In 2008 during the financial crisis I left my job and traveled with my boyfriend at the time for five months. It was my first time seeing the world (and only the second time I had used my passport), and I travelled with someone that I loved deeply. We learned a lot about each other. Fights in Peru, music and bliss in Brazil, laughter and inside jokes in Japan, long stretches of grumpiness in China, silent treatments in Thailand and then compromise and understanding in India. In terms of discovering how a relationship works, we ran the gamut and ultimately learned the importance of communication and trust. But in terms of discovering myself in unfamiliar places, I had years to go.
Fast forward to present day, after being single for over two years I used the opportunity to travel, reconnect with friends and most importantly reconnect with myself. The happy relationship that I am in now, only came after taking the time I needed to be alone. And I get it, being alone can be uncomfortable. I used to feel that I had to fill that “space” up with something or someone. I was terrible at being alone, and truthfully I hated it. Most of us just simply aren’t comfortable with the uncomfortable. Uncomfortable silences. Uncomfortable feelings of sadness, self-doubt, confusion or anger. As human beings we crave the presence of others when we are upset to vent, when we are crying to be comforted, and when shit gets complicated we seek advice from those closest to us. It has been only lately that I have settled into the uncomfortable on my own and embraced it. But I will let you in on a little secret… this is where the magic happens. When we become comfortable in our own silence and with our emotions, things start to become more clear. When we explore the scary spaces inside ourselves and begin to accept who we are, we ultimately learn to love ourselves.
Traveling alone kicks this up a notch. It hands you the gift of freedom and the ability to make decisions for yourself. These are two things that most of us have when we are young and then later trade in for a career, marriage, children and settling down. We seek companionship from others, and for the love, stability and comfort that a partner, spouse or even a fulfilling career can offer. But what if you could provide all these things for yourself? And I am not saying that you should be alone forever and be a vagabond without a job, but take the opportunities that you have to explore the world and explore yourself.
Here is the thing about traveling by yourself. It is not as scary as you think it would be. The world is a great big place filled with gracious and giving and kind people. If anything I have learned from traveling alone, it is that kindness is everywhere. People want to help you, and will go out of their way to help you. If you are traveling internationally, you will meet strangers who are filled with pride for their country and will talk your ear off with recommendations, offer help with directions and even a ride to the airport or an empty room to stay when your flight is cancelled and all the hotels for the night are booked. You will also meet other travelers who are on their own and you end up sharing your life story on an overnight bus. These people will become your friends, you may travel with them for a while, part ways, and then keep in touch for the rest of your life.
You also get some really amazing quality time with yourself. To read without interruption, to write, to journal, to stare off into space… whatever your full and beautiful heart desires. And the best part, simply put, is seeing the world and discovering new places. You will discover that being alone is not the same as loneliness. The world’s beauty becomes your companion and she takes your breath away. To stare in wonder at a sunset perched on a cliff, to hike through waterfalls with only the sound of gushing water surrounding you, to silently gaze at animals in their natural habitat. All these experiences convince you to slow down, to enjoy the moment and the experience. To breathe in life and exhale pure and uninterrupted happiness. To fill your life up with so much joy that can only be discovered in the quiet moments by yourself.