackers became adventure buddies and lifelong friends.

There were definitely moments of loneliness and existential angst. Being so untethered can feel destabilizing. But not once did I regret the decision I had made. Waking up every morning with the ability to choose a new destination, I felt emboldened by this newfound freedom. Traveling and, in particular, traveling solo made me feel more decisive and self-confident than ever before.

While my travels were cut short due to COVID, I am beyond grateful for everything and everyone that made this time so unique. I haven't transformed into some self-actualized Eat Pray Love guru, but I will always carry with me the new perspectives that I gained from my grand adventure. This compilation of travel selfies [warning: cheesy Ken Burns effects await] showcases some of the incredible places and faces that accompanied me along the way. Thank you to all those (featured both on- and off-camera) who cheered me on. Your support and love means everything to me.


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