Traveling alone was never part of the plan.
This is coming from a girl who sometimes gets depressed staying in a hotel by myself when I’m traveling for an out-of-town wedding. For me, moving to another country was always on my after marriage list. But somehow, at the age of 25, I found myself getting on a plane, trying to overcome the tightness in my chest and fear of being stranded alone in Guatemala when I know exactly three phrases in Spanish.
I’m not sure exactly when was that I stopped waiting to get married. Maybe it was when I started buying real dishes and kitchen appliances, or when I started attending a church that, despite its many wonderful qualities, does not have an abundance of single men. And don’t even get me started on my choice of profession as an elementary school teacher. But even so, traveling alone wasn’t part of the plan…until suddenly, it was.
There are some things that you can only learn from experience, such as what it’s like to be the only American on a Chicken Bus full of Guatemalans. And I’ve learned how to ask for directions, how to find a place to stay, how to get around. But sometimes, I still feel a little bit lost.
There are some days when I feel brave and free and empowered. I feel like I’ve won a small victory—putting one foot in front of the other and doing the next thing, even though life didn’t turn out the way I planned. But not every day is this day. Though Tolkien would say not all who wander are lost, I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s okay to wander, and it’s okay to feel lost.
Traveling alone is an opportunity for solitude, and it is also an opportunity for forming relationships. Living outside of my comfort zone has forced me to reach out to new people, to share stories, and to get to know people who I might not normally spend time with if I were with my best friends at home. I hope that everyone who moves to a new city eventually learns that loneliness is not a permanent condition.
When we feel alone, I think we need this time to listen to ourselves. We need to live in this tension, to experience silence, to make hard choices on our own. Because in this time I’ve spent traveling alone, I’ve realized that I am the author of my own life. I am not waiting anymore.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do know that if you want to travel, if you want to experience life, if you want to carve out your own path and live the kind of life you want, you can’t let the fear of being alone get in the way. Though fear was designed to protect us from physical harm, sometimes fear is just fear. And more often than not, the fear of being alone is just a social construct.
When we take the time to really listen, we can discern when we need to be alone and when we need to be around other people, when we need to laugh and when we need to pray. I hope that when I look back, I will remember these days not as a time when I was waiting for something else to happen, but as a time when I found what I was looking for.
If you know someone who is afraid to take a trip alone, will you email them this post to encourage them?
Photo credit: Becca Nelson