Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Travel Tip Tuesdays: Solitude and the Road

Hiking solo near Denver, Colorado, 2011.

Some people excel at solitude— they love being alone, they’d rather be alone, and they have to force themselves to be around people at all.

I am not one of those people. 

One of the toughest adjustments of being married has been all the solitude. It’s strange to me to spend a whole day without speaking to or seeing anyone else. So it may seem odd that, when I was single, I loved solo traveling. 

I’ve written about solo travel before, showing that it need not involve a lot of solitude. But still, no matter how many hostels you visit or volunteer situations you encounter, you will have a lot of alone time. How does someone who doesn’t like solitude learn to enjoy it?

This is a difficult blog to write, because everyone experiences solitude in a different way. I’m an extrovert: I tend to experience things as they happen to me instead of within me. That said, I often find myself zoning out, losing focus, or getting lost in meaningless thoughts. I’ll do my best to cover some of the bases, but I’m sure there will be a lot of you who see the giant holes in the ideas I’m covering. When you do, let me know— I’m always fascinated to hear from people who are fundamentally different from me.

Engage with the physical. One of the most important parts of enjoying solitude is to get out of your own head and into your physical body more. The more engaged you are with your surroundings, the more vivid your trip will be (and this will also give you more to think about— see point #2). Bring a camera and use the lens to help you experience detail. Try something new. Get yourself lost in a city and explore. People-watch. Touch the moss on the tree. Smell the seaweed on the docks. Taste the local cuisine. Eavesdrop on conversations. Try to put these sensations into words. Focus on the moment. Your physical experience will greatly impact your mental one.

Engage with the mental. I mentioned earlier that I zone out— that’s not the same as exploring your own head. Traveling shakes you up and refreshes your mind, but, if you’re like me, you have to be intentional about engaging with this part of yourself. Seek out new ideas. Think about what you’ve learned or experienced today. If words are your medium, keep a journal or a blog. Let your creativity flow. Draw something. Free-write. Read that book you’ve been meaning to get around to. Think about the chance conversations you had today. Pay attention to the historic plaques and the state park signs that explain the definition of brackish water. The more you stimulate your mind, the more you’ll have to think about. 

Engage with the spiritual. There are plenty of books about “connecting with your inner spirit” or whatever, but since I’m a Christian, I will speak to Christians here. We believe in a personal God, so engaging with your spiritual life does not involve tapping a vague energy or life-force— it means spending time with Someone. Solitude has been a spiritual discipline from the early days of the church, modeled by Jesus and many others. Travel strips away a lot of the walls and pretensions that we build for ourselves, and it can bring us closer to God in a powerful way. Pray. Read the Bible. Ponder and memorize scripture. Talk to God while you’re waiting for the bus or walking on the beach or trying to get the guy at the hostel to stop hitting on you. Keep your eyes and heart open to what God is trying to tell you.

In short, the key to solitude is focus. It’s too easy to zone out and sleepwalk through everything, but travel, and especially solo travel, is an invitation to sharpen our eyes, our minds, and our hearts through solitude.

Have a travel question? Leave a comment!

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