It’s not brave, it’s not sad, it’s not lonely. It just is… freeeedoooooommmmmmm.
First couple days into this workation and I’m already full of stories to tell! Few things feel as free as being thrown into an unfamiliar culture, without knowing a soul, and expected to survive and have fun on your own.
Before I left, a couple times it came up in convesations that I was coming to Greece for 3 weeks. Statistically people do not travel solo for that long, so the range of responses I got was very interesting to me. There were mainly 3 broad categories of responses:
- “Wow I can never do that, I want to try that someday.”
- “You must be really introverted”
“Wow I can never do that”
I’m most curious about this response, what specifically keeps people from it? Sometimes it’s logistics, sometimes it’s the expense, but it seems more often than not it’s fear. Fear of the unknown is one of the greatest hinderance to having what you want in life. Social fears can be especially crippling.
We are (unfortunately?) social creatures, doomed to a lifetime of worrying about how we fit in to the world around us, how to be acceptable, our place in society, etc, etc blah blah blah. This has its uses evolutionarily, however beyond the common sense scenarios, it hinders more than helps these days.
When traveling by myself, every once in awhile, there’s an amazing angle and I want to get my camera to capture it. The immediate response in my head is — “OMG I’m going to look SO stupid doing this!” After realizing that
a. I’m NOT the center of the universe and people are NOT all looking at me
b. WHO THE FUCK CARES?! I will have these AMAZING pictures for the REST OF MY LIFE, and these people will most likely forget me after their lunch.
Freedom from social judgement achieved ?
Applying this principle to other situations is even more powerful and freeing. Walk up to random strangers in line and make new friends with interesting people. Start random conversations with random people at random events where you don’t know anyone.
Most of the time we care too much about what people think, most of the time people really could not care less!
It’s the subjective, undue, self importance that drove us to think that anyone was even paying attention! The sooner we realize this innate self-centeredness and its ridiculousness, the more free we are to be ourselves and experience all the possibilities. I do believe that with this freedom FROM fictitious judgement, we are also free to be less judgemental and be more accepting because we are able feel accepted by default.
(AKA I’m so sorry you have no one to go with you, because we all know that any human of worthy and desirable status must never be alone!!) I really don’t think that was the actual intention of my friends, but I do believe that is the message we are fed as a society, and what we are taught to believe.
I think as a woman, this reaction is especially prevalent. We are basically told that our value as a person is directly correlated with our relationship status.
Single? — Wow, something must be wrong with you that no one wants you?
Divorced? — it’s too bad it didn’t work out, but at least someone wanted you at some point!
Married? — this is the one true path to happiness and fulfillment yes!
Relationships are a beautiful thing because within secure and healthy relationships, individuals are able to share some special bonds with another- whether it be friendship, romance, brainz-connect (yes it’s a thing!), or any combinations of which is amazing. They are very special moments that make us grow as individuals. Romantic relationship status evaluation, however, is overrated to be honest. This inexplicable need for social validation through relationship status is annoying at best, and oops-you-just-destroyed-your-life at worst.
Relationships don’t make us whole, solitude does. I believe that it is only when we can be alone with ourselves that we can have genuine relationships with others and not just using people to “fix” the loneliness. We don’t fix loneliness by being with people, we fix loneliness by being comfortable with who we are, finding ourselves, and bringing that to who we connect with.
“You must be really introverted”
Introverted — that word doesn’t mean what you think it does…most people use that word to mean “really shy”, “socially incompetent”, “hates people” — so no, none of the above. It actually just mean— you recharge by being not with people — which is true.
Being introverted let you do things like: not talk to anyone for days and be completely happy and content, make friends with a couple locals immediately after you land, strike up random conversations with random people at random places because it’s interesting.
Also, a bunch of smart people are saying how great it is to be introverts! So, YES, I think our culture needs to stop using “introvert” as a dirty word, as if there needs to be a correction program or something.
Why I find it essential to travel alone
Traveling alone lets you experience a type of social freedom most people never experience in their entire lifetime. Many of the things that you think is “normal” at home is really not, and it forces you to realize that not everything we’re used to is “the right way”. Conventions and preferences are just that — personal, subjective preferences and conventions.
Empathy. You have to learn to be extra empathetic — as a foreigner, you can’t even achieve the most basic social interaction properly. Instead of expecting people to cater to your norm, it’s way more interesting to attempt to decipher this new norm and adapt accordingly.
Question everything. When what you’re most familiar with is stripped away along with its supporting social infrastructures, it’s more easy to question why it’s even there in the 1st place. Being able to question things that are often taken at face value is probably one of the most important reasoning and observational skills there is.
Find yourself. By default, the majority of our behaviors and beliefs are shaped by external reactions. When you do something or express something socially undesirable or deviates from the accepted norm, the emotional reaction of those present will inform and deter you. A lot of this process is subconscious, some of it is for good, a lot of it is purely for the sake of conformity. When you leave that constant social acceptability calibration behind, you are granted with the freedom to think about issues more clearly, it also diminishes its effect when you get back.
So get out there and give it a try! Not only will you experience a whole new type of traveling, you may end up seeing a whole new world when you come back too. ?