Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lessons from traveling solo, part 1


Yesterday, I began this series of blog entries on an airplane and continued this all the way in the car from the airport. I was so busy writing that I even forgot to watch some inflight movies. I put one sentence down and then everything just flowed from there -- which is why I need to post this in parts now. I guess it's something I really feel strongly about.

MASTER OF YOUR OWN DESTINY

Traveling alone can be lonely, but you get used to it. And once you do, you experience great freedom because this means that your trips -- and your life -- will never be tied to waiting for other people to make up their minds. If you always need someone to travel with, then your travel plans are forever linked to getting other people to go with you. But if you're unafraid to go on your own, then you'll always be master of your own plans -- you'll have that choice of being with other people or being by yourself, and this psychological freedom goes way beyond travel and is applicable also in real life.

I've had lots of fun going places with other people. But some of my best travel experiences have been on trips I've done all by myself. If you'd like to know more about some of my favorite solo experiences, please refer to my previous post.

Well, here are just some of the amazing benefits I've received from traveling solo over the years.

Solo travel gave me independence

There’s something about getting on a plane or train or bus for a new destination, and about weathering this destination as a solo traveler, that gives you lots of strength to be your own person, and to be apart from the pack. I've never been one for the regular or ordinary and traveling alone since I was in high school (which was only a couple of years ago, of course!) has been responsible for that. It’s not easy to learn independence, particularly in our culture; but being abroad for travel or for living certainly fosters independence. You come into contact with different cultures, people and experiences, and these serve to cement your convictions about yourself in relation to the rest of the world.

My most memorable "independence" trip was probably in college, when I flew to Boston to represent the Philippines in the AIESEC International Congress. My fellow Philippine delegates had left earlier and I followed later, timing my arrival for the day before congress opening. I arrived in Boston via LA with some money, some phone numbers, a month's leave from the Ateneo, and no clue whatsoever as to the Big Picture or the Small Picture. I had no idea how to get to the AIESEC Congress (Small Picture) and I'd made absolutely no plans for my 30 days in the States (Big Picture) -- which is very untypical of me now, by the way. However, I was confident that things would somehow work out. As if on cue, I exited into the airport arrivals hall and stumbled upon a couple of young people from Harvard wearing AIESEC shirts. I struck up conversation and indeed they were picking someone up for the AIESEC Congress. I hitched a ride with them to the site about 90 minutes away. The rest of the month worked out pretty much the same way, with new friends, new places and new experiences every day.

Solo travel made me unafraid to be alone

Over the years, I’ve traveled alone a lot simply because I’ve traveled so much and very few people can keep up. So it’s inevitable that I end up doing many trips solo. I’ve spent weeks by myself in great cities like Venice, Florence, and Paris, which can initially be quite daunting as you grapple with cultural and language issues, and a strange topography all by yourself. But these trips have taught me how to truly appreciate my own company and they’ve given me an inner strength I can’t begin to overestimate or even to accurately describe. When you’ve overcome lots of challenges on your own in a strange land, you just know you can weather anything after that. And I really mean anything. Travel. Life. Work. Relationships.

Solo travel made me introspective

We all live busy lives and it’s so easy for weeks, months or years to pass by without thinking about what your life is all about, where you’re headed and what’s important to you. I really believe self-reflection is key to personal happiness and constant improvement. Unfortunately, this is not easy to do when everyday life is constantly taking up space in your mind. But travel gives you the distance, and oftentimes the opportunities, to go deep into yourself in ways not possible when your days are filled with fixed schedules – and I know this only too well because my life in Manila is literally planned by the minute. So my trips always give me precious time and the much-needed chances to think.

Constant reflection also ensures you never take your life and your good luck for granted. No one’s life is perfect and I certainly have a pretty long wish-list for life in my head; but not one morning goes by that I don’t wake up thankful for being able to live the kind of life I want to live. Not everyone is so lucky to be able to feel they are living the life they want; but I believe that being happy about life is more a matter of attitude than anything else.

Last week I was in Sri Lanka. I wasn’t alone but those endless road trips across the country with my iPod and a couple of great sunset walks on Sri Lanka’s golden beaches helped me put my life in perspective at a time I really needed to do so. The self-knowledge and self-awareness I gained on that trip was truly invaluable.

What's on my iPod now

PS: Speaking of iPod, this is what's playing on it now: Heart of Matter, originally performed by Don Henley of the Eagles; but I'm listening to the version by India Arie. Click here to hear it.

To be continued

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1 comment:

  1. It's nice to see someone sharing the same sentiments on traveling alone.

    ReplyDelete