Traveling alone is a joy because I can fully allow myself to experience my surroundings without the hesitation of considering the expectations of those around me. I don’t have to be paused by other individual’s funny looks or social anxieties. For example, if I am in a relationship with someone, I generally try to shield them from my lowest lows. I mean that in the sense of when someone else is around, I generally just don’t fall into my saddest places. But that limitation goes both ways. Every reaction has a opposite and equal reaction. By stopping myself from experiencing those lows, I inadvertently stop myself from experiencing elation. Some people are able to be in wonderful relationships with people that can ride those highs and lows with them. But I find that I subconsciously “clean my house up” when someone gets close. I’m talking about that routine clean when you have guests over because you want them to see your house at its best. But this even-tempered stability is in itself a social norm.
When I’m singing alone by myself to the car radio with a big fat dumb smile on my face just tripping out on how I couldn’t image a more beautiful life, there’s no one to comment. There’s no one to ask why driving home through the fog on a regular Saturday night after working eight hours has given me so much joy.
No one is there to touch my thoughts, except for me. Earlier today, I also had a low. It was this extremely anxious moment of chaos. Right after I had come home from work around 5:00, I ran around my house talking to myself and my cat. It was such a therapeutic release for me. In my own world, in my own head, in my own room, I was able to fully express the chaos of my mind. I let myself. It was silly and loud and didn’t make a lot of sense. But I think I needed to let out some of the pressure of my life. I’m about to be done with my formal education and there are some big questions on the fore front of my mind. I am so comfortable with myself that I can fully explore my own mind in it’s lightest and darkest states. I want to experience the world under these pretenses. Where I can allow myself to be at whatever point, high or low, and not worry because I understand my own complexity. But if I were with another person, a partner, a fellow experiencer, I just wouldn’t spend as much time exploring my own thoughts. I would explore theirs. I would be fundamentally impacted by their presence. Not because of anything they would say or do, but because I would hold myself at a certain point. I wouldn’t let myself explore the lows. But, also if you don’t have these lows, then it’s much harder to appreciate the highs.
Wouldn’t traveling alone be lonely?
Yeah it can be lonely. That’s why there is so much joy in meeting a stranger when you’ve had no one to talk to for two days. When I have a conversation, I’m not just having a word or two, I am fully engaged in that moment. I experience a higher high. That person genuinely made my day. There’s the elation that company brings because of the stark loneliness. But meeting these people allows me to observe and understand another culture more deeply. It is so valuable because I can fish out similarities even from of people that have a completely different social conditioning than me. It’s an interesting reflection of self as well. We all have so much social history behind our understandings of the world, but it’s hard to identify the extent of our social norms until they’re replaced with new ones. Nature or nurture is a timeless question. We don’t even know what we have been to conditioned to believe because we rationalize our beliefs into our realities. Traveling alone is an opportunity to learn from new people and to learn about yourself in a new light. I’ve tried for years to deprogram myself from gender roles, racial stereotypes, conversation norms, and social taboos. Still, I don’t know what I don’t know. I haven’t been where I haven’t been. There are people, cultures, lives, and places that I will never know. There’s something wonderfully reflective about meeting someone who has been brought up completely differently than you have been. You can achieve this reflection anywhere in the world at anytime with anyone, but going across the globe alone is what did it for me. I definitely couldn’t go back to my small world understandings afterwards. I felt like a child examining a new world for the first time.
Pruning is something that happens to children when they pass from being a toddler to becoming an adult. Human babies have the longest helplessness period of any animal. But it’s because of how intelligent we are. We have these insane networks of neurons that are the busiest they’ll ever be when we are two years old. We can’t speak, can’t hold things, and definitely can’t focus on a single task. Every single part of a baby’s head is lighting up when they think. Their brains are on fire everywhere! This is amazing, but not efficient. So pruning happens. They start narrowing in on their abilities. They strengthen the neurons that they use, and others go grey. But minds remain plastic throughout the human life. That’s been proven by MRI meditation studies. What I mean by plastic is that the mind has the ability to change. Neural connections are constantly branching out and growing or drying up and dying. I imagine that a chess grand master’s mind has this thick bulge in one area that represents their brilliance in chess. When they are going mad on chess they’re minds (probably in their left brain) are so lit up that they are superheroes of the mind. A phenomenal slackliner might have strength of neurons in their motor cortex that reflects their control of movement. Language and travel on the other hand, broaden your network. They aren’t just strengthening neural pathways, they are making new ones.
Is it Safe?
This is the question that will separate the people who will do this from the people who will not do this. That’s not a question I can tell answer because safety is based on a long time understanding of the world, not a one-time debreifer. We need to survive and fear helps us do so. My understanding of the world happens to be that there are far more good people in the world than bad. So that makes it easy for me. I believe that so whole-heartedly that I’m going to be safe and protected no matter where I go. I’m even willing to test it again and again. I am tremendously grateful that my curiosity motivates me more strongly than my fear does. It makes this planet accessible. That’s not a feeling many women in history have been afforded. I have that luxury because of generations of women fighting for a better world, one that I fully plan on exploring. My understanding of the world is part of my identity. It’s something that I can’t change or necessarily convince other people of. I appreciate these highs and lows. I want to uncover new questions. I want to meet people and write down their stories. I want to remember my life.
I’m a woman and I experience vulnerability because of my gender. That is, walking down the street sometimes people shout things at me and I feel scared. I’m smaller than many of my male counterparts in my species. However I’m grateful for that vulnerability. When I’m walking down the street behind someone and they turn around, they look relieved when they see me. Oh it’s just a girl. She’s not threatening. I’ve found the benefit of being approachable. I’m invited places. I can fit in anywhere. I can make friends quickly. So that vulnerability, in itself, I consider to be a strength.
Traveling alone is an opportunity to develop a one-on-one relationship with the one person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with, you. That’s one consciousness that will be with you for certain. Traveling with friends isn’t a bad idea either! But for me, at this point in my life, traveling alone fulfills the desire for individualization and freedom that I’ve been looking for.