August 26, 2015

Why Traveling Alone Doesn’t Scare Me.

"A Cold Sunset" by Anemone Jones on Flickr Creative Commons

I like to do things alone. I like to be alone. I always have to some extent, and I probably always will.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not dislike people and I have no fear of interacting with others—quite the opposite, really.

I love fiercely and I am not known to shy away from extensive conversation. I just enjoy the quiet and space to be myself—to be with myself—that being alone brings with it.

I have learned that it is easiest for me to listen to myself when I have few outside distractions. And boy, is listening to myself ever important.

Like being alone, I am also contented to travel alone. Anywhere, anytime, by any means.

I relish discovering new things, and I revel in the sphere of possibility that comes with moving about unexplored places in this world.

To me, the allure of travel is simple: I can explore anywhere my heart desires and I can have any adventure I decide.

Traveling is simultaneously a way to exercise control over your life, yet at the same time a way to lose total control.

Travel allows you to control your life because of the planning it necessitates. Booking a ticket, saving up money, and packing your bags are all things that require long-term awareness and self-discipline. On the other hand, delayed flights, lost wallets, language barriers, and unfamiliar public transportation systems all demand patience (and composure) as things that are totally out of your control but directly affect you.

I have experienced both some of the most peaceful and most stressful moments of my life while traveling. That’s the beauty of it. You never know ahead of time what is going to happen and what you will learn.

The only guarantee is that something will happen and you will learn a lesson. The latitude to decide exactly what that may be is between yourself and the universe.

So, I guess it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that someone who enjoys her alone time, and who has learned the importance of listening to her heart and tuning into her own consciousness, finds traveling alone to be one of the greatest joys life has to offer.

When I’m alone, there’s no compromise.  I can decide where I want to go, what I want to eat, and what I am going to do next. Perhaps this is a selfish aspiration, but I am entitled to take care of my own well-being, and for me, solitude offers a nurturing quality that allows me to do just that. In my experience, we become ourselves must fully when we travel, because our comfort zones are transient and we don’t have time to create the superfluous projections of ourselves that the cushion of everyday life affords us.

So, being most myself when I travel, I like to be alone.

Please don’t misunderstand; I enjoy being around others and I know that socializing with locals is one of the best ways to really get to know a new place for the short while you’re there. I love making friends when I go someplace new. In fact, traveling has taught me to appreciate friendships more quickly, because the bonds you build while traveling often have an expiration date. At home, a person does not have the opportunity to make friends out of strangers in the same capacity as while traveling. Often, our lives are very different from those of strangers, and sharing our experiences teaches everyone lessons.

There is beauty, not only in learning how you are different, but also in uncovering what you have in common.

But there is also a  difference between temporarily befriending someone you encounter on your path, and being surrounded by others for the entire journey of your path.

All that said, here are the main reasons why I love to travel alone:

1. I make my own schedule.

Maybe that sounds a little harsh and selfish. But I will not apologize for it. Life is short, and the time you are allotted in any given place while traveling is even shorter. I am a selectively patient person and I don’t like to feel like I’m wasting my time. I can sit and enjoy the silence all day long, completely at ease, as long as it was my idea. But drag me through a crowded tourist attraction when my feet hurt and I have no desire to be there, and I just might resent you forever.

Traveling together creates a certain bond of intimacy between people. You are likely to share beds, food, money, and quite a bit of personal space. When it works, it’s marvelous. But when it doesn’t work, I can guarantee you will never want to see that person again after you return home. I think I am being noble in caring too much about my friendships to sacrifice any of them by traveling together.

travel guide books

2. I learn so much more about myself.

I spend a lot of time in my head. I have learned to (usually) think before I speak, and as a result, some thoughts never make it out of the space between my ears. Other times, I am simply observing and retaining information for myself. Just sitting and watching your surroundings can teach a traveler so much; there’s no need—and certainly no possible way—to comment on it all.

Watching the behavior of the locals is sometimes the best way to teach yourself what to do.

Going far away from others who know you allows you the freedom to be anyone you want to be. You miraculously no longer feel the pressure to conform before the opinions of your peers, and being surrounded by perfect strangers gives you the opportunity to behave completely differently, if you so wish.

It’s true that we are most ourselves when we are alone. We learn to form opinions for ourselves, because the judgment of strangers matters far less than the judgment of friends. We are honest with ourselves and we face what’s inside of us because we have no distractions in which to hide. We learn how self-sufficient we are capable of being, and realize that we’ve been this way all along.

In all my traveling experience, I hold one frustratingly glorious truth above the rest: getting lost helps. I have never intended to get lost; I don’t think anybody really does. But inevitably, at least once, I somehow end up far away from my desired destination, without any idea where I took the wrong turn. There have been times when I was a little panicked and thought surely this was where I was going to die. There have been times when I have asked directions, pretended I knew what they were talking about, and walked away just as lost as before. There have been times when I was so lost that I straight up abandoned my original plan and just found something else to do instead.

But every time I have gotten lost in some giant, unfamiliar place, I have ultimately relied entirely upon my own resourceful skill set and listened to my own primal instincts. I have always adapted to my surroundings and, somehow or another, I have always found my way back into the familiar again, and I’ve survived far enough to be here typing this now.

Things going wrong can teach you so much more than if everything goes according to plan. Our reaction is more important when the cell phone dies, we lose our map, and it’s getting dark, than when conditions are normal. We learn quickly what we’re made of when that’s all we’ve got to rely on.

3. We are all alone already anyway.

My first real experience of travel came into my life at a time of great personal transformation.

From the beginning of that first journey, I saw it as an opportunity to prove to myself that I could do big, wonderful things all by myself. I did. I guess that tone of sovereignty hasn’t really left.

When I have told people I am planning a trip alone, their reactions have been varied. However, the reaction that sticks out the most to me is, “You’re going alone? But aren’t you scared? I could never do that!”

The truth is, we can all do just about anything if we really want to. At face value, the question “aren’t you scared?” would appear to be concerned for my safety as a lone wolf traveling in a dangerous world. At least, that’s what I thought at first. But then I asked myself, what if the thing I am supposed to be scared of is being alone? What if these people who say they “could never do that” are more afraid of sitting alone with themselves than they are of being mugged?

That’s when I realized it: I am so capable of being alone, of facing myself and my feelings, of looking myself in the eyes and loving myself, that I am not afraid.

Traveling alone does not scare me because I know so well who I am and what I am capable of, that my internal confidence is greater than anything I could possibly encounter in the external world.

Maybe I’m a narcissist, or maybe I am just fiercely independent to a fault. But I know that I am not afraid to sit with myself and reflect on my own life, thoughts, and feelings. I can dream big and think deeply about the world around me. I enjoy it. It brings me peace and healing.

Being alone means being with nobody but yourself. Being afraid means something scares you. Therefore, being afraid of being alone means being with nobody but yourself scares you. There is nothing inside of me that I am afraid to face, because it is only a manifestation of myself, after all. I am the only one who controls it. I do not occupy myself with others in order to avoid facing who I am. To the contrary, I want to know who I am.

The fact of the matter is, we’re all alone in this life anyway.

Some of us just like to maintain the illusion that we aren’t because it makes the world seem like a little less scary of a place to live. But others of us know that this is just a pleasant façade generated by our minds to act as a buffer against fear and isolation. My mind has always operated in a very blunt, matter-of-fact manner, so I consider myself lucky that I don’t struggle with this. It simply is what it is.

So, I could be afraid of being mugged or assaulted in an unfamiliar place. But that doesn’t make me afraid to travel alone. I could be mugged right here at home. Money and belongings can be replaced. Memories and opportunities cannot.

Most of all, It’s all experience in the end, really. I believe we can and should face ourselves and like what we see, so that we can surely go out and face the rest of this big, old world and like what we see there too.

“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we are not alone.” ~ Orson Welles



Remember This if you Hit a Wall While Traveling Alone


Author: Alyssa Marr

Editor: Renée Picard / Apprentice Editor: Ellie Cleary

Image: Jaskirat Singh Bawa / Flickr

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