First, I understand that travel is a luxury which is reserved for a comparatively small fraction of humanity. Second, so is that $6 coffee you bought this morning. Third, let’s get started.
People don’t ask me why I travel by myself so much as they stare at me and apprehensively repeat the word “alone,” a few times. We have an unfortunate tendency to equate being alone with being lonely, but I doubt I’m the only one who’s ever leaned against a wall at a house party and wished it would yield so that I could pass back through like an introspective Demogorgon returning to the Upside Down. However, I’ll ignore the differences between proper friends and drunken strangers searching for the bathroom in a structure with precisely three interior doors and instead try to return to the literary concept known as The Actual Fucking Point.
Travel alone. Just try it once. Or try it again. You don’t have to quit your job and set out on some metaphysical odyssey, but you shouldn’t aim for a day trip to a place you’ve visited a dozen times before. Pick a spot on the map that’s always yet inexplicably attracted your eye and book a flight before rationality and fear and Details tell you that the warm, iridescent feeling in your stomach is somehow wrong.
Admit it: we live under a tyrannical regime of self-doubt and self-imposed obligations. Admit that you’ve taken account statements and Tuesdays and Thursdays and three day weekends and the hours between 9 and 5 and cobbled them together into something which you claim is more powerful than yourself, which exists independently of you. Fuck that thing specifically. We behave as if the world is some intricate machine which can tolerate 6,316 deaths each and every hour, but grinds to an excruciating and catastrophic stop if you book a flight before you check with your boss. Just fucking do it.
But why? Because you’ll never understand just how powerful you are until you’re 6,000 miles from home and something goes wrong. You haven’t even scratched the surface of whoever the hell you are until you’re shivering in a Dutch train station at four in the morning or burying your shit-covered britches beneath a tree and a billion indifferent stars in Moab, Utah while you apologize to the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt and the entire National Park Service.
I cringe to think of the bullshit crises which would plunge me into the kingdom of terror just three years ago. But those aren’t the point, this is: when you drop your phone in the Colorado River, you manufacture a category five hurricane for one. You’re suddenly presented with two simple choices: die, or get the fuck on with it. If you can claw your way back to civilization along the mysterious and ancient Interstate Highway System, you necessarily lay claim to the vast reserves of self-sufficiency which emanate from That One Time You Went Off The Grid For Five Hours And Didn’t Even Die. In other words, when something goes wrong at home a few weeks later, the preposterous and petty nature of your complaint snaps into focus and you simply deal with it.
Whether it’s asking for directions in a language you obviously don’t speak or mastering the outmoded technology of magnetic strip card readers at a subway turnstile during rush hour in Lower Manhattan while 10% of your brain tries to remember how to operate your own fingers and the other 90% waits with bated breath for the first “what the fuck’s wrong with this guy?” to be lobbed from behind with a New York accent, you invariably begin to break down the world into immediate problems, immediate solutions, and everything else. You also realize that panic does nothing but make you ignore the problem and burn calories and feel terrible--and that defeating it is a choice you’ve got to make, even if you forget it five seconds later.
I could go on about this indefinitely, but I’m going to reach for the single most elusive literary achievement of my brief and questionable writing career: a semi-coherent conclusion. You see, to travel alone is to take an immersive, inescapable class in just what a maniac you really are and exactly how many fucks the world doesn’t give about that fact. Why would anyone volunteer time and money to learn such a thing? Because when you dispense with the illusion that anyone’s paying attention to you and your problems and that curb you just tripped over, you peel back one more layer of the opaque, self-absorbed bullshit which covers up the magic, yellow-gold velour dream known as This Very Second. So go book that flight.