They say you can truly find yourself only once you get lost.
Getting lost is a particular hobby of mine—moving from one place to another and living a sort of nomadic lifestyle, I’ve experienced all there is to traveling. That includes both the good and the bad. Still, I consider each and every experience valuable precisely because it made me who I am now.
What can we discover about ourselves when traveling alone?
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. That being on our own is all right.
At some point in our journeys, we’re simply bound to get that feeling of intense loneliness. We suddenly realize that in a foreign land among people we don’t know, we’re completely and utterly alone.
What I’ve found so far is that this feeling will eventually vanish. Learning new things about different cultures, interacting with locals and, most importantly, spending time on our own allows us to slowly accept this condition and learn to like being on our own.
And that’s probably the most important lesson there is to traveling—knowing how to be alone, only with our thoughts and feelings—is something valuable at every stage in our lives, even when we’re at home.
2. That being kind to others is important.
This sounds a bit cheesy, but once we get seriously lost and have no idea whatsoever about how to get to our destination, helpful advice and a word of encouragement become really valuable. During my journeys I sometimes had moments of panic when I couldn’t find my way and didn’t know the local language.
I learned the value of help because I found myself in situations, where I completely depended on the goodwill of others. Also, I realized that being kind to others is really worth it—a moment of kindness can turn into a friendship for a whole life.
3. That we can be truly open-minded.
The beauty of traveling alone is that we’re completely free to explore everything we want—no external pressure, no expectations, no judgments and no conflicting preferences. Being on our own, we’re more likely to try things we’d otherwise never dare to do—traveling is a great opportunity to push our boundaries and jump out of our comfort zone for a little while.
4. That we can be more tolerant of differences.
Being thrown into a different cultural context with no social group to provide a definition of our social self, we stand a chance at truly connecting with a member of a different culture. We’re usually more free to talk with the locals and our conversations are much deeper and meaningful.
In time, we learn to appreciate the perspectives of others and learn that difference is a quality of great value. Even if we don’t agree with some things, we’ll find ourselves more tolerant and understanding—after all, how boring would it be to live in a world where everyone agrees on everything?
5. That we can be independent.
Traveling alone, I learned how to live with all the responsibility resting upon my shoulders. When everything depends on us, we instinctively tend to reach out for our comfort zones. And that’s a mistake. We should acknowledge that independence in fact gives us more flexibility and freedom.
Even if freedom can be scary at times, it’s a great feeling to know that we’re fully responsible for our own happiness. Back home, we’ll know that whatever happens, we can handle it—if we managed a solo journey across India, what can be a true a challenge here?
Traveling has built my character. It made me realize who I am and what I want to do with my life, but, more importantly, it also has given me the means to do it—the knowledge that I can find my way in any situation.
Author: Will Norquay
Editor: Renee Jahnke
Image: Nan Palmero-Flickr