When you’ve been travelling for long enough, you start calculating the benefits. You wonder whether your solo travels have made you a better and stronger person and whether all these journeys, that you’ve so far taken, have given you a deeper understanding of yourself – from within, and without. You wonder if you want to keep continue travelling, or is it about time to find some stillness in life and look for a purpose in another direction.
I’ve been wondering the same thing, repeatedly asking myself the same question – what is it that I’ve gained through all these years of solo travelling. Has it made me a better person and perhaps a bit stronger too from within. Do I want to keep continue doing it? And the answer that came to me was a sure “Yes!”
Solo Travelling Has Made Me A Decision Maker
Before I started travelling solo I was a team player and not a leader. My decisions would wait for others. But when you’ve travelled for long, having no one but yourself to rely on, you learn the art of decision making. You learn to resolve.
Though solitude and making all the decisions by yourself — with no one to get an assurance from — can be struggling at times, particularly if you’re new at it. But time spent with your inner self eventually makes you reflect on your life and become a better decision maker.
I’ve Learned The Art Of Small Talk
Ask anyone who knew me before I started travelling, they will tell you how much I hated — and I mean just hated — small talk. Growing up in New Delhi I became like a majority of people in a big city — cold and busy. I would stick to the idea of ‘Few Friends. Good Friends’ forgetting how amazing it feels engaging with a stranger waiting for a bus alongside you, or with someone in the long queue for the ATM cash-machine. I’d almost forgotten how disconnected our little lives have actually become, despite living in the world of ever-connected devices.
With solo travelling, and small talks being my only way of making friends, I’ve become a bit more friendly. While I am still shy sometimes, I no longer find myself wondering why this stranger asked me how I am doing today. As if they really, truly care. Instead, I entertain their questions and shoot a smile on my good days. I’ve learned that you never know what kind of impact you will have on a person.
Mishaps Are Just A Part Of The Journey
I remember the first time I was planning a solo journey, after quitting the job to travel, I planned everything. I knew where I was going, for how long, and how I would get there. I was scared of uncertain mishaps.
But over the years, how I plan my travel, has totally changed. Now I’m a last-minute planner and rarely travel with any set itinerary. When plans change or things go wrong, I just roll with it. Life on the road works out in the end and mishaps are just a part of the journey.
For example, while backpacking in Europe earlier this year, I had my camera stolen in Bratislava, Slovakia — with almost half of my press trip still left unattended. Now I could remorse over what happened and spoil the rest of my trip or accept it all courageously. Accepting it all courageously, I reported the incident to the police and had the story (of what happened) published in a couple of local Slovakian-newspapers, in addition to writing about it on my blog. In the end, hundreds of Slovaks came forward conveying their deepest condolences and asking if they can help me in any way. A kind guy from Bratislava moreover donated a camera he wasn’t in need of, anymore. Not only did I gain a lifelong lesson from what happened, I also explored a bright side of Slovakia, and its people, who come out as a force, not wanting to have crime walking freely on their streets.
Facing Your Fears Isn’t As Scary As It Seems
When you’ve got to figure everything yourself you may feel anxious. Maybe a bit overwhelming too in the beginning. You may feel nervous talking to strangers or feel awkward being in a restaurant or a museum all alone. But over time, you learn to win-over your fears — no matter how big or small. Things quickly become less frightening once you step up to face them.
When I Started travelling solo, my biggest fear — being an introvert, and having an irrationally anxious mind about everything — was of being alone in public spaces. I would feel so uncomfortable everytime someone shared a look while laughing with their friends as I sat alone with an expressionless face. But slowly I found my comfort zone in solitude and yet staying totally absorbed in whatever I was doing. From reading a book in a train with a dozen eyes set upon me to walking in an open market as I carefully gulp an ice cream, I’m now more capable of handling my fear of solitude than I ever imagined.
Gratitude & Compassion Is The Greatest Lesson In Cultivating Happiness
Traveling solo instils the character traits of empathy and gratitude more creatively than you can imagine. When you travel places and travel alone, you get an eye for understanding world-realities from someone else’s perspective. A middle-aged mother in Cambodia working hard to send her kids for schooling. Farmers investing long, arduous hours of growing the rice and coffee that fill our tables in the cities. All these realities may otherwise seem customary and normal in day-to-day life, but while travelling with a broader mind, you start respecting what you have and develop gratitude towards others.
For example, while travelling in South India and the Namdroling Monastery in Bylakuppe, I found how despite being kicked out and fleeing from their own hoses, Tibetan Buddhist immigrants — that are now living in India — are still much happier than many of us living in big cities, chasing hedonism, are. Practicing gratitude and compassion is not exclusive to travel, but long-term travel cultivates them much closer and instils the practice deep into our life.