In the post I wrote today I referenced an essay I wrote for a friend about the hard moments of traveling alone. Maybe it's time to share that essay.
I stood on the beach and tears ran down my face.
I haven't been hugged in weeks. I miss laughing with my friends. My family is all together except me.
Messages read: "I accepted a job offer." "I got into graduate school." "My boyfriend proposed."
How did I end up here? What am I doing with myself? Are you ever going to stay still?
Amidst these swirling thoughts, so why are you doing it?
It comes down to one simple question: is there anywhere else you'd rather be?
Because even with tears streaking my cheeks I immediately answer NO. I shout it at the waves.
Repeatedly I've been asked if it's difficult to travel alone. Of course it's difficult to travel alone. That's like asking if you have to go uphill to reach the top of the mountain. The little things are hard - carrying your backpack to the bathroom at the train station because you don't want to leave it alone. Awkwardly reading a book at dinner. Shoving aside shyness to meet new people. Keeping every train schedule and bus transfer and address straight in your mind. Walking home alone at night in a new city.
And bigger things: having no one to rely on if you're sad or sick or embarrassed. Consistently putting yourself out there to make new friends in spite of feeling like its a bit superficial. Staying enthusiastic when you never share experiences with anyone. Feeling like no one knows you - and the tangible side of that - not getting hugs. Understanding that human contact matters. Feeling isolated when everyone speaks a new language. Laughing at yourself when you stare at two bathroom signs with letters that don't even form pronounceable words and wondering which one to open.
So why go? Why do it? What makes it worth it?
The places. The people. The moments. The challenge.
For me, I fall in love with places. And with moving beyond places. With following the road around one more corner, the train to one more stop, with chasing the random lead on a knitting store across multiple countries. The freedom of being on your own schedule. The unexpected friends you make when you're rich in time. The discussion of computer programming at Sunday tea with the knitting guild. The friend of a friend at the campground. The surprisingly insightful stranger-turned-friend who asked to tag along on your bike trip to the beach. Want to go listen to music in the park? Want to hike up the hill and watch the sunset? The leisure to read in your hammock. The meditative introspection of wandering alone through an art museum or winding around alleyways and corners in a new city.
People constantly express their jealousy of my travels. "You're living the dream." "You must be so happy." "How are you so lucky?" I've asked myself that question: how am I so lucky? How did I get here? It racks me with guilt when I'm unhappy because I realize that I'm lucky. But there's a reality behind this lifestyle as well. Moments of crushing loneliness. Of taking a deep breath and speaking in a new language and praying I understand the response. Of wondering why I walked away from everyone I knew and everything I was good at. For months my only consistent companion has been a little voice in my head that alternates between, "It'll be ok. You can do this." and "What were you thinking? What have you got to show for these months?
All I have is me.
A handful of photos and journals and stories. New friends. A few new skills. A wavering confidence in adaptability. An appreciation of those people who have held on to me from across the ocean. An occasional blissful peacefulness with myself. An ever growing value in exploration.
At least I'm here.
I'm standing on a beach in the rain. I'm crying. I'm heartbreakingly lonely. My friends are at work, making a difference to the world. My friends are getting engaged, becoming the world to each other.
I'm standing on a beach in the rain. Questioning everything about myself and my decisions. But I'm here. It hurts because it's so beautiful. And maybe it's beautiful because I'm so alone.
The beach is quiet. The sunset is peaceful. A million little moments. The little plane was exciting. The boat ride laughably interminable. The snow swishes as I ski and I pause when I glance up and realize the sky is awake. Someone chats with me in a cafe. I climb the tower of a castle. I send a postcard west. I light a candle in a church. I laugh with a new friend who's name I never learn because somehow it's irrelevant to our conversation. I pitch my tent on a white sand beach. I swim in the ocean. I roll in the snow during a sauna. I wander a bit further.
How did you get here? I don't know.
What are you doing here? I don't know.
Would you rather be anywhere else? No.