From the wise words of JRR Tolkien,
“It's a dangerous business... going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Never has this quote resonated with me so truly than when I set off on one of the biggest adventures of my life to date: a solo, year-long, round the world trip.
Though I'm a sociable creature, who thrives on sharing great experiences with great people, there's something very special about setting off on a big trip alone. It's the bravest, stupidest, most exhilarating feeling in the world, but only achievable if you're OK with spending time in complete solitude.
I'm not talking about the occasional night in with Netflix and a glass (or let's be honest, bottle) of wine, I'm talking about getting all close and personal with yourself. Are you comfortable in your own company?
Though, in essence, traveling alone opens you up to meeting people along the way, there will be times when you'll be by yourself under one stroke of fate (even if you believe in it or not) or another. These moments of pure solitude can be nerve-racking, overwhelming and well, quite frankly, very lonely.
The skeptic lot of you, who will undoubtedly be convinced that alone time with yourself can never be "too much," will inevitably ask, "So, why exactly do you need to learn to spend time alone if you're planning on traveling alone?"
Here are a few reasons why:
Traveling alone is a very indulgent, selfish thing. You're in your own head a lot more often than you feel like you are when at home, surrounded by familiar things. You're your only company, so you have to know how to make yourself happy.
Have you ever questioned whether you really know how to do this? Chances are you've never challenged that notion because you've never spent longer with yourself than an evening, or a day.
When surrounded by everyday things, schedules, agendas, plans and familiarity, everything seems to flow; our time is filled up with routine, which is comfortable, safe, stable.
The nature of traveling is anything but that.
Hell, that's probably why you're thinking about this solo trip thing, isn't it? You probably want to get away from the everyday; but can you be your own pacifier on days when it's just you? What about days when the time doesn't seem to pass, when all you have for company is a novel? When it's just you, a guide book and unfortunately, a selfie stick?
You're your own boss
Setting off on a self-constructed itinerary, or for the more free-spirited, on no itinerary at all, brings forth the question, "Guess who calls the shots?"
Of course it's you who decides where to go and what to do. That bit's obvious, but it's also you who has to make every decision, all the time.
Booking a cross-border ticket, haggling for the price of a bowl of pho with the locals, locating your hostel after a nightmare journey into a new place or considering whether that new rash needs medical attention is all on you.
This is a notion which may strike some of you as completely obvious (hopefully you won't think I'm stupid for bringing it up), but many will never have really considered how many of those simple, necessary decisions we never really make or take alone.
Whether it's a friendly opinion, a group discussion or your good old ma's advice that you use to guide you, you have to recognize that traveling solo means all of these touch points are taken away from you.
For some of you (me alike), the idea of being your own (and only!) boss is exclusively a treat, but are you really ready to make every single damn decision alone?
It's a lot of responsibility
This comes hand-in-hand with the being your own boss thing. Carrying the weight of all your decisions, on top of a 65L backpack can begin to weigh down on your shoulders a lot more if you don't have someone there to help along the way. It's a responsibility you carry in solitude.
Looking after you, wholly, might sound ridiculously obvious, but it brings you closer to understanding your patterns of behavior, your likes and dislikes, your reactions to everything around you and how you interact with everyone and everything. Are you really ready for the good, if you're not prepared to take on the bad and the ugly?
Surprising oneself is usually a welcome phenomenon, and some of the best lessons we learn about ourselves are when we find out we're more capable (or incapable!) of something than we previously thought. Coming to these realizations about yourself on the road is a lot easier if you've taken on the previous legwork of learning to spend time alone before setting off on a solo trip.
You won't always find a travel clique
Though one of the perks of traveling solo is the exciting notion of looking forward to making so many travel friends, it's so easy to get caught up in romanticizing the whole affair of constantly being surrounded by Kerouac-esque types.
Sometimes you won't click with anyone from your hostel, your day-trip, your snorkeling tour or your cross-border overnight train. Sometimes you'll have to go days without having a decent conversation, especially if you're pressed for time or you're rushing through a backpacker trail to make a flight.
Of course, the real pot of gold lies in finding a solid travel clique who make your days of lounging around by your hostel pool or waiting out the rain some of the best times of your trip, but you won't always luck out. People's travel plans diverge after a while, and sometimes you just have to go your own way, as in the wise words of Fleetwood Mac.
Now, I realize I've been very negative, very skeptical and very foreboding about the responsibility of traveling alone. But honestly, it's one of the best, most liberating things you'll ever do. In no other situation will you learn about yourself so intensely, so clearly, and so directly. In no other situation will you force yourself to do things outside of your comfort zone (like body boarding down a volcano or skydiving from 15,000 ft), and in no other situation will you meet and make friends with people who will add so much to your life.
So yes, it's intense, you're your own boss, it's a lot of responsibility and you won't always find a travel clique, but, you know, what if you do and it's the best thing you've ever done?