A book I recently read called “Wild : from lost to found”, by Cheryl Strayed made me ponder on the healing process a person goes through when they take the plunge of solo traveling . In this real life story, 26 yr old Cheryl embarks on a hiking journey of 1100 miles after she loses everything which made her who she was . Just when she thought she couldn’t take it anymore , she decided to commence a journey of redemption and resumption by hiking 1100 miles on the Pacific Trail Crest , a wilderness spanning from Mexico to Canada over nine mountain ranges. She accomplished this odyssey in 96 days and she did it alone. When the journey was over, she was able to forgive herself, forgive others and was ready to begin a new chapter in her life. Such solo journeys are nothing new, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love”, set out on a journey for a year comprising four months in Italy, four months in India, and four months in Bali after she lost everything in her life following a bitter divorce . Both books are true stories of loss and forgiveness, surrender and renewal and finding one’s “true self “and starting all over again.
It does seem that solo travel benefits a person when they think they need time to reflect and sort out things in their life. Travelling alone probably gives enough time to think about who you are and what you want to be and help to see things ‘as they really are’ thus slowly takes the person through a process of healing and recovery.
A friend of mine went through a thorny divorce. It was really a difficult process for him and the reality of having a non secure job, less money and other issues around his divorce made his ordeal even more complicated. So it was not surprising that the advice and suggestions that he received from his near and dear ones were all about finding a secure job, paying his debt and dealing with other “important” matters in his life. Thus it came out as a big surprise to everyone when he announced that he was going on a journey for 2 months. He backpacked to Laos and Cambodia, stayed in youth hostels, made friends with strangers and went on a walking expedition for a few days. Once he was back it was obvious that that he was ready to start a new chapter in his life.
When life takes its toll, the yearning for a healing and recovery process is often what attracts people to religious retreats. People go to a specific place, completely surrender themselves to what is being taught there, pray hard, try to work through their difficulties and thus try to come home as a better person. For some, solo journey gives them a similar relief, except I think it must be much more profound and long lasting , as the long stretch of silence and being oneself slowly prepares the person to face the inevitable and work around it.
I asked my friend, what did you achieve from your solo travel. He quoted Oscar Wilde to me “I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person.”
Yes I agree. When we are not defined by another person, we get to know other people, hike, dance, smile, talk to strangers, eat new food and see the sunrise on the beach and finally look into ourselves. In those moments of quietness when the mind is still and when the silence speaks its loudest the answers we seek come to us and it is just a matter of choice whether to follow it or not…
Fear can be one reason which prevents people from taking up the challenge of solo travelling. The fear of the unknown. But the solo traveller’s experiences reveals a different reality and they vouch that ‘All of the worries and misgivings you initially had when you set foot on the airplane will disappear the moment you reach your destination’. You break down the idea of comfort zone, gain confidence and independence, and you learn and evolve in your understanding of love. Finally you understand what is most important in your life.
In my own case, I am yet to set out as a solo traveller. But I often enjoy long stretches of solo driving with light music in the background, or a solo walk to reflect on my situation . It often helps me to focus on what “really it is“ thus helping me to accept what I can and what I can’t in my life. And I am looking forward to a solo travel in the near future.
In the enchanting masterpiece book, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho a shepherd boy set out his solo journey in Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. What starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. “When you really want something, the universe always conspires in your favour” .is the key phrase repeated over and over in this book . There is no doubt travel brings power and love back into your life and all you need is, be brave enough to start , then you will..