(Over the next couple of weeks I’m recounting ways that travel has helped me to learn about myself. For references check out my first article: How Travel makes us Smarter, Wiser and All-Around More Awesome)
Here’s a story I don’t think I’ve ever written about before:
Studying abroad in London was the first time I’d ever been abroad on my own. It wasn’t really that scary; I’d been to London before and it didn’t take me very long to meet lots of awesome new people. With all my new friends I rarely needed to go anywhere by myself. Whether I wanted to get some pizza or visit Amsterdam someone always wanted to tag along.
Late in the semester (it was Thanksgiving weekend, my first one away from home), I took a weekend trip up north to St. Andrew’s University in Scotland. I went up there to visit some friends (alright, alright, it was to see a boy), but things didn’t really work out like I’d hoped. The people I was with were far more interested in exploring the great diversity of pubs than seeing and of the sights. Nobody wanted to check out the castle and cathedral with me, so I got directions and reluctantly set out by myself.
It was a windy November day and the sun was starting to set, so I had the cathedral ruins all to myself. They are really beautiful: St. Andrew’s was once this massive medieval cathedral. All that’s left are ragged bit’s and pieces. The dusky light made the impressive spires and crumbling walls particularly dramatic.
Sitting in that ruined church, watching the sun set over the North Sea, I’d never felt so alone or so exhilarated. It was my first tiny taste of solo travel and a major epiphany- I could be anywhere, by myself, and I would be okay. The boy I was visiting turned out to be completely forgettable, but what started there was an even bigger life-long love affair.
I learned a really important lesson that evening: being alone is not the same thing as being lonely. I think this is something many forget in their rush to fill their lives with people and activity. When you learn to feel comfortable without all the distractions, you discover that being alone can be pretty awesome- it’s about keeping company with yourself.
Over time I’ve learned that I’m actually pretty great company: I always want to do the same things, I laugh at my jokes, and I can be pretty interesting when I take the time to listen to me. That sounds pretty narcissistic, but while I love other people to death, I really need alone time as well to feel whole and energized.
Part of that is my introverted nature (nobody ever believes them when I tell them I’m an introvert but I swear it’s true), but the ability to be alone is an important skill for anybody to have. There’s serious strength in self-reliance and you oppurtunities just multiply when you are comfortable with your self.
Travel taught me the importance of being alone, and now I’m using that knowledge to further my travels. I’m planning this epic RTW trip, by myself, and everyone keeps telling me I’m so brave (by the way, do boys get that reaction too?). I don’t really feel brave though. I feel powerful. I’m doing the things I want most to do, and I’m not waiting around for anybody. If that means watching a few sunsets alone, well it turns out that’s not so bad after all.
Do you know how to be alone?