Five Hundred Words a Day: Solo Travel

Someone asked “How do you find solo travel?”. My first extended trip away was in 2014; I took a sabbatical from work for two months and travelled to Japan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Australia. Perhaps it was a little ambitious to visit so many places in eight weeks, but the jam-packed-ness helped me adjust to being away from home, being alone and being alien very quickly. Since then I have travelled alone for weekends away – to Hebden Bridge, to Knaresborough – and last year spent two weeks roaming Cornwall, Glastonbury and Wales. This latest trip saw me spend a week or so alone, in New Orleans.

What did I find doing these solo trips? I found myself. Without a doubt, travelling alone is an experience by which you learn about yourself – every facet of yourself. Would you like to know how you survive with no framework, no language, no friends, no family, no safety net to catch you and your socially-constructed identity? Then travel alone. Would you like to make friends with people you know for just one night, spend your time without compromise, gaze at scenery with only your mind for company and have a deep conversation with yourself, finally, which the rest of the time you never have because it’s so fucking noisy? Then travel alone.

Many of the places I’ve been to, I can’t speak the language (or my English accent is so indecipherable I may as well be speaking in tongues). Travelling alone is travelling, often, in silence. With silence comes the time for thought, reflection and the creeping realisation you do not need to speak to be heard, or to know yourself. When I returned from my two-month trip, I struggled to speak (and listen) to my then-boyfriend who picked me up from the airport. I didn’t have the words; no, more accurately, I didn’t need the words. I had spent so long listening, and listening hard, to other people who were trying to help me in faltering English, to the peace that comes with isolation, to bird song and the wind in the trees and a thousand motorbike horns honking and the washing of foreign waters on the side of our boat and the crying of market traders and the soft hustling of my pen, the idea of talking was violently unnecessary.

Our barriers to travelling alone are fears. They are fears of safety, of boredom, of being alone. But here it is: once you can be alone, and be an alien, you can do anything. I came back from my sabbatical with a transformed view of my own abilities. I changed my life based on my travel experience, and not because it was travel and look-don’t-they-live-differently but because look, can’t I live differently, now I know I can do this thing. There is a resolution of self that comes with solo travel: the seed-heart growing inside you suddenly understands what it is to be an oak tree.

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