When I began telling people I was traveling alone (after the long “I’ll believe it when I see it” phase) the far reaching response was one of impression. A strange and undeserved reaction, as far as I was concerned.
For I wasn’t doing anything extraordinary. I wasn’t doing anything even remotely selfless. Yet I was being called brave by my friends. Being told I had “big brass balls” by my proud father. Dazzling the boy I sort of loved, and was leaving behind, with a sense of independence I consistently found myself questioning the legitimacy of.
The kind words seemed silly and ill fitting then. And now, when a gracious set of ears has fallen victim to my stories, it isn’t uncommon that the possessor of said ears expresses appreciation with a quiet rising of the eyebrows, as if awestruck by my brazenness. Each and every time I garner this undue acknowledgement, I begin to feel oddly like a fraud. Like I should craft some uniform and eloquent riposte to dole out to every person I’ve unintentionally deceived. One that makes it totally clear that I’ve done nothing remarkable. I may have been unafraid, but foolishly so. In fact, I cried four separate times because of momentary lonesomeness or because, like a child, all of my friends were together and I wasn’t there. And more than that, it wasn’t some massive leap to travel alone. I’m an awkward, closeted introvert that likes a to sit alone in my dimly lit room that smells always of incense, reading books and listening to too-loud music. I like to take long walks where I get to stop and marvel at the way the sun hits the buildings, or sip the same coffee on a park bench for 2 hours or enjoy a beer at a bar before noon with my headphones in. Solo travel seemed all too natural for this little lone wolf.
But the trouble is that as I reflexively resist the idea that I have done something “brave” or “ballsy,” I seem to be also resisting acknowledging that this massive trip may have had a hand in making some sort of change in me. I’ve come back after having some massively magnificent, life altering experiences. I’m filled with stories begging to be told. And yet I am completely unaware of how to talk about them with any semblance articulation.
“How was it?!” they ask.
“Awesome! So great. Thanks for asking!” I exclaim, nodding with enthusiasm, hoping they’ll quickly change the subject after they realize I am awkwardly unwilling or unable to elaborate.
I want to gush about how solo-travel changed me. I want to fill pages with all the ways that it made me stronger and proved my capability. And perhaps one day in the near or far future that blog too will come. But I haven’t even begun to process all the I did and all that I learned and until I do, I can’t really know what I’ve taken from it.
So instead I’ll ramble in a deprecating manner and share with you one small piece of wisdom I acquired on the trip that, by no means, came from me. One that was born in a Snapchat message from a woman I admire greatly. “How is it?!” she asked.
“Awesome! So great. Thanks for asking!”
“How is traveling solo going?” She pressed on.
I began to tell her how happy I was. How, in a lot of ways, I was more comfortable than I had ever been traveling with others. I could do everything on my own terms, on my own timeline. “I still have my moments though,” I told her. “I’m adjusting to being alone all the time. Sometimes it’s a bummer. Especially coming from Florence.” She knew what I meant, having lived amongst the same beautiful community as me for some time. A community in which you were never really alone, spending every evening in a livingroom-like bar with friends that had turned to family.
Knowing my motives for solo travel and sensing that I was a little disappointed in myself for not being instantly cool with total aloneness, she said the perfect thing.
“Just because you’re comfortable being alone doesn’t mean you have to be comfortable everywhere, in every circumstance.”
Upon hearing this simple reminder, I instantly felt lighter. As if she were giving me permission to be human. To not be the perfect, always peppy, solo traveler my Instagram might suggest I am. Not only was I allowed to be uncomfortable. I was supposed to be uncomfortable. Because that’s when the good stuff happens. That’s where the change is set in motion.