The famous English novelist David Mitchell wrote that if you travel far enough, you will meet yourself.
What did he mean by that?
I suppose he wasn’t literally talking about miles, but about how you challenge yourself by discovering new things, and how that leads to acquiring new knowledge about oneself.
This is not how I understood travel when I was younger, though. Back then, traveling was a way to become closer to my friends or my partner, and, of course, have a great time. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I failed to see the deeper purpose of going on an adventure.
It’s not until I was older and buried deep in a pile of problems, lack of motivation, and utter absence of faith, hope, and self-awareness that I realized just how much stepping outside of my comfort zone can be the best thing I can do for myself.
So, if you’re wondering how solo traveling and purpose-finding go hand in hand, I’ll try to explain.
Leaving things behind
You wake up. You have coffee. You go to work. You go back home. You make lunch. You eat. You watch TV. Go to sleep. Do it all over again.
After some time, you have more in common with a robot than with an actual person. At least that’s what happened to me.
At some point in that period of my life, some friends invited me on a rafting trip. Instead of accepting that invite, I decided to take on my own adventure in Cuba because I needed some time alone with my thoughts. This gave me the chance to leave behind my habits and predictable life and some time for reflection and mindfulness.
The way I see it, traveling solo helps you observe and understand your internal impulses. You’re free from the stresses of daily life, and you’re now thinking about bigger, more meaningful ideas.
You can do more than you ever dreamed of
Before I started traveling alone, there were so many things I thought I can’t do. The items on my “cannot” list ranged from not being able to pack and organize my luggage efficiently to not being confident enough to speak a foreign language.
When you’re placed in new and challenging situations each minute and you don’t have anyone to help you or tell you what to do, you simply have to do it yourself. Believe it or not, there are not many things you cannot do when you need them to be done.
Love of the unknown, instead of fear of the unknown
People fear what they don’t know. How many times have we heard this? Embracing the adventure will help us face our fears and realize that we’re much braver than we originally thought.
Eating alone in a local diner might sound terrifying from this point of view, but the little things such as this one pave the road to self-acceptance and feeling comfortable in our own skin. “Bigger” steps like starting conversations with the locals in a foreign language will get us even further.
My Spanish has never been better, and I have never seen my insecurities clearer (you can’t battle something you don’t see). It’s a win-win.
The freedom of simply being
You can try Indian flatbread if you want to. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. You can smile if you feel like smiling. If you don’t, you don’t have to. It’s all about the freedom to be who you are at a place where you don’t have to pretend. You are alone with yourself, and you have the unlimited opportunities for self-observation and self-acceptance.
All of this might seem silly, but the truth is that most of us are subconsciously suppressing our inner personas to fit into the acceptable frames of society. When you are traveling alone, especially if you choose a distant country and culture, you can be free of those shackles.
The moment you know everything is changed, including you
The way I see it, on every journey, there is that one tangible moment when you are changed for the better. The first time for me was getting lost in a poor neighborhood in Havana. At first, I was scared. But then, I saw some kids playing soccer on the street and laughing. Their grandparents were standing in front of the house door, watching them.
The abuelita asked me, “de que pais” (from which country), and immediately we started talking. The old couple has seen and lived through the history of the world. They remember everything. And they shared that and their love story with me. The fact that they trusted me so much and that they were so kind and loving blew me away.
I’ve learned that I should put more faith in people, and I’ve realized that I have my own story to create. It became important to me to have something to tell one day.
The rest is history.