I have a distinct memory from fifth grade. I attended our neighbor’s birthday party and spoke to a French guy who was at that time exploring Asia all by himself. I told him that my favorite book is by a French author, and that I wanted to go to France.
He said, “Then go.”
“Go.” It was short, on point, uncomplicated.
It took many years later to fathom the wisdom behind his simple advice; just go. Pack a bag. the world waits for no one. Pack and leave.
Because sometimes, you have to leave so you can live.
1. Decision making is so much faster and easier.
A group, more often not, has split decisions. Rarely does every member unanimously prefer to travel by ship than by plane, nor does everyone vote pizza — someone’s bound to have a sushi craving that night. Some like to sleep in complete darkness, others need a lamp on.
When you’re alone, you call all the shots.
2. You throw caution to the wind.
Forget about printing out an itinerary which restricts you from enjoying the ocean waves kissing your feet, just because your “Schedule for Day 1” states 30 minutes maximum. Traveling without a timetable is so much freer, and allows you to relish the sights and sounds and have a more meaningful experience.
3. You learn about culture and values.
They say you come back as a different person after you travel — and in a way it’s true. You find out that in other countries they clean their tables as they go and it reminds you about self-discipline. You go to a place where everyone walks briskly and (hopefully) you interpret it that time is indeed valuable. You visit a country still recovering from a calamity, and you cherish your possessions.
And wherever you are, every local community brimming with cheerfulness is contagious.
4. You hone your social skills.
The people you will meet, talk to and learn from are immensely infinite (it only becomes finite because you have a return ticket.) Talk to a Brit and you will, in two hours, visualize his daily commute via “tube,” his rented “flat.” Spend time Paris’ street cafe’s and London’s leisure parks. Talk to a to the elderly Chinese man and pick his brain for business acumen. Talk to any elder of any race and hear him philosophize about regret, youth and death. Your imagination is awakened.
5. You pay it forward.
There is a famous quote that says, “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
Somehow, everyone who’s a solo traveler seemingly becomes instantly friendlier. It’s like an unspoken etiquette. I observed that strangers are more willing to help me out whenever I’m alone. Some English speakers even offer to bring me to my destination.
Solo travelers are known patrons of hostels, and most hostels offer mixed beds as accommodations. One room can have 8-10 beds and in this set-up, you become sensitive to other people’s space and privacy. You learn to obey curfew hours once again. During the day and early at night you bond with these strangers. The vibe and the atmosphere is friendly, and you feel like you are living the pages out of a social studies textbook but you’re still very much aware that these strangers, like you, are active people who need rest. Upon check-out, you’re a lot friendlier and a more respectful person.
6. You rediscover a precious commodity: solitude.
Who knew that walking long hours with no particular destination in mind can be so therapeutic? That getting lost and finding your way back can be so exhilarating?
You have none of that infectious desire to post your latest Facebook photos. You enter a meditative state; like a yoga in motion. This revelation alone is priceless. With the world becoming increasingly louder and chaotic, traveling alone is the one addiction you must nurture. solitude, stillness, hearing your own thoughts — these are luxuries many people have forgotten to cultivate.
7. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.
You’ve recharged your batteries. You’ve eaten that “authentic” wonton noodle soup, finally. Your energies, renewed. Now, you’re ready to come back to those 858 unread emails waiting in your outlook. You’re ready to talk to your mom. You’ve decided that yes, it is time to propose to your girlfriend.
You come back to your normal duties, normal life but with a changed and lighter perspective.
8. You meet an exceptionally important person: yourself.
When you’re traveling alone, your rely on your own senses and your own instincts. You become your own protector, your own counselor. You survive on your own and you wonder, like a remembrance of things past: what were you so afraid of? You’re good; you’re independent.
And with the ebb and tide of success and failures you temporarily left behind, how could you have neglected to appreciate your capabilities? How could you have settled? How could you not have noticed your own self-decay, which you will now courageously fight against?
Ad coming to terms with your own pain, you come back wiser and ready to face the music. So let anyone throw anything at you. It’s when you truly know yourself and your worth that you become unstoppable. And like the journey you had, you’re just as unforgettable.