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Some Realities of Long-Term Solo Travel

It wasn’t so long ago that I was the reader, not the writer, of travel stories.

Looking back. Looking forward.

Looking back. Looking forward.

At home, tired from a stressful day of work and scanning the pages of my favorite travel blogs, I was looking for the inspiration to carry on for another day, another week, another month and another year until it was my turn.  Someday…

I imagined what life would be like when I was a full-time traveler.

In these mental journeys I was the star in a non-stop adventure, sitting in sun-soaked ancient plazas, wandering unknown streets, having wild romances with handsome and mysterious characters, swinging in hammocks and being transported to exotic locals by bus, train, boat, dog sled and camel.  These thoughts gave my skin a tingle of exhilaration.

And here I am now, in my tenth month of traveling, and in fact sitting in a sun-soaked plaza.  In beautiful Chania, I’ve had time to reflect on my situation.  And I want to share some revelations I’ve had about what long-term solo travel really means.

Solo travel is sometimes lonely.

Solo anything is sometimes lonely.  At my age, I am not immediately accepted by young backpackers, nor am I an obvious member of the traveling retiree set.  Making inroads is sometimes a challenge.  Fortunately for me, I like my own company and entertain myself easily.  But like any modern monkey, I occasionally need to socialize and unless the universe intervenes in a spectacular way such as it did on the Camino or in South Korea or with Max and Hans, I am forced to push through my shyness in order to meet people.  Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.  And when it doesn’t, I am alone, which honestly is most of the time.  Sometimes there is a melancholy sweetness to this, and sometimes not.  Which leads me to the next revelation…

It all depends on me.

Never before have I so completely understood that my destiny is in my hands.   It’s been true all along, but I did not see it.  Who wants to really?  Complete responsibility is a scary proposition.  At home, it was so easy for me to unconsciously blame my lot (good or bad) on my boss, my partner, my upbringing, my money situation, my height, my sex, you name it.  Traveling solo makes these excuses far less accessible.

Now, I build my castles or dig my pits every day anew.  Every single day is my own creation.  I see now that I am responsible for my everyday experience in this life.  This revelation, which has only broken through because there is nobody around to blame, is at once a true liberation and a heavy load.

If I am not happy, there are no fingers to point!  If I am hungry (physically, mentally, spiritually), there is only me to fix that.  If my body doesn’t feel good, I must be my own doctor, nurse and dietician.  Last night I was a podiatrist.  Tomorrow, I might be an accountant or a therapist.

Conversely, If I am having a perfect day, I can relish and roll in that like a pig in slop.  “Look where I am!” I think to myself.  “Look what I’ve done!”  I create my reality.  The pleasant and the not so pleasant.

My point is that the buck stops with me.  This is a position of power that I have always had.  We all have it.  But until I started traveling alone, I never fully realized or claimed it.  Now I know that I alone determine the quality of my life.  It’s up to me.

It’s not always exciting.  In fact, it’s sometimes boring.

Surprise, surprise!  In between the highlights of my travels, there is a lot of mundane.  Yes, I’m in an exotic location, but my laundry still has to get done, bills still have to be paid, relationships still have to be nurtured and maintained, emails answered, my stomach filled, my body cleaned and plans for my next destination made.

Sometimes, I don’t leave the confines of my room all day or the most exciting thing I do is go to the grocery store!

I have discovered that constant travel is tiring – arriving in a new place every few days as I did last year does not work for me.  The logistics involved in moving around so fast take up half the time: “How do I get there?  Where will I stay?  What do I do once there?”  And then upon arrival a good portion of time is spent figuring out how to maintain life i.e. where to get food, how to get money from baffling ATM machines, and how to get around.

I have discovered that traveling slowly is the key.  With travel, less really is more.  And less sometimes means a day in bed.

It’s not all carefree fun.

The path is not always so clear.

The path is not always so clear.

There is always the matter of “What next?”, a question that is as nagging as a sore tooth.

My life until this point was always calculated.  Admittedly, my equations were often contorted and lengthy but in the end they summed up.  There was a reason to my rhyme.  I had an answer.

Now, by my own choosing, I am in an abyss filled only with faith – an ocean without a shore in sight.  Like a bottle on a rough sea I do not know where I will land.

And that is sometimes terrifying.

I can soothe this sore, nagging question from time to time but like an ingrown toenail, it keeps coming back.

The fear is most often aroused by people I meet who ask me appropriate and innocent questions: “How long are you going to do this?” “When are you going home?” “Do you have a job at home?”

Each time I explain that I have no home, that I left my job and got rid of nearly all my belongings to pursue my dream, a lump of fear builds in my throat.  I perceive worry in their eyes.  I wonder if I have gone crazy but never got the memo.  Really.  I wonder.

Ten months ago, I flung myself off a cliff on faith that chasing my dream would lead me down a path that resulted in greater life satisfaction and a more defined sense of purpose.

I am in the story at the moment and so the big picture is not clear.  But on the metaphorical branches of my life, which were dormant for many years, I now see blossoms where fruit might grow.  With sun and rain and more nurturing, I wait for a ripening.  I wait for answers but live in the now.

This is often not a comfortable place to be!  Some days, fear gets the best of me and all I see is a bank account that gets smaller, a body that grows older, and a set of career skills that only grow more obsolete.  And I worry: “What will become of me?”

Just like most people, I am sometimes flailing.  That’s life no matter where you are.  That can’t be escaped by travel, only by growth.  And with growth comes more flailing, and so on and so on.

For now, I continue to do what I love.  Writing this blog is one of those things.

It’s awesome and I wouldn’t change a thing.

After ten months, and eight countries, do I still like what I’m doing?  Yes.  I love it.

Traveling has taught me so much about the world and more about myself.  Flinging myself off the cliff had to be done.  I was living a passion-less life and that is not a life.  Life is too short to carry on without passion.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. – Helen Keller

I’ll take the daring adventure any day.  How about you?

 

16 Comments

  1. So beautifully stated, Laura. Loving reading about your solo travels as a woman & about your Camino journey. Can’t wait to read more of your blog.

    • Thanks Lois for reading and commenting. I appreciate that!

  2. We saw each other across the Taverna back in June this year in Agia Roumeli. Today I discovered your blog and now we know more about the creator of those beautiful chalk boards at Roussios Taverna.
    I suppose we could be described as belonging to your group “retired travelers” but Roumeli is, for us, a very special place on Earth. Many “travelers” discover the magic of the simple life camped at the river (when it flows). We,…..at the time a heartbroken Scot and a beautiful creative Austrian girl, met here and rediscovered life together. Our physical journey is now confined to a few months per year in our beloved Agia Roumeli but, as your insight demonstrates, the magnetism of this paradise is largely a spiritual journey where the unique combinations of this area produce a euphoric and creative environment for alternative thinkers.
    Thank you, Laura, for your well-written blogs which bring back so many memories to us and others. We hope to drink a tsykoudia this Fall with Hans and, no doubt, you will form one of the iammases probably also with Roussios and other old friends. Hope to meet you one day!!!!

    BOB & SIGRID

    • Wow! Bob and Sigrid! Yes, I remember our lovely night at Rousio’s while we all got a bit in the cups! I am hoping to return in October or November but life has been funny lately, with a new romance for me it’s unclear where my road will go next. Please give Hans my best if you see him and I look forward to a reunion in Agia Roumeli in the not so distant future! Best to you both!

  3. You are an inspiration. Really. Thank you for this honest post, I can certainly relate as a solo traveler myself. What I love about your blog is that you show that it’s possible for anyone to start following their dreams. Kudos to you for not making excuses and taking responsibility for you happiness. xo

    • Thanks so much for reading and for your very kind comment Camille! I’m excited to discover your site – so much excellent writing and such beautiful photos too.
      I appreciate your thoughts and am grateful if that message gets across. 🙂

  4. Whenever I discuss the downsides of travel with people back home, inevitably at least one person says something like, We’d all love to be in your shoes, traveling around the world for a year, so quit complaining. The truth is, life doesn’t stop when you get on the road. You’re still you and you still experience downs in addition to ups, like you would had you stayed put. It takes hard work to even get to the blossoms stage, not to mention to turn them into fruit!

    • This is true Peter. I think many people imagine that my life is like a long vacation, without cares. But long-term travel is a different animal entirely from a vacation. It took a lot of work to get in the position where I could take this time. It took a lot of work to extricate myself from “normal” life with all it’s trappings, and it’s still a lot of work to try to build a new career, adjust to new surroundings all the time, and plan all the logistics of traveling. It’s not a complaint at all – just a reality. I’m usually quite happy with my new lifestyle but it is not without it’s difficulties. Thanks for relating.

  5. AHHH so jealous!! I wish I could so this I am going to start small, your so brave! I agree it can be lonely I traveled alone for 3 weeks but it’s worth it. I will be doing the camino in May and your blog inspires me so much, so thank you!

    • Thanks so much for reading Aileen! You are going to love the Camino. And you won’t be alone on the Camino unless you want to be – very easy to make friends and such an incredible experience. If you have any Camino or travel questions, be sure to consider me a resource – would love to help.

    • Aileen, how inspiring is Laura huh. Im also doing the camino in May, my first ever solo adventure. Maybe we will walk on the road together one day, thats the great thing about life, you just never know whats around the corner and what, or who is going to be waiting for us.
      Happy Camino

      • That’s so true Angie. I promise you, stay open and the Camino is full of wonderful surprises. Buen Camino!

  6. I found this a very interesting reflection. Thanks for writing it.

  7. That’s awesome that you’re doing what you love and living your dream. I think what’s often unsaid is that doing just that can be scary and rife with its own problems. Regardless what you do, life is never going to be all ponies and rainbows. And that’s okay, because those little problems help you grow.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Deia. Nope! Not all ponies and rainbows, but good nonetheless! BTW, I’m enjoying your blog and will be a regular reader.

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