Solo travel is, at it’s core, selfish.
Not in a negative way, just in an it-is-what-it-is kind of way.
If that’s too hard a semantics pill for you to swallow then feel free to use the term self-oriented – it’s all the same to me.
I’m living in a sustainable community on the Coromandel peninsula at the moment – my second stop on an entirely solo two-month trip through New Zealand. I met a lovely woman from Germany on the trip over from Auckland who’s spending the next fews weeks here wwoof-ing (look it up) alongside me at the retreat center. Note that I said *along-side* and not *to-gether* – this is a key distinction that I failed to make initially, as you’ll see in a moment.
We’re sharing a room now and she’d seen me pouring over The Pinnacles hike – an eight hour hike about two hours away that boasts the best views on the peninsula – in a New Zealand guide book. I was doing mental gymnastics one afternoon trying to figure out how I could logistically make it work given that I’m currently sans-vehicle till the end of the month…”The closest bus would take me to the town of Thames, from there I could hitchhike to the base or if all else fails, fork over the money for a taxi, and then I’d figure out how to get back once I’m there since the bus doesn’t run at night…” As if she were able to read my thoughts, my roommate came running around the corner and said, “Hey! I checked the schedule and we’re both off on Sunday. Do you want to climb Pinnacles that day?” She could barely get the words out before I excitedly agreed.
“That would make it so much easier,” I thought to myself. “I’d have someone to split a taxi/hotel with if needed or at the very least I wouldn’t end up stranded alone. What a relief.”
Saturday rolled around, the day before we’d planned to do the hike, and as I was busy working (she happened to be off this day as well as Sunday) an offer just happened to come in for anyone looking for a ride from the center straight to the base of the hike. So, seizing the opportunity, off she went.
“WHAT?” I gasped internally.
I’d mistakenly assumed we’d made an agreement to each other and now realized I was alone in this. In actuality, she’d only made an agreement to herself and simply allowed me the space to make my own alongside her if I wished. If the roles were reversed, she would’ve thought I’d be crazy not to go and wouldn’t have given it a second thought.
So while I was busy feeling let down, she was busy feeling free.
While I was busy wallowing, she was busy rising.
As I slipped back into the meditative trance brought about by washing hundreds of dishes without interruption, the fog created by my ego started to part allowing clarity to surface.
I thought on it for a while and what I came to is the realization that I am completely and utterly full of shit!
I had been leaning on this woman as a crutch to support my fear of uncertainty, thinly disguised by the veil of wanting companionship, of course.
By expecting her to work her plans around me, I was being as selfish as she was for not wanting to work her plans around me. What I’d been saying implicitly is: “I want what I want and I want you to want it too.” S-e-l-f-i-s-h. Am I right?
And if we’re being downright honest here, crutches further enable the crippled and they cripple the enabler. They serve absolutely no one. So, good for her!
And good for me, too.
At home, I’m used to feeling important, I’m used to being considered, I’m used to being a priority, I’m used to feeling like I matter. I’m active in the community, I’m checking all the boxes society tells me I “should,” I’m doing all the things that make my family proud. I’ve carved out a place for myself in the world here and I know what it looks like and how to navigate life from inside of it.
This false sense of security is compounded by choosing to enter the healthcare field as a physician—a job that is for the most part universally respected and highly valued. As a care provider of any kind (mother, father, older sibling, teacher, daycare worker, nurse, doctor, medical technician, nursing home employee, etc.), we unavoidably get used to feeling needed. Maybe so much so that this feeling of being needed becomes a part of who we are. The result of this is that when the time comes, as it inevitably will, that we’re no longer needed in the same way we once were, our whole identity gets called into question. And because we give so much of ourselves to others, the only way to find sustainability without complete exhaustion, is to replenish ourselves from the well of another.
This, to me, is a form of codependence – to need and be needed in a way that is often inequitable. And I came here motivated, in part, by a desire to shed it.
So of course I’m experiencing this because I made it so. I manifested my current situation from a deep need to let go of attachment, of dependence, of the need to control, of illusion, of the monkeys jumping around in my head leading me to believe life is any different than the way it actually is (can I get a “chitta vrittis,” anyone?).
Solo travel removes all veils. It calls all that you “know” to be true into question and destroys everything that isn’t real. It forcefully (and sometimes painfully) strips you of all your crutches, all your vices, all your pretendings and of the reliance on anyone or anything but yourself. It tests your limits and then shows you that you can, in fact, move beyond them–but it isn’t always easy. This is both the gift and the challenge of my current situation.
A friend back home asked me today if I’d met many like-minded people here that understand and support me.
“Yes and no,” I answered.
Are the people I’ve met understanding? Yes.
Are they supportive? No.
Solo travelers understand each other in a way that maybe no one else ever could, but we don’t exist to support others in any place beyond the present moment.
When you travel alone there are no promises. There is no betrayal. There is no guilt. There is no obligation. There is no ownership. There is no dependence.
Solo travelers use “no” liberally and guiltlessly and “yes” sparingly and non-bindingly to be in service to themselves, for we know that when we protect our own peace, we protect the peace of the world.
Solo travelers supremely respect all beings, but we belong to no one but ourselves.
And this, my friends, is a beautiful thing.