Are you traveling alone?

Two weeks ago was Cádiz and Málaga, in Spain. This past weekend was Nürnberg, in Germany. And this weekend, I’m off to Thailand for a “real” vacation. I promised myself someplace warm and sunny, where I could SCUBA dive and do yoga, and somehow that place ended up being Thailand. 

When I mention the trip, everyone wants to know who I’m going with and for how long. I’m going by myself for nine days. 

“By yourself?”

I’m not sure whether it’s my perception or their intonation, but I always hear a bit of shock in the fact that I’m traveling alone. I always think I’m okay with it – like, seriously, what’s the big deal – until someone suggests otherwise. Should I be concerned? What’s wrong with seeing a new place on your own? There will be people there, who I can meet. I always bring a camera and a journal. Lately, I travel with mini-Stephen. That, and most of the people I already know are just a message away. 

Safety? Sure! I’m a grown adult, and I will be careful and conscious, just like I am in places I’ve been before.

I ventured to Denmark for four months and made friends. (I’ll admit that my three days alone in Tromsø, Norway were some of the loneliest I’ve felt.) I’ve explored parts of Hawai’i and Spain on my own. I traveled to Tel Aviv, Eilat, and Petra on my own last August. I’ve spent the last four months living abroad, in a place where I don’t speak the language (still working on that!) Nine days will be comparably a long time by myself, but it’s not a new experience to go someplace foreign by myself.

I guess I get it. Going across the world by yourself isn’t an everyday concept. Most people travel with family or to see friends or something like that. The idea isn’t so jarring to me. I know there will be moments where I’ll wonder what-in-the-world I’ve gotten into. That’s kind of the point. To explore the world. To learn about myself in the process. I hesitate to think that I’ll ever be alone, anyway, because a friendship is usually one conversation away from another human stranger.

I’ve grown fond of academic Brené Brown’s work, and in a recent podcast (coincidentally published when I moved to Germany), she remarks: “I think people are afraid to be alone because they don’t belong to themselves. True belonging is not just about being a part of something, but also having the courage to stand alone. The thing about going into the wilderness and standing alone is those experiences mark your heart. I do find sacred being a part of something, but never at the cost of betraying myself.”

I appreciate her words, and I understand they hold a deeper-than-physical meaning. I will admit to holding fear of being alone for these nine days. I also accept that I want to travel. I want to see the world and to continue understanding my place in it. If the alternative to going alone is not exploring the world or doing it on someone else’s terms, traveling alone is the truest I can be to my desires.

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