I’ve just returned home after two weeks of travel. All by myself.
I loved it. I feel transformed by it, and now that I’m home I feel the usual desire to hold on to the experience. But like gripping water, it’s impossible. I know that my everyday life will settle back into my cells, and I will lose this sensation. Before that happens I want to try to articulate it here and share it with you.
What’s the big deal? What’s so great about solo travel?
It’s probably safe to assume that everyone has a different experience, a different series of “Ah ha!” moments. For me, it was the freedom to utterly be myself. No one knew me, or thought they knew me. Do I even know myself? Anyway, without the expectations of society, of friends and family, of my own projected ideas of what friends and family expect, I am free to live in each moment. It was the freedom to meet life genuinely.
No expectations meant no disappointment. There was nothing beyond what life was offering in each moment to desire. Each meal, each walk, each encounter was just as it was. This lack of expectation felt like no stress. Not only did I have no chores to do, no errands to run, no work to be done, but I also had no one with me to compromise with or argue. I had no emotional expectations. When I was tired, I rested; when I was hungry, I ate. I was responsible only for my own physical and emotional state.
Traveling alone meant a lot of people watching. It’s important to stay aware of other people and of the vibe in general. It keeps me safer, but it’s also very entertaining. I noticed something when watching an Italian couple waiting for a bus. They had signed up for a particular on-off tourist line – with one payment you get a day, or a series of days, of unlimited use at any number of stops around a bunch of interesting sites. Anyway, I guess they’d been waiting for this bus for a long time, watching the regular bus come and go. I was waiting for the next city bus and watched as the man became more and more agitated.
I don’t speak Italian, but I didn’t need to know what he was saying to understand the tone. He went from sitting quietly beside his wife to pacing, then saying things to her in an increasingly irritated tone as his frustration mounted. As if it was her fault the bus was slow, or whatever. It was classic: take out the frustrations verbally on the accompanying loved one. How often do we all do this? It’s very easy to fall into when traveling with someone, but it’s something that NEVER happens when you’re alone. I was so grateful for my solo status!
Being responsible for only my own physical and emotional state is true at all times. Yet my tendency is to get caught up with a sense of false responsibility to others’ states of being or projecting some kind of responsibility onto them, as the Italian man did to his wife. I also get caught up in feeling overly responsible for my own condition. I judge myself – even in something as simple as feeling tired. Instead of accepting at each moment my state of being, knowing that this state is fluid, I often resist whatever state I’m in and create stress and tension.
I get in the way of my own experience of life.
It’s as if I have an unnatural idea of what life should be, of how I should feel and what I should do at all times. And my mind keeps holding this template up and comparing it to reality. Of course, it’s usually different and tension arises from this. How very silly it sounds! But I do this all the time.
When traveling, especially somewhere foreign, I had no template. I spent hours at a time wide open and mildly confused. Without these expectations, it was pointless to create a template. (As if it isn’t anyway.) This openness was delicious. I felt serene and relaxed.
To be fair, I had set aside money for this trip, so the survival concerns that are so stressful in everyday life were lacking. But does the worry over survival serve a purpose? Aside from certain, rare, situations, I think this concern is also pointless. Obviously one has to pay attention to survival needs – this is not what I’m referring to, but to the worry beyond the moment.
The fear I felt when planning for this first solo trip disappeared as soon as I got on the first flight. The fear was made up of so many things: will I be lonely? Will I be safe? Will everything go alright? Will I get lost? Will I need something I don’t have? This list could go on. But in the end the fear was just mist, dissipating quickly. It had no substance.
I did have concerns that I found useful. I was concerned about arriving in a foreign city after fifteen hours in flight plus layovers at two airports. This is a reasonable concern, and I met it in advance by picking a hotel and making reservations for the first night. Knowing I could land in a somewhat standard hotel room and melt was great. And it worked. Considering usual travel stresses and mitigating them is very useful. Worrying about the little things is not.
I learned a lot traveling solo. I learned a lot about Portugal, about myself, about travel and about life. The big takeaway for me, as I was getting on the plane to leave was this realization:
Life itself is solo travel.