I traveled by myself a couple times this semester, something I hadn’t really done before out of fear. Not fear for my life, but fear of being alone.
Ever since I was young I’ve had a problem with being alone. For me, being alone and being lonely were one and the same. My best studying was done in groups. I didn’t have to actually be studying together with the others; people merely had to be present. From the days of AIM and MSN and on, if I was holed up in my room I’d still at least be available on one chat program or another. I realized from Grovember that this was part of why I wasted so much time – I was always online because I needed companionship.
When I first began my solo voyages, my survival instincts pushed me to join strangers (the opposite of what normal people do I assume). As an ambivert, even though I desired company, I was still painfully shy, making talking to strangers difficult.
A friend and I did an experiment a couple years back where we tried to talk to a stranger a week. Every week I either failed to engage anyone or I practically interrogated someone; I couldn’t just have a normal conversation. One week I paced in circles around a group for half an hour because I couldn’t muster up the courage or words to say to them. A deeply embarrassing moment forever immortalized by the internet.
So even though I was awful at it, in order to (what I felt was needed to) survive, I forced myself to talk to other people. Unsurprisingly, people you meet in hostels and on walking tours are extremely friendly and the more of them I talked to, the easier it became. Soon I was spending whole days with new friends I’d just made. I was (am) still as awkward as ever in conversation, but now I could at least initiate with people I didn’t dare to before.
Hanging out for a day with strangers is a blast. We’re told when we’re young to not talk to them because we’re naive and there’s bad people out there. But when we get older and can discern for ourselves who we can trust, talking to strangers opens doors that would be otherwise closed. I believe everyone has something you can learn from. Unfortunately sometimes the lesson is to not be like that person, but for the most part that’s not the case. It’s fascinating to hear people with completely different views on life and to listen to them talk about their passions. The less I have in common with someone, the more I can learn from them!
So it seemed I was coping fine with traveling alone by still never really being on my own. This changed during my Christmas trip however. All factors were against me. Being the holiday season, the walking tour and pub crawls weren’t running, and everyone in my room were couples. All my avenues for meeting people had vanished. What was I to do? I was forced to be alone for once. And not the kind one does for a couple hours in an afternoon. Actually alone.
At first there was slight panic as I tried to keep myself occupied and to not think about it. But then I realized the feeling wasn’t so bad. I didn’t actually feel lonely, I actually felt kind of liberated. I got to travel the way I wanted (stopping all the time to fulfill my tourist duties) and to do the things I wanted at the pace I wanted. They say you should take the time to smell the roses and now I finally was doing so. I began to notice things I didn’t before – the intricacies in the architecture around me, the wonderful smell of fresh air (I never thought about how much I enjoyed this smell).
I also got to reflect on subjects I didn’t before. I’d been so busy living life that I never really took the time to think about what I had learned while doing so and how they were all connected. It’s surprising how insightful that is. The content of this post is one of such insights I had. I think we all need to take some time out of our days to get a healthy dose of introspection in.
At several points I found myself also feeling very gracious for all my friends and family, and everything they’ve done for me. Not in a I’m lonely and I miss them sort of way (though I do miss everyone dearly), but in a very happy and appreciative way. Part of why I didn’t feel lonely was because I knew even though those people weren’t with me in the present, they would still be there for me as cheesy as that sounds. I really don’t take nearly enough time to be thankful for how lucky I am to have such people in my life.
My best and fondest memories are still from traveling with friends, but now when I have to travel alone, I don’t fear it. I enjoy it. I now do a combination of both meeting strangers and embracing solitude. It’s fun to get to know new people and it’s also great to take time for myself to get some thinking done. Not everyone may get the same mileage out of it as I did as I assume other people already do take time for themselves, but traveling alone is something I do recommend everyone give a try. You never know what you may discover about the world around you and yourself.