I have done a lot of solo traveling in my lifetime. A review of just the past couple years would include multiple road trips across the United States, several solo river expeditions, and unaccompanied weeks in Mexico. There have also been numerous backpacking trips, and countless day hikes, trail runs, and even wanderings through major metropolitan areas. I’ve gone days and weeks at a time without speaking to another human being (or even myself, BTW—in spite of all the isolation I haven’t yet picked up that habit). Why? Often because I wanted to be alone for a while. I enjoy solitude and my own company. Equally often, however, because words and intentions so seldom imply determined action on the part of the speaker. Expectations often lead to disappointment, especially when it comes to the actions, or more often inactions of others.
People, in my experience, are in the habit of making plans with little aim to follow through with them, not intentionally, but because a majority really wish they were the type of people that would see those plans to fruition. They want to imagine themselves to be adventurous spontaneous individuals that would pack a bag at short notice and head to another country for a couple of weeks, or into the wilderness, or even on a bike ride the following day—but truthfully it’s a little much to live up to when the time comes to execute. One of my favorite quotes, for years, has been: ‘If you want something, you better be willing to go it alone, because if you wait for other people, you’ll be waiting your whole life’ (Bob Burnquist).
Because of this socially accepted predilection for flaky behavior, I find it difficult to relate to a lot of people. I will still be friends with someone that stands me up, but with a better understanding of both relationship and individual. I give everyone a chance, but when it comes to making plans to do things it’s generally a one-strike rule these days. No follow through, no future attempts. I’ve always had the mindset that I’m going to do what I say I’m going to do (Word is Bond!) and expect the same from others, largely to disillusionment, though not nearly to the severity of earlier years. I’m somewhat inured to it all these days. Not cynical at all, simply experienced enough to know better.
For this reason, I’ve always valued having one person upon whom I could count to do exactly as they said they were going to do. No matter what. Someone to trust, and yes, someone to travel with and share life with. Someone to take care of, and make smile, and do nice things for. Someone I knew would always be down for most adventures, and appreciative of united experience. I treasure having this in my life. Every now and again, however, we have to be this person for ourselves.
Intrinsically, I realize the happiness of one person should never rely completely on another person (a reason in itself to figure out how to create your own contentment). We are all ever changing and adapting and morphing—our emotions, thoughts, attitudes, corporal structures, etc. But it’s hard sometimes not to desire that one someone in your life, no matter how stable one might be as an individual. Especially with all the talkers and duffers in the world. It’s nice to hang out with other people. It’s fun to travel around with that special someone, or even a group of them. We all know this. I don’t need to elaborate on the rewards of shared experience, or compile the practical benefits of having someone else around. I’m sure most of us would agree that being with another is generally preferable to being without. But not always.
Sometimes it’s just really nice to be by yourself. Other times, as alluded to earlier, decisions are not ours alone to make, they are made on our behalf and in some cases without our consent. In these instances we are commonly forced to choose between doing something or not doing something. Missing opportunities or extracting their potential. Living our dreams or living in a box. Whatever the case, voluntary or otherwise, sometimes we find ourselves exploring the infinite abyss single-handedly. Either accidentally or intentionally we find ourselves on unaccompanied sojourn. The best way to go about it then, is to identify the positives and proceed with intention.
If you do not take the time to spend time with yourself, or have never spent time with yourself, I highly recommend it. Start with a couple of hours and work your way up to a couple of days. Anywhere outside is my preference, but anywhere you’re comfortable (or perhaps just a little uncomfortable) works fine too.
Everyone needs some time alone. A little time to get to know themselves. Time to sit in silence, to be with their thoughts, to move about unrestrained by the needs or expectations of others. Time away from technology. Time away from daily distractions and the constraints of responsibilities and concerns. Time to learn. Time to relax, revisit, retrain, rethink, reset, reaffirm. To think. To not think. To be active or inactive. To be whatever we want to be, or to determine what it is that we want to be, and move forward from there.
Being alone lets one discover who they are without all the things. Without all the other people. Without the perceived judgments, the reputations to uphold. Who might you be in a void? In a crisis? In a hotel room alone with all the electronics shut off? On top of a mountain in the sunshine? Inside a tent in the middle of the night with lightning flashing directly above and rolling thunder shaking the ground around you? Are you happy with that person? Is there work to be done? Being alone lets one examine all sorts of emotions, from loneliness and fear (perhaps even existential anxiety, woo hoo), to joy and exuberance and maybe even enlightenment. This self-knowing proves to be the most important aspect of both creating and embracing opportunities to experience the world on an individual basis.
But there can be auxiliary advantages as well. Mainly, the freedom. The doing whatever you want whenever you want. The not having to be concerned for anyone’s needs but your own. The choice to take care of your needs or not. The absence of conflicting opinions and desires. The never having to ask someone else for permission or approval. The never having to discuss or debate the desirability of activities, eating options, lodging, camping locations, side hikes, or anything else. The never having to wait, and never having others waiting for you. It’s your own pace, your own day, your own trip, your own life. You either appreciate it or you don’t. You can hike 3 miles or 30 miles. You can skip lunch and keep going, or never get going in the first place. Sleep late, get up early, stay out all night. No one cares but you. You will never have to listen to whining, complaining, criticizing, or common sense. In this life, you are your only limitation. Be open then, at least on occasion, to going it alone.