What brings a supposedly sane person to embark upon what most people would describe as a suicide journey? A year ago, I took off on a mission: surviving - and most of all enjoying - my first-ever Couchsurfing trip across the United States of America.
When I mentioned to my parents I wanted to use my savings to travel I was confronted by objections ranging from the sensible to the plainly irrational. I was, apparently, too "weak" for India or China. Canada was "too far" and Colombia "too dangerous". In Brazil "people get their flip flops stolen on the beach", said my worried Italian mother, wise of random travel knowledge dispensed by friends and family. It all ended with me saying a big: "Fuck this" and taking off to visit my dream country, the US of A.
I left London crying on the plane, not knowing where my life was going. So what do you do when you lose direction? In an interview with GQ US, Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey said: "There are times when I don't like my own company. [...] I get lazy. My brain's not wild enough, not in tune enough, to be finding things that inspire me. [So] usually I go off on my own. I'll go take a trip alone. Just to get to the point where I know that, like it or not, I'm stuck with myself. That I have to go through this and figure out what the fuck it is that's bugging me."
It all makes sense, right? Well... If you are a guy. Solo travel for women is still a taboo: a recent survey has revealed that not travelling before starting a family is one of women's top ten regrets. Try and Google: "warnings for girl travellers", and thousands of search results will come up, reminding you you're bound to be kidnapped, get raped or robbed, die or all of the above. Yet, as recent Pinterest statistics show, women are definitely dreaming about solo travel: the social network's female users in the 18-34 age range caused a surge of Pinning on the topic, with a rise of 350 per cent in travel pins since 2014.
Too scared by recent Couchsurfing horror stories, my friends left me for dead. However, two months of aimlessly wandering across America, my only objective to see as much as I could on my route from New York to San Francisco, proved stereotypes and scare-mongers wrong.
I left Europe having lost trust in the world. I felt uninspired and like my life wasn't worth living. Yet, as soon as I landed on US soil I was only met with hospitality and warmth. Couchsurfing hosts in over ten USA cities put me up and took me out, sharing their enthusiasm about their lives and their cities, determined to show me their neck of the woods. They were all willing to trust me, a random Italian girl living in London who shamelessly posted on her profile that she's into death metal and loves American Psycho.
They gave me a place to stay in New York when I had no references, Couchsurfing's number one tool to check whether your host or surfer is a creep or not. They introduced me to their friends and signed me up to their gym; they picked me up from stations and drove me around. They gave me a sneak peek into Los Angeles's glamorous nightlife with pre-screening tickets and talk shows hosting my favourite actors; they got me a free pass to visit LA's movie sets. They took me out to dinner at Google's headquarters in Mountain View and showed me how they party in San Francisco.
Two inspiring, crazy months later, I was ready to start over. I left a small-town girl, a control-freak planning every second of my life, a grown-up who relied on her parents to drive her to school up until she was 18. If I could have received a penny every time somebody told me: "But... aren't you afraid?" as I signed up on Couchsurfing, I would have probably earned a lot more than the $200 I won in Las Vegas.
Travelling alone isn't just fun: it helps you deal with unexpected circumstances - like when your hosts cancel on you and you're homeless for a couple of nights. I had the guts to pack up my stuff and leave when living with a host became awkward or uncomfortable, or the assertiveness to stand my ground when somebody I was staying with 24/7 made a pass at me.
Most of all, I learnt that I can do it - and that everyone can. I'm the living proof that travelling alone isn't asking for certain death, and that it can even help you get on the right path.