I love traveling alone. (Almost as much as I love traveling with others.) People have mixed feelings about solo travel, but every time I have had the chance, I’ve fallen in love.
Sure, there are a few things that you don’t want to do alone. Some of these include:
Going to zoos. It is amazing how quickly you walk by an enclosure when you have nobody to appreciate your very funny joke about elephant pedicures, or your interesting observation that a hippopotamus is not only supposed to be incredibly dangerous, but is also incredibly ugly when its face is pressed too closely to the glass.
… It also takes away from the experience a little bit when there is no one to take your picture with a koala. It’s one thing to say, “I stood about 3 inches from a koala and the stupid zoo keeper still wouldn’t let me tickle its little foot,” and quite another to have a picture where it’s written all over your face how badly you want to snatch him.
Riding a sleeper train or a night bus. I am not a good sleeper in the best of conditions. But, I’m a terrible sleeper in the worst of them. My REM cycles are incredibly high maintenance. They insist on complete darkness and silence. They want it cold enough to force snuggles. They are not a fan of sleeping on benches in train stations, especially when rats are running back and forth and mosquitoes are feasting on every bit of exposed flesh.
Night travel is bad enough when you are with a friend… but when you are alone… it’s torture. Even if you are able to slip off for a few minutes, you have to keep each limb locked through the straps of your backpack. You have to keep your passport tucked into your clothing. You have to keep an alarm set so you won’t sleep right through your stop. Plus, every time someone walks by, you just cant help but open one eye to make sure they don’t pose some kind of threat… or are especially cute and worth waking up for. Night traveling alone is exhausting!
Navigating stations in the middle of the night. Well… this one just seems obvious. Besides, the fact that they can be kind of scary after dark, you also can’t kiss and ride when there’s no one to kiss.
With the exception of these three things: zoos, night travel, and night navigation; I have found that most of the time, I love to be alone.
I like exploring alone. I like eating alone. I like watching people alone. I love taking pictures alone. I do seem to get lost a lot when I am alone… but so far I have also always gotten found.
There is something that is both thrilling and quieting about solo travel. Every sense is heightened. You just watch and drink in as much as you can hold, without ever uttering a single word. (Those who know me are laughing right now, because you can’t imagine that I can be quiet… but that’s only because you have never been around me when I am alone. And, I suppose you never will be- hence the whole nature of being alone.)
I notice everything when I am alone… and everything seems more beautiful, tragic and romantic. Everything I see, everything I hear… it’s mine. Not to be shared with anyone. No one else’s perception is thrust onto anything I encounter. All of those moments belong to me alone. No one else will ever see exactly the things I have seen. No one will ever see the six dusty feet balanced on a bike built for one. No one else will ever hear the gales of laughter as four of those feet slipped off and landed in a dusty heap. That moment is mine.
There’s a song by Cary Cooper, called “Hannah, Hold Your Heart“, that I have always loved. I’ve spent a great deal of time alone lately and it’s one of the songs that has been on repeat in my head. One of my favorite lines is “There’s no need for you to whisper when you’ve got thunder in your bones. When it’s quiet you can find it… that’s why it’s good to be alone.”
Last week I sat on the beach in Bryon Bay for a few hours alone. This might sound normal… except that it was raining, and I had the sand to myself, but the waves were crowded with surfers. There was something cathartic about watching them bob over wave after wave. I was in a particularly contemplative mood that morning. Maybe it was because it had been raining incessantly for a week, maybe it was just because I have been on the road for 2 months without any of the comforts of home, or maybe I just really needed some time to think.
I just sat there drawing shapes in the sand, my face wet with both tears and rain. I couldn’t explain the tear drops. Not even to myself. I was grateful for the camouflage of the rain as I sat there, thinking about everything in my life.
As I sat watching the waves, I took great peace in another line from that song: “Just make a promise to the night sky– that if you fall with every star, you’ll find a song inside each teardrop and sing along till you remember who you are.”
Sometimes it’s the rainy days that make everything else seem clear, and leave you feeling refreshed and renewed. I guess I needed a tear or two that day, because as I sat on that beach watching the crazy power of God’s creation, I found a song inside each teardrop, and on my walk home- it was easier to remember who I was.
In 2013, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. After four months of backpacking I returned to the States and fell in love with a guy whose job sent us straight back to Asia. Nothing has gone according to plan... and it's been absolutely magical.