Do you remember swinging on the monkey bars in the playground as a kid? That exhilarating feeling, that slight pit in your stomach, as you look down at the ground. You grasp one bar with both hands and start rocking your body back and forth, gaining momentum. You let go of one hand to grasp the second bar, then the next, and the next. If you lose momentum, you tremble slightly as gravity pulls your body towards the ground. Your hands cling to the bar, as if you’re on an island in the middle of a monkey bar ocean. If your arms grow weary, you might plop to the ground, and start over. Otherwise, you swing your legs back and forth again like a pendulum to carry on. One hand forward, then the next, then the next. Sometimes, you gain enough momentum from one bar to let go with both hands, flying through the air for a few seconds, before you grasp the next one. And then suddenly you’ve reached the other side! Gleefully you hop off the bars, turning around to assess your triumphant journey.

Traveling this past year has felt a lot like swinging on the monkey bars for me. Each new destination is a rung, and I swing from place to place. Hanging from each bar, I see or make new friends and grow comfortable. Relishing my newfound friends or reveling in a new culture, gravity pulls me down, and I fight the momentum pulling me towards the next bar. But knowing my journey is incomplete, I eventually force myself to let go.

It is in between the bars where I am truly flying, truly free. But in this free-fall is also where I feel most alone. A huge wave of sadness crashes over me each time I leave people behind or am left, afraid of what the future holds. Part of me wonders why I always have to leave, why I have to let go of one of the bars. I feel like Mary Poppins, always departing when the wind changes.

But I know the flight in between the bars is the true reason I decided to travel this year. There were many reasons for taking this year sabbatical to travel. But my biggest goals were to cultivate self-love and care, learn to be comfortable alone, go with the flow and listen to the Universe.

Exponential growth is one of the most crucial elements to being alive for me. I’m an information sponge, always seeking to grow and become a better version of myself. Two years ago, I asked myself, “Karina, if you’re being completely honest with yourself, are you doing the most you can with your life? Are you growing enough? If this were your last day on Earth, would you be content with what you’ve done? With who you are?” My brutally honest answer was “No”. Even though I really enjoyed my life as my Startup’s “Happiness Engineer” and could make my colleagues’ day-to-day lives more comfortable, I knew I could be making a greater impact on the world. Somehow. I decided I had to change my life to shift my answers to “Yes”.

Travel was my answer. I’d always wanted to travel for a year. My parents had always ingrained in us that it wasn’t material goods, but experiences, that were most important in life. Thus, starting at a very early age, they brought us to at least one different country every year to widen our perspectives and increase our appreciation for other cultures. I studied abroad for 6 months in London my Junior Spring in college, and had the best time of my life. And from then on, the travel bug stuck. I knew that I would have to set a date for my year-long travels, otherwise it would never happen. I could always procrastinate traveling, saying that I’d do it in the future, but the future would never come. The older I became, the more responsibilities I’d have, and the harder it would be to disentangle myself from my cushy life here. However, I knew I couldn’t live my life with any regrets or “what ifs”. As a woman, I never thought I could travel for a year, let alone travel solo, with only a backpack, but I wouldn’t let fear stop me. For me, if I’m scared of something, I’m going in the right direction for maximum growth. Thus, I decided in August 2014 that in late 2015 I’d start traveling, take the terrifying leap from my comfortable life in San Francisco, and plunge into the unknown. I’d leap off the precipice to discover how I could make the greatest impact in the world, become my best self and ultimately be satisfied with my life at the end of the day.

So when I’m feeling most alone and vulnerable flying in between monkey bars, I remind myself what this journey is all about, why I started in the first place. This freedom, this flight, is where I have the fortune to practice self-love, to truly sit with my thoughts and feel all my emotions. In this space, I have discovered the greatest impact I can make: sharing my experiences and empowering others through Safe & Solo to explore their world. I have wings, and must use them to fly. Raising my hands up, I appreciate the wind on my face, the pit in my stomach, and the space in between bars, knowing my hands will soon grasp the next silver metal rung.