How Traveling Solo Turns Selfishness into Selflessness

By Re

As people, we are innately gluttonous for human interaction—touch, dialogue, validation, competition, all of it. We continue to innovate avenues of communication in an evermore hyper-connected, almost borderless world divided today only by native tongue. Inevitably so, we’re seldom alone.

Isolation in the truest sense of the word is coveted, but to actively seek detachment seems unusual—to want to be alone in a society where even selfies are deliberate manifestations of our thirst for public response, where blogs are broadcasted memoirs and where the epitome of Twitter negates all claims of oblivion.

To delete social media is one thing; to travel far and forlorn is another.

For me, it’s my medication and, at the same time, a cyclic, unabated addiction. I’m forever tempted by and homesick for places I’ve never been—usually no place in particular because I travel not to go somewhere, but to go.

We’re seldom alone. Isolation in the truest sense of the word is coveted.

Perhaps most of us are apprehensive about traveling unaccompanied because a significant minority of the news in our feeds is forbidding. We live in a world inundated with paranoia, in an age where terrorism is rife, insurgency is endemic and a spate of pandemic diseases claims lives. We’re reluctant to leave the cities of our comfort because we’re perpetually paralyzed by the “what if”—and because it’s easier to read about places to which we’ve never been and people with whom we’ve never engaged from afar. So we succumb to our fears and we don’t travel much, if ever alone.

I’m an extrovert. I’m a shameless blogger, an opinionated journalist, a loudmouthed podcaster. But I’ve always had an insatiable curiosity about the world that feeds my impetus to travel all alone. And, likewise, my travels whet an abiding curiosity. I first opted to go in 2012, when I left the States for, ironically, the second time. I’d spring break-ed in Mexico the year prior, though it wasn’t the journey I craved then, but rather the all-inclusive resort and limitless tequila. I’ve since danced in the Sahara Desert with nomadic drummers, shared meals in Southeast Asia with refuged sex workers whose names I never learned but stories I’ll never forget, sacrificed sheep in remote tribal villages of North Africa, protested at kissing rallies in the Middle East, hiked volcanoes of Central America and tangoed below the equator.

I used to tell myself that I should just go, with or without company, because if I rely on anyone else for my plans to come to fruition, I’ll take on their dilemmas as my own. And I never wanted to forgo an experience over an excuse that doesn’t belong to me.

I’ve always had an insatiable curiosity about the world that feeds my impetus to travel all alone. And, likewise, my travels whet an abiding curiosity.

But I’ve recently realized that that’s not the only reason I travel alone. Our responses to cultures and opportunities are too often molded and, consciously or subconsciously, tempered by the company we keep. I want to be unhindered by my friends’ fears or apprehensions, unconfined to their itineraries, unrestricted by their budgets. I want to see what I see, not what we plan to see. I want to do whatever happens not what we’ve agreed to schedule. I want to feel discomfort in a room congested with strangers. I want to learn their stories, indulge in flavors I’ve never tasted, practice religious customs I’ve never understood, dance to rhythms I’ve never heard.

I want to be selfish, and traveling gives me the liberty to be just that.

Because when you are selfish—when you learn about who you are, when you are responsible for yourself, trust your own instincts, discover your own strengths, limits, likes and dislikes, and reflect on those unencumbered by the unsolicited opinions of people to whom you almost always listen—only then can you grasp the people, places and ideologies foreign to you.

The truth is: When you travel on your own, having embraced those experiences, you come back home with new eyes; the places you’ve pinned become a part of you and that journey becomes immortal. You return with an understanding of yourself, an appreciation for what you have, a new respect for the things you learn you don’t have, and, because of it, you come back armed with both empathy and modesty.

So when I’d learned me, only then did I begin to understand others. Only then did I become selfless.

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