On Taking the Plunge and doing it Alone

Trip Start Jan 05, 2011
Trip End Jan 05, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Massachusetts
Monday, September 20, 2010

A few days ago, a dear friend of mine who had planned to undertake this journey with me had to opt out. It's a sad thing. We were ready to travel the world together, speak our own personal language by the time we got back and have memories to share for the rest of our lives. Now she will have to remain in the US as I set out, and that changes a lot of things.

When she first told me was pretty calm about it. I had a feeling it was about to happen and had already worked out a contingency plan if my intuition proved right. I was therefore able to respond with a smile and a promise that one day when it worked for both of us, we would have an epic adventure, no matter how long it took to get there.

Now about a week has passed and I’ve had the following conversation about fifteen times:

Person: You’re traveling the world for a whole year?

Me: Yes.

Person: Alone?

Me: Yes.

Person: at nineteen?

Me: Yes.

Person: You must be really brave/stupid/insane/any-combination-thereof.

No one seems to fully approve of a young woman traveling on her own to countries where she has never been before (except those who have done so).  It’s understandable; the world is, after all, a safer place with two sets of eyes and someone to watch your back. That’s why I wanted to travel as a pair in the first place. But life is almost never what you expect or hope for, and I’ve got to view this change in The Plan, as an opportunity.

An opportunity for loneliness.

Being alone is such a foreign concept to most of us. Family, friends and the community around us are an integral part of our identity, or at least mine. I have always had a very close family and friends that complete me; I have either been dating or been breaking-up/meeting someone since the middle of High School, have never taken a break from the scholastic environment and community and have yet to spend any considerable amount of time without my online group of friends as well. I am a social person to the core, but I also love being alone. As a writer I have to, or I would go crazy.

But being alone for a few hours or days to write is different from voluntarily choosing a year in which I will estrange myself almost completely from my community and head off into the unknown.

I will have to deal with a new kind of loneliness, and I have the feeling learning to live with myself is going to be the most profound lesson I will take away form this trip. I’ll probably be at my best and worst and will have only myself to count on in both instances. It’s an interesting thing to ponder sitting in my comfy room in NoHo with my roommates next-door and friends only a bus ride/phone call away. Honestly, I can’t quite fully wrap my mind around it yet.

I know that the realities of traveling as a backpacker, spending most nights in hostels and couchsurfing will mean meeting lots of new people everywhere I go -as I’ve said before, I am a social person at heart- but I’ll also be in constant motion, and any friendships that might form, while possibly very intense due to the shared realities of travel, will not be long-lasting. Instead of returning from a year on the road with a friendship deeply forged, I will be returning with an address book full of people I may or may not ever talk to again.

None of this detracts from my desire to go, and I can’t say it even scares me, but it gets me thinking and really questioning my perceptions both of myself and of the world around me. I am part of the larger human community, but within that I am also an individual and balancing those two unconditional parts of the whole can feel daunting at times like these. I know I will get though just fine, and I’ll probably return much more aware of the person I really am, but standing on the edge of the chasm, ready to take the plunge, I’m already beginning to feel lonely.
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