The plane lands with a jolt. Rolls to the gate. Shuts off the engines.
You and the other passengers file off the aircraft. Through the terminal. Past immigration. Baggage Claim. Customs.
You step outside into a country where you know no one.
Perhaps you don’t speak the language. The air is different. Heavy and humid. Or maybe cold and sharp. Your nose catches new smells and catalogues them as memories—later, this will be a remembered place.
Welcome. You have just crossed into a vast field of unknowns.
Is it terrifying—or exhilarating?
Fiumicino International Airport. Rome, Italy. Thursday, September 22, 2016. 4:50 p.m. local time.
This airport is like every airport. Too cold. Too big. Too full of luxury shopping and not enough food.
But I don’t mind. I’m going on a journey.
I’ve just said goodbye to several dear friends. Once again, I’m (quite literally) flying solo. I buy a slice of veggie pizza—my last Italian food for a while—and sit down by a window. I watch the planes take off; I watch the planes land. As always, I’ve arrived hours in advance to avoid any potential airport stress, so I have plenty of time to settle into this renewed state of aloneness.
It feels good here.
I remember my friend’s words this morning:
“Tonight, you will go to sleep in a new place. Someplace you’ve never been before. There will be new smells; the air will be different. It’s exciting.”
It’s true. It is exciting. And I think it’s exciting in a way that traveling in pairs or in groups just isn’t. Harder? Maybe. Less comfortable? Probably. But definitely more exciting, too—a challenge always is.
Someone asked me recently if it ever gets lonely, this solo traveling.
There are many answers to that question, but in short, no.
I have experienced dozens of iterations of the above scenario—arriving by air, land or sea—and for me it is always exhilarating. That is, in part, why I fly from Rome, Italy to Agadir, Morocco today—to spend six or seven weeks in a place where I know nobody.
While I love traveling with or visiting friends (and do so often), I crave the spaciousness that only comes with solitude. Maybe you do too.
Nothing can replicate it. It arrives the moment we leave every known thing behind us. Hug our loved ones goodbye outside the airport. See our traveling companion to the train station, then turn back to a foreign city alone. Click “complete payment” on a one-way ticket for one.
Solitary spaciousness arrives when we face the forest, the mountains, the desert—whatever our alluring yet frightening place may be—with a pack on our shoulders and uncertainty in our chest, knowing that no one is coming with us this time.
Does that scare you? It probably should. There are monsters in the forests, the mountains and most of all the cities. But more than that—more than that there are monsters in our hearts and minds.
I believe that is what people fear most of all when they fear setting out to travel alone. There is the external risk, of course, but I suspect loneliness—ourselves facing ourselves—instills greater terror.
But that’s exciting, no? A challenge always is.
Why don’t I ever get lonely? I’m not actually sure, not entirely. Maybe I do, but it no longer scares me, and so I call it solitude instead of loneliness.
I do know this:
Our comfort zone expands every time we step outside of it and thrive there. There is nothing more intoxicating, full of life and purpose, than entering unknown territory alone.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” ~ Joseph Campbell
Author: Toby Israel
Images: Author’s Own