Author’s note: Solivagant (n.) A lone wanderer. A word that motivated this piece. One that inspires me every single day to live a life devoid of dependency, empowers me and drives me to be self-reliant and self-sufficient in every possible way; a word that is now indelibly inked on my left foot.
Being someone who loves her own company, I am not averse to the idea of going on a holiday by myself.
I am thrilled that solo travel, and specifically solo female travel has been on an upswing for the past decade.
However, with all the brouhaha surrounding solo female travel, I feel compelled to question if this trend is a true indication of empowerment or just another notion proliferated by the pervasive power of the internet and social media.
Travel statistics indicate that today there are more of us travelling solo than ever before. Some of us travel to learn or experience something new, others to pursue a specific interest or meet people with similar interests and a few to recover from a death or divorce and seek seclusion and solace.
Many people I know, mostly women have been inspired to go solo after watching films or reading books like Wild, Into The Wild, Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat Pray Love. So, I cannot help but wonder if women’s burgeoning contribution to the global travel economy can be largely attributed to romanticizing solo female travel in pop culture. I confess, at times I too have been affected by said influence.
I feel it is easier for many of us to step out solo and be alone in the midst of an alien culture or country as opposed to being at ease by ourselves in our own city. The aura of travel itself dilutes the notion of loneliness or boredom.
Personally, I like doing things by myself.
In fact I’ve been quite a champion at flying solo. It never really occurs to me that I might appear weird, crazy or lonely. I eat alone at restaurants, travel alone for work and/or pleasure and have always preferred watching movies and plays by myself.
I have often been asked how or why I do it. “Aren’t you ever uncomfortable?” “Don’t you get bored?” “Aww! You should have called me, I would have come with you!” These are a few of the many baffled and/or sympathetic reactions I get from people when I tell them I did something alone.
Alone. Solitary. Single. Words many of us interpret as sad, lonely, loser.
So I decided to ask a few friends and family what is it that inhibits them from flying solo. Here’s what they said:
>>> I feel self-conscious and am petrified at being stared at and judged.
>>> I am averse to being perceived as a sad and lonely person.
>>> I loathe the idea of being pitied.
>>> People might think I have no friends.
>>> I am afraid of being seen as a social pariah.
>>> I hate the idea of being alone with my thoughts.
>>> I find the idea boring or not entertaining enough.
>>> I don’t want to face the embarrassment of running into someone I know.
>>> People might think I have been stood up.
>>> The whole thing just feels too humiliating and awkward.
>>> People might think I am weird or crazy.
Any of this sound familiar?
I got the feeling that most of my friends are comfortable shopping, picking up the dry cleaning and working or reading a book in a restaurant by themselves but don’t want to go alone to movies, concerts or simply sit and eat alone at a restaurant. A small subset occasionally participate in all of these activities because they don’t have a choice but resent having to do so alone.
When I dug deeper I discovered that research done on the subject corroborates this impression. Research shows that people are more comfortable doing “utilitarian” activities (activities with a clear purpose) or ones that involve a veneer of productivity (like working while eating at a restaurant) than participating in “hedonic” activities (done for sheer pleasure) by themselves.
Although I have been stepping out solo most of my life, I empathize with friends who say they wish they could do the same. I understand why it might seem daunting at first. (I am almost 40 but am still petrified of public speaking and have an acute case of stage fright!)
So, if you are reading this and have never done things by yourself before, I urge you to identify your fears, find a way to work around them. Work with them. Be fearless. Step out of your routine. Resolve and conquer.
We must stop putting our life on hold and forgoing fun activities until we have people to do things with.
We are missing out on a whole gamut of potentially enriching experiences by placing these limitations on ourselves. Everyone—irrespective of gender, age or relationship status—should be comfortable going about these quotidian activities by themselves. That would be the true sign of independence and empowerment.
As for how people perceive us—it shouldn’t matter. Knowing that we have the power to have fun on our own is the most liberating feeling and as much an indication of self-sufficiency as being financially independent, being able to drive or knowing how to cook.
Start small. Take baby steps. Try doing one thing every week. You might be surprised to discover how much you actually enjoy the mind space that opens up for contemplation and self-awareness, when you make room for stillness and solitude. I thrive on the solace of my own company.
We don’t have to trot around the globe or attempt death-defying adventure sports to experience limitlessness. We only need a smidgen of curiosity, willingness to step outside our comfort zone, the ability to savour a well-prepared meal and the capacity to be captivated by music or the moving pictures.
So solitary, solitude or solivagant? It’s our call to make.
“Our language has wisely sensed these two sides of man’s being alone. It has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.” ~ Paul Tillich
Author: Sushma Madappa
Image: Courtesy of Author; Jakob Owens/ Unsplash
Editor: Catherine Monkman