In the span of the last 8 months I have spent almost six weeks entirely alone. I think back to my 20-year-old self, or honestly even a few years back, and I would have looked at that amount of alone time as not only unappealing, but terrifying. The older I get, though, and the more time I spend with myself, the more I truly enjoy and crave this individual time.
When I talked to friends about traveling alone, I was surprised by how many people asked, “well that means you’re going to eat alone,” with worry and anguish in their eyes. It was strange to me that I heard that from several people, and it made me a bit pessimistic about life in a weird way. I feel like we are living in a society that has painted a negative portrait of being alone. Whether it be alone without a significant other, without a family, or simply without a partner sitting down at the table. Though I do think life is better when shared with others, I also think there is something really sincere and empowering about feeling okay to be alone. I’m a little disheartened that I live in a generation that looks at dining alone as a negative experience. Or at the very least, they view it through a lens of discomfort or anxiety. Before I was a teacher I worked for years as a waitress. In all of those years I can remember very few instances where people were eating alone. I do remember one woman, though, who would frequently come in and eat, maybe read, but mostly just take in the world. To be honest I can’t remember what my thoughts were about her, but the mere fact that I can remember her leads me to believe that I may have thought it was strange, or maybe even a little sad, that she was always alone. The older I get the more I respect and admire people who go against what society expects them to do or be.
I feel like within the last few years, but more so even the last several months, I’ve been learning a lot about myself and the world around me. I think there are a number of experiences and people that I can attribute these changes to, but I also think that the time I have spent alone has been huge in the development of who I am as a person, and who I am growing into with each passing day.
As someone who used to always want to be surrounded by people, these are some things that I have realized are so important and beautiful about spending time alone. Since I have been doing a fair amount of traveling alone recently, many of these things are geared towards traveling solo. However, I think they can be applied to just taking the world on as an individual as well.
When you’re alone, you can only rely on yourself. Okay, this seems like a bit of a no-brainer, but to me it runs deeper than that. When I travel alone, I have no one else to fall back on when things go wrong. I have no one to celebrate with when things go right. There are times where this is incredibly lonely, but there are even more moments that are strengthening. I’m about to sound a little pessimistic here, but know that I mean the following in an optimistic way. In life, people will let you down. In all honesty, life itself very well might let you down. It’s unfortunate but it is a reality that cannot be changed nor escaped. The only thing that you truly can count on is who you are, and knowing and loving that person. Don’t get me wrong, I know many people in life won’t let you down 🙂 However, I feel like with each passing year, month, even day, I feel stronger in who I am, outside of anyone or anything, and it’s a delightfully freeing revelation. I think it would be an unfortunate thing to only have to rely on yourself, and that’s not what I’m advocating. But instead to be comfortable enough in your own skin to be okay if the world around you gets shakey or crumbles a little.
You open yourself up to new experiences, people, and opportunities. When you are around others, whether it be traveling or in your daily lives, you may seem unapproachable to outsiders. When I’m alone I think I’m viewed as much more approachable. People want to know about you, they want to know your story, they want to make some kind of human interaction that often is lost when in a group of people. In this year alone I have met some of the most beautiful people that in all honesty I don’t think I would have met had I been with others. Additionally, when you’re with another person, it’s necessary to compromise on what you want to do on a daily basis because that’s what decent human beings do. However, when you’re alone, you are the architect of your own destiny. Okay, I’m getting a bit hyperbolic there, let’s scale it back a tad 🙂 I do believe that there is something very liberating about deciding when you want to wake up, when and where you want to eat, what you want to do, who you want to talk to, or how many hours you want to go without uttering a single word. It’s a freedom that I think we should all take advantage of, but one that I think few people actually do.
Developing your inner voice. Honestly, this was the biggest one for me. When I’m alone, when I’m not talking (I know… it’s hard to believe that happens), or listening, or socializing, I can actually think. We live in an age where we are so attached to our phones and technologies. I myself am probably the biggest culprit of this, and I’m well aware that this is a big flaw in who I am. Often when I’m traveling I don’t have cell reception, so I’m unplugged from the outside world. I realized that for many people, whenever we have to wait for something, whether it be in a line, at an appointment, or until your coffee order has been called out, we immediately go to our phones to fill up that time. I can’t speak for everyone, but I use my phone to fill up the time where really I should just be thinking and contemplating life. On my trips alone I would walk around for hours and hours listening to music and just thinking. I’ve been taking more time to figure out who my inner voice is and what she’s all about. It’s actually kind of a fun and interesting experience and one that I’m eternally grateful that I’ve taken the time to do.
The takeaway. I understand that not everyone has the ability or opportunity to take a trip alone, but I do think it’s something you should consider. At the very least, give yourself a weekend away somewhere alone and unplugged. And if you ever see those people eating alone, please don’t look at them with an ounce of negativity, but instead with support and positivity. If you’re feeling gutsy enough, take yourself out to a nice dinner. It’s a good experience that I think everyone should prove to themselves that they can do 🙂