It was Thomas Jefferson who said that; " One travels more usefully when alone because he reflects more" and I could not agree more. Just earlier this month I returned from my first solo city trip, 6 days to myself in the Big Apple. It was very surprising to many of my family and friends who were both excited and very concerned and when I returned they all seemed impressed by the bravery to go out and plan such an independent journey. Their remarks made me wonder why there seems to be so many who wish to travel and yet so few who take the leap, are we secretly more afraid of what we might realize about ourselves than we are about our own physical safety?
Let me start off by saying this was not my first solo trip although I've only been on a few. I went solo primitive camping in both Providence Canyon State Park last year for five nights (my dad did end up coming to stay with me a few nights), and Congaree National Park in South Carolina for four nights. Something about being more or less alone with your own thoughts is very appealing to me. What all my experiences so far have shown me is that it really is crucial to spend time on your own as initially uncomfortable as it may be. Alone time, especially in a new environment really benefits you in three huge ways:
1. Independence and Self-Appreciation.
It is no surprise that going out on your own, whether camping or otherwise, is independence in and of itself. But when you are not in a good space/state of mind your trip can really serve to help you appreciate just how much you are capable of. Traveling can take a lot of planning and work, just paying for it is quite a barrier, but once you look out your window or tent and see that you made it, there is a humbling feeling of self-appreciation and a realization that you, anyone really, can do (almost) whatever they put their mind to do. Stop letting fear constantly dissuade you from things you know you want to accomplish. For me this really helps on those lazy do-nothing days, you can feel a sense of appreciation for yourself, knowing whatever goals you have you can achieve and that maybe you do deserve a break every now and again.
2. Logical Thinking and Patience
Of course, being thrown into a new environment is very stressful. Too many people get complacent in that they never put themselves in new situations that challenge their perspectives if nothing else. Changes really challenge you to stay calm, to use your own logic, self-sufficiency, and patience to get around a new city or a complicated trail hike. Solo travel puts this test to the extreme, finding how to get by without completely breakdown from overwhelming stress or fear is, to be honest, difficult at times. During my stay at Congaree National Park I found out, after hiking to my campsite, that my tent was faulty, the poles snapped and shattered, covering my hands with sharp splitters all while I was being constantly bombarded by horseflies and wasps. Keeping your cool, practicing positive self-talk and patience is a truly indispensable part of solo traveling. These hard earned skills help immensely in everyday life.
3. Finding Who You Are NOT
It seems that, in our modern society, our identity is often combined with our material possessions, our social status, our financial state and of course our appearance. We are told to buy this to look younger, to get fitter, to impress others, to be "happier", but I think anyone can realize with a bit of self-reflection, that these superficial things only add momentary pleasure at best. And after building our self-image around the delicate, intricate combinations of materials and titles we are at immense risk. The slightest disturbance to this and we often crumble and have a mini-identity crisis! Runners who get injured cry over their loss of self (I know I have), losing our social status, feeling inadequate about our appearance, even getting a bad haircut our having to go without makeup or the newest clothing style leaves many feeling anxious. Solo travel removes you from so many of the external factors you might lean on for your sense of self and really puts your identity in question. Who are you? Obviously, you are not your family, not your house, not your job, not your clothes, not your friends, not your home city or even your moment-to-moment feelings. Being alone and far from your usual environment creates a real wake-up call and when you have returned, you feel a serial calmness, the fear and clinging you once felt towards everything you owned has lessened its grip on you, the trick is not picking back up the attachment to material belongings and other superficial things.
I know traveling alone is a terrifying idea for some, especially young girls like myself, every time I return from a trip I always get an ear full of complaints and worries from my family. Safety should always be kept in mind but I hope others really take on the challenge to go out, detach yourself from all these things you feel so trapped by, enjoy a nice solo retreat. I can almost guarantee that once you've done one, you'll be planning your next trip as soon as you get back home.