Yesterday, I finally spent my first day ever truly alone as a traveler. Until today, I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t actually spent a full day alone throughout my travels, ever. I’ve gone on excursions ‘alone’, meaning with other travelers I didn’t know, or spent a few hours exploring new cities with nothing but my camera and a bit of cash. Yesterday, though, phone locked in the hotel room, I spent an entire day without speaking to anyone else. It got me thinking about the difference between being alone and being lonely, and the blurred line between them that draws us, travelers, backpackers and world seekers, to these expedition’s solo. We embark on these journeys alone, knowing that we will never be truly alone, still boasting proudly about the fact that we’ve backpacked the world solo. In fact, the only time that we usually do spend alone is when we are physically traveling, moving from one city to the next, usually spent sleeping or recovering, surrounded by other travelers in a similar state. We hop from hostel to hostel, city to city, alone, only to find that almost immediately upon arrival, we have made new friends, and are no longer alone.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with this. In fact, this is the best part about traveling alone; the instantaneous friendships you create that can last longer than most. Yet, it’s also hard for me to understand why we naturally gravitate to meeting others when our “goal” is isolation from the worlds we have left behind. While it has something to do with being outgoing, friendly and collectively feeling new to wherever we’ve landed today maybe drawing us closer, the point of traveling alone, or so I’ve heard, is to “find yourself” and all this new age hippie stuff we tell ourselves, right? But, seeing as I’ve never actually been alone, until yesterday, I began question why I went alone. Don’t get me wrong, traveling has opened so many doors for me, shown me what I can and cannot do and who I can be and truly am, but I’m curious as to why as I’ve never been alone, and how I’ve never noticed.
I’m thinking that maybe we don’t go traveling solo to truly be alone. We’re all different so I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak to a few things I’ve observed. Maybe being alone ALONE isn’t the goal for most. Maybe it’s to get away from the things that are inhibiting us from finding people like us, who think they might want to be alone, but are actually looking for others who want to be alone but not really alone like us. I’m thinking that, to me, being alone has a different meaning when traveling. It’s not the act of being in solitude without interacting or speaking to others, it’s the ability to do so if I please. It’s the ability to choose which interactions I will and won’t have, and the amount of time I might or might not spend with others. Being alone in “the real world” exudes anxiety, missing out on what your friends are doing, being lonely and ‘anti-social’, but being alone in this world is a fresh breath of freedom and choice.
I want to preface this by saying that I truly love my friends and my life at home, and in this time of being alone, I am so blessed to have had my friend Natalia stay with me and help me while I recover from an injury. In fact, without her, it would have been very difficult to adjust to being limited and alone, and I am so thankful and lucky that she put a large part of her holiday on hold to make sure I was alright. But yesterday, being truly alone for the first time, has reminded me of the difference between being free and alone, and being lonely. The choice may not always be ours to make, but knowing that the choice is there can help the transition from loneliness to perfected aloneness.
Just my personal experience or maybe it’s something in the sunshine or the smooth ebb and flow of travel, but traveling alone to not really be alone makes sense to me. Spending just a few days disconnected, napping on a floating bean bag in a glimmering pool, soaking up the sunshine, and spending the rest on the beach with new friends doesn’t make you afraid of being alone or a trader to the act of solo traveling; rather, it just gives you the choice to dictate what alone means to you. My version of alone, the one where the choice is mine, makes me feel full, reminded of the blessings in my life, the reasons I can be alone and that let me feel free and blissful alone, and I’m glad to have found it again.
As my friend Erika once quoted from somebody else she can’t remember, “You’re never truly alone if you know yourself…or something like that,” but I guess that’s also true if you don’t.