The Misnomer of Traveling Alone

IMG_1457Over the past week or so, I’ve been much more on my own in my travels.  Just about as quickly as posted about engagement vs. consumption in travel, and the importance of making personal connections in the places I’ve gone, I visited two cities in which I had exactly zero deep-level engagements.  I actually had a few leads in these places, but unfortunately, none of them worked out.

Anyway, almost from the beginning of this trip, I’ve been kicking around writing a post about the ups and downs of traveling alone.  Fortunately, because of the number of new friends I’ve made along the way, I haven’t been truly alone very often.  However, this definitely is an “alone” trip in many ways, so here are a few quick thoughts (I’m not even going to attempt an exhaustive list).

Five “ups” of traveling alone:

–  I’ve been able to be enormously self-centered at times.  When I don’t have meetings set up, I can go where I want, when I want, and don’t have anyone’s agenda but my own to worry about.  Given that I am human, indulging this kind of control is enjoyable (hopefully not too much so).

–  I’ve been able to save a good bit of money over traveling with anyone else.  Depending on how you look at it, I either have “simple tastes” or “low standards” when it comes to things like hotels and food.  I’ve stayed in some very comfortable places and spent $20-$30 on a dinner here and there, but for the most part, I go on the cheap.  I’ve stayed in a couple places on this trip that I wouldn’t dare inflict on anyone else, but I’m willing to do it for myself.

– Having only one person to deal with makes everything more flexible.  It just does.

–  Traveling alone forces me into a higher-level sort of problem solving.  Whether it’s figuring out local transportation or booking flights, having to do everything on my own has taught me some lessons in decision-making.  I can be notoriously indecisive at times, so this is pretty challenging to me, but I’ve had some good results and gotten a lot better at this.

–  Reflective thinking.  Having more time alone means having more time to journal, meditate, pray, and think about the big-picture stuff of life.  I actually have done as much of this as I thought I might when I started – things have been busy.  But I’ve gotten a good bit of personal, inner work done so far.

Five “downs” of traveling alone:

–  I think too much.  I know, I just listed this as an “up.”  Thinking and overthinking is just part of my world wherever I am, so being in places where I’m even more isolated from friends and family means more of the same.

– Connected to thinking too much is not having someone else to listen to.  I know what I’m thinking about when I experience something new, but I also know that I’m not seeing and hearing everything, and having another person there to make observations, ask questions, and engaging deeper questions about culture and values.

– I’m not laughing enough.  I’m having a lot of fun, and doing some really great things, but I’ve never been the type to laugh alone.

–  Having a nice dinner in a great global city, and looking across the table at an empty chair feels pretty pathetic sometimes.  I usually end up pulling out my smart phone and reading the news or something.

– I’m not remembering as much as I’d like about this whole experience.  No matter how many pictures or videos I take of a place, or how many blog posts I write, I’m just not going to be able to retain it all.  Having someone else around to experience things with would be a great help in the future, when I find myself wanting to relive the experiences.

In closing, I just want to plainly state something that keeps me going as I “travel alone.”  I really haven’t been thinking of this trip in that way.  When I started talking about this crazy idea, I had so many friends say something like, “Wow, that’s my dream trip!”  I know that’s true for many folks who have followed my adventures.  Sadly, for a lot of you, the “dream” will likely forever be just that.  Most people either don’t have the opportunities to do what I’m doing, or they have other competing priorities that make this kind of thing impractical.  So, in many ways, I feel as though my friends, family, and readers of the blog are living a little bit vicariously through my experiences.  So, I really don’t feel like I’m alone – I’ve got all you good folks with me!  There are places I’ve visited, not because I thought they’d be super-awesome, but because I know someone somewhere who would think they’d be super-awesome, and I’ve wanted to come back and show them the pictures, and tell them the stories.  Turns out, I’ve enjoyed those places quite a bit, and am glad to have had my travel companions with me in spirit.

So, as I travel “alone” – especially at Christmas time, which is supposed to be about spending good time with people you care about – I’d like to thank you for joining me on this journey.  It’s been fun to have you along.

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P.S. This is one of many Christmas displays I found in a surprising (for me) place: the Bahrain airport.  Full-on Muslim country, full on Christmas (Capitalistic?) spirit.

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  1. Thanks for being so vulnerable in this post. You totally made it make sense. Keep sharing. I have to admit that these are my favorite kinds of posts because some of the other stuff goes over my head. Eric would totally understand it all. 🙂 Merry Christmas to you, Steve, from Eric and Kim

  2. As much as I love being alone, travelling alone would be tough for me, I don’t know how you do it mate. We’re following along, praying and cheering you on.

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