My Facebook newsfeed is filled with an influx of solo travelers. The happy smiles where strangers once, are now the closest of friends. The emotions, the cultural experiences, the attachments. Maybe a romantic interest? I see myself being drawn into the idea, but anxiety begins to surface. Would people like me? I want alone time. Do I like new experiences? I find it terrifying. Do I want to eat alone? I find it awkward.
I have always been an introvert. While I bask in the company of friends, I can’t say that I feed off their energy. I’m not the life of the party and I like to sit in silence, not having to continuously sustain a conversation with a person I just met.I find that exhausting. I will organise reunions, but with those I have a deep, genuine relationship with. I like to fast forward the small talk and focus on the intellectual debate – the pressing issues of our time.
Recently, I embarked on a lone trip to Europe. It was certainly not what I expected.
Being in a foreign country with no one else, but a cell phone and wifi really pushed me to the edge.The panic, the stress, the fear. The unfamiliar surroundings bore mystery and excitement at first, but this quickly subsided. The solo photos, solo meals and solo nights outs grew tiresome. While these should be an introvert’s haven, I was embedded so deep within that I felt suffocated. I felt myself clinging to my wifi – my opinion pieces, Facebook, twitter accounts anything to make me feel at ease, in comfortable surroundings.
I grew weary of the constant chit chat with others. The routine conversation starters; Where are you from? What do you do for work? Do you know person x? This would often end in giggles. Chances are that you will meet at least one person from the same country. I had to push myself to initiate conversations with people I had just met. Being a solo traveller, you will be alone unless you invest the time and effort to meet others. But having to repeat the same initial questions made me feel like a broken tape recorder. I craved science, philosophy and religion, none of which I could have openly spoken about. I was forced to act 23, not a person 10 years older. I was forced to enjoy bars and the nightlife, the customs of my generation. While I like a few nights out with friends, I needed time to recharge.
I ceased my nights out and retired early to bed. The friends I made slowly eroded one by one. My anti-social behaviour was interpreted as being snobbish or rude. Maybe that I had offended them in some way? Was too good for them? But I simply wanted space. As an introvert, that’s how I operate. It wasn’t intentional and I had nothing against them. I adored their company, but sometimes I didn’t feel like talking. It wasn’t that I was having a bad day, I just didn’t feel it. I like to be immersed in my own thoughts, self-reflect or imagine the future.
I could see myself attempting to change who I was. I was angry, frustrated and annoyed. Why was I this person? Why couldn’t I just be the self-confident extroverted, energy fulled 23 year old? The one that everyone aspires to be – the funniest, the networker, the most likable character. Why did I constantly seek downtime?
I traveled alone with the intention of wanting something in return. I had certain expectations that the media had left me with. The glorified take of what it means to travel alone – to find yourself, overcome a quarterly life crises and develop a life plan.I returned with none of these.
I wanted to change who I was as a person. I wanted to extend myself and morph into a person I was not. I was hoping to eradicate my fears and conquer my challenges. Become the person I wanted everyone to see me as back home, beneath the facade many of us uphold. I was hoping traveling would provide me with answers.
What I gained instead was an understanding of self. What I liked and disliked. From how I reacted in social situations to simple discoveries such as my favorite food. My reaction to a dynamic environment – my thought process, initial reactions, emotions. How I dealt with stess, pressure and unexpected situations.
In uncomfortable circumstances, I became comfortable with myself. I was beginning to acknowledge who I was. Instead of forming life-long friends, I formed one with myself.