Travel, in itself, induces self reflection.  It is a time when the pressures from our daily lives fade slowly with each passing mile and every moment is
insightful.

While having someone to share these thoughts and experiences with has a benefit all its own, traveling alone can offer you a deeper dive into the subconscious, and heartier insight into the surroundings.

Here are some of the pros and cons from my experiences traveling solo.

PROS:

  1. PERSPECTIVE

On my most recent trip, I took a 23 hour drive straight from St. Louis to the Florida Keys.  Twenty Three hours of driving can sound a little harrowing, but there is something ethereal about being with your own thoughts for that extended a period of time.  A bonding with self, and the immediate moments in time.

I started with the normal thoughts.  Did I get all of the pertinent tasks completed before I left?  Did I pack appropriately?  What are the first things I want to do when I reach my destination?

All of the thoughts tied to the go go go mentality.
IMG_9714By hour 5 my thoughts began to shift to my surroundings.  I was watching the trees go from bare to green.  The snow was melting and the landscape was developing curves, where straightaways had once been. The soil was changing from grey to brown to red. It was as though the world around me was whipping past as I sat perfectly still.  The car was not moving, the world was. Surreal and calming.

I started to feel in tune with everything.  My brain was lifted from a haze to acute awareness.  Everything was new yet familiar.  I began wondering about the lives in the passing cars, the perspectives of the store clerks and the history behind each plot of land. I felt like an audience member watching a movie, called life, through eyes that no longer belonged to me. I was plunged into a pool of insight and serenity by removing my place in the setting and focusing on the world just as it was.

This is something that cannot be accomplished when you are accompanied.  While it is great to have someone to talk to, you are reminded of yourself just by another’s knowledge of you.

Sometimes you have to lose your sense of self to really see yourself.

  1.  FLEXIBLE ITINERARY

Even when exploring with a like minded travel partner you are not always going to agree on what to do.  You may want to hit a museum or state park while they want to find the best dive bar.  While you can always agree to meet up later there is still a responsibility to take the other into consideration when planning your itinerary.

When you are solo you can truly fly by the seat of your pants.  Say you are driving and you see a grouping of eclectic handpainted signs_MG_9707 and you want to see what the area has to offer.  You can stop immediately without a second thought.  From there you meet a group of local musicians who are scheduled to play two blocks down.  You can walk there without guilt that your partner does not like the style of music or they had their heart set on visiting the local farmers market before they closed.

If you are tired you can sleep in.  If you want to keep driving it is your decision. No obligations, no responsibilities.

  1. FINDING NEW FRIENDS

Humans are social creatures.  We thrive off of connecting with other individuals and gain knowledge from these connections.  That is why when you are solo, chances are more likely for you to strike up a conversation with a total stranger.

You can only stay stuck in your head for so long. Once your brain has sufficiently been deprived of human interaction shyness will eventually succomb to curiousity.

You will be able to hear the conversations going on around you and will feel less socially awkward inviting yourself in to them.  If they are rude or offput by your personality, what does it matter?  It is not likely that you will see them again. No one you know was there to see you make an ass out of yourself.
On the other hand, the potential gains of getting to know people in a new area are boundless.  They can help you find the best place to eat, the areas to avoid, and local events happening during your stay.

This also forwards you the opportunity to be invited into their circle.  Further meeting new people and learning about the lives and thoughts of individuals in a different area.  You may even make good enough friends to save you on hotel costs the next time you are traveling there.  It is about immersing yourself in a local culture, which can broaden your understanding of different ways of life.

Not saying that this does not happen when you are traveling with someone else.  You are just less likely to take that first step.

CONS:

  1.  SHARING THE EXPERIENCE

Just as Christopher McCandless, from Into the Wild, stated “Happiness [is] only real when shared”. While I don’t 100% agree with this quote, there is some truth to it.  It is not always about the path we take, but the experiences we have along the way. Even with compromise required there is something Displaying 20121105_175204.jpgto be said about sharing an understanding glance or smile at sunset.

Also, there is a bond formed with travel partners that can’t be broken.  A bond formed through mutual experiences. Experiences that can’t be properly described or relived to anyone who was not there.  You can sharein inside jokes and memories of being lost and out of money as you laugh, at a once detrimental event. You can speak about the awe inspiring power of the landscape, and how it affected you individually.

This shared experience is better than photographs as it allows you to mentally transport back to that space in time, through the combining of linked memories. Something that is impossible without that association.

  1. IT IS DANGEROUS TO TRAVEL ALONE (ESPECIALLY FOR A WOMAN)

Some call it naivete and others call it courageous, but I have never been fearful traveling alone.  I think it may be a combination of the two that has allowed me to travel across country, many of the times in the middle of the night, without being afraid of what awaits me when I get out of the car.

This is not always the best way to be.  There are many real dangers that lay in wait for a lone traveler, especially a woman, if you are not careful and perceptive of your surroundings.  You never know when you are about to run out of gas and pull over to the next available exit, and it ends up being a Stockton or East St. Louis.  You have to be intelligent.  Stop at well lit areas and plan ahead to avoid rest stops at 2:00am.  Also ask a lot of questions and let your common sense guide you in your excursions.  You cannot plan for everything and should not let fear overtake your the experience, but also don’t go into the trip thinking you are bulletproof and impervious to bad encounters.

  1. NO….SERIOUSLY IT IS DANGEROUS TO TRAVEL ALONE

There are a lot of things that you do not think about or factor in when planning a trip.  What if you get bit by a rattlesnake?  What if your car breaks down on the side of the road? What if you are 1,000 miles from home and get into a serious crash or arrested?  Can you really plan for these kinds of events?

car crash

You can’t, but what you can do is let family and friends know where you are going.  Provide them with regular check in times, and updates on your location. That way someone somewhere knows if something is not right and where to start looking.  Again, this is something that I may not be the best at but let’s just say I have been lucky so far.

That all being said, traveling alone is a notable experience that I prefer over all other types of travel.  The strength and sense of self obtained will carry with you and begin to make up a special portion of your character.  A portion that you may or may  not share with the outside world.  You can meet new friends and enjoy what it means to feel totally free.  Even if it may seem intimidating, the benefits of traveling solo will resonate in everything you do.  So step out of your comfort zone and allow yourself to feel something that is uniquely you.

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