“Just be lonely, just sit by yourself and feel it.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert
This quote from Eat, Pray, Love, my travel inspiration, hit my soul hard.
The first time I read it, I wrote it in my journal, and at times when I feel alone I remind myself of it and smile.
I now feel my loneliness, remember how scared I was to start traveling alone then realise that I am, and have so many new experiences that would not have been the same had someone been in tow. When I consider this, butterflies enter my stomach and I smile widely to myself and breathe.
Just like Liz Gilbert, I have eaten my way around Southeast Asia (okay, not Italy, but I did spend some time there last year eating), prayed in India and found love in an unusual place (but I’m keeping that one to myself).
The courage to go it alone and take in as many new experiences as possible has been electrifying, and I could not have imagined it a year ago before boarding the plane. Now this dream life of traveling is my real life, and there is no convention to it. Yes, it feels like I am on a constant holiday, everyday is different, I live out of a backpack, change accommodations regularly and see amazing sights. Yes, it may be different from the the way most people are living or the way I used to live.
Still, it does have its difficulties.
It’s not always sunsets and roses, but it is the life that I want to live. I have learned so much about myself and how to make the most of every moment. Everyday I am externally grateful that I have made this my path and that I am able to live and love this life.
Here are five realisations that I have had along the way:
1.) I Connect to the energy of amazing people:
Like a magnet drawing in the positive energy of fellow travelers and locals alike, being solo is an open invitation to start up conversation with strangers. These strangers become friends very quickly as you find out the places you have both been, and share tips on other places to travel. Just a smile and asking for a recommendation is a great way to start up a conversation with a fellow traveler. Being open and using welcoming body language, along with saying yes to invitations even if they didn’t sound like my cup of tea, meant I never knew where I might end up.
I am lucky enough to have been invited to local’s homes, eating with my hands on the floor and seeing how they really live. Helping at dog rescues, children’s homes and seeing the workings of real Indian kitchens are just a few of the experiences I have said yes to.
Through these experiences, I’ve learned to connect with the energy of like-minded people who are in this place for the same reasons, with the same purpose, and with different energies, be they positive or negative. I started to realise how the energy of people can affect us, and how to know recognize who drains our energy and who fills it.
2.) Me, myself and I:
I have become my own best friend. I have learned to care about me as number one. Selfish as it may sound, my only priority is me, and no one else. They say that you can only love someone else once you learn to love yourself. Traveling solo has been the perfect way to harness that power. I now cherish my “me time” so much that I sometimes crave it; just give me a good cup of tea, a book and a wonderful location all by myself, and watch a smile of pure contentment creep over my face—my happy place.
We start to recognise our own thoughts—spending time alone, being responsible for ourselves and no one else means a lot of time in our own heads. All decisions are up to us—where to stay, how to get there, where to head next. Because of this, conversations happen in our heads; good and bad thoughts become clearer. I have learned to take the bad thoughts for what they are, recognise negativity and control them for an overall happier state of mind.
3.) I have a new set of routines:
Taking all of this alone time into account, routine becomes much easier as no one else’s plans need to be factored in. I can now cultivate a yoga practice in the morning and an early night’s sleep. I can maintain a healthy diet and eat better foods as there isn’t someone else to tempt me with junk! I have no one else to answer to or consult with, so creating these new routines has all been possible and successful. I am in control of all of my own actions.
4.) I have a new network of friends across the world:
I have learned how small the world is. I have so many stories of meeting people who share common friends and bumping into the same traveler in a different country or state. I also keep in contact with people I have met on social media and meet up if we are both in a new town. These new friends are great for getting tips on visiting somewhere new that you know a friend has been to. But I also feel that I have made connections that will last a lifetime. I cannot wait to take up the invitations and meet up with my new tribe across the globe. We keep in contact regularly and really are a support network.
Everywhere I have been, a WiFi signal at some point of the day is available and with friends and family at the end of a connection I am never really alone, I just give them a call or a text and catch up with all the wonderful things that are happening across the world.
5.) I feel that I will appreciate my own country:
I am going home to the U.K. for a visit soon. I’m nervous and excited at the same time. Will those back home understand my new independent self? Will I still fit in? How will I cope? Ultimately, I am excited about seeing my country through a new set of eyes—independent eyes that are happy viewing the world alone. I will view our sunsets in a new way and explore places off the trodden path that hold such beautiful vistas with a fresh perspective.
I can educate those back home on how happy they should be with what they have after living in a developing country where some have nothing but still live happily. Traveling alone is living your life for yourself, and consciously deciding how to spend every moment rather than appeasing the demands of others. It’s living for your own happiness, not for outside approval. It was scary at first, and many said I was brave, but I would not have wanted it any other way.
So, if you are putting off travelling for the fear of feeling lonely—feel that fear and do it anyway.
Author: Justine O’Connell
Image: Aogu Fujihashi/Unsplash
Apprentice Editor: Thayne Ulschmid; Editor: Emily Bartran