The Tests and Rewards of Lonesome Travelling

A manifesto for self-discovery

Feature by Duncan Stirling | 05 Jan 2015
  • Lonesome Travelling

It is often it is spoken of, in today’s world of noise and clutter with which we fill our minds. A phone has become an extension of self. A quiet second is but an empty cup to be filled with the waters of a scroll through Facebook, a check of emails or, if you are feeling in an exceptionally self-developing type of mood, a check on the news headlines (perhaps even a read of an article!).

People speak of taking time to themselves to combat this clutter. But a five-minutes here, an afternoon there, acts as a small shield against the tsunami of external activity. Perhaps, it will allow you to think about your thoughts, but it will not quieten them. It will not give your mind the clear mental landscape in which to view yourself, perhaps the world, with a fresh perspective.

Nay, would the modern person even want that? As wrote that preposterously intelligent German, Frederick Nietzsche, ‘you cannot endure being by yourself and do not love yourselves enough.’ This was over one hundred years ago, where without phones, television or internet, solitude must have been forced upon people more regularly than today. So, nowadays, with such easily accessible escapist objects at hand, we must spend even less time truly ‘alone with our thoughts,’ and probably love ourselves less because of it.

So what to do? How to stay away long enough from the constant intrusions into your personal psyche to find enough time and space for you to learn to love yourself? Well, one option is to travel. Though, most crucially, to travel alone.

‘But travel is the ultimate escape from yourself and your reality,’ an objector might argue. Quite the opposite. It confronts the traveller with their reality. The phone, the friends, the communal reservoir of common things to discuss are abandoned, as you are whipped like a spinning top off the edge of the precipice of comfort.

The immediate emotions, without crutches or company, are of disorientation. What the hell is someone supposed to do alone with no internet, no phone, no company with which to whittle away hours playing cards? Where should I go? Why did I not make more plans? Let’s set out and explore. How has it only been six hours since I landed? How long is this trip going to last?

The emotions of one in withdrawal are strong. You feel at sea. The mind that you thought was so calm, tranquil and ordered begins to knot its internal currents, while trying external experiences batter these currents with whipped-up winds.

So why bother? Well, the addictions that technology breeds begin to lessen their holds. The seas become settled as you become used to time alone. Indeed, this time is transformed. Imagine dipping your toes into the cold sea. You retract and shiver. Yet, once you have submerged yourself and swum in its waters, it no longer feels so cold. Your body warms itself. It is getting out of the water that now appears the less appealing of the two.

Following this submergence, the trip can truly begin for the convalesced. Days may be long and uneventful, but with no one else to please this is only as much of a problem as you choose to make of it. A calmness prevails that a slow day or a long day’s travel cannot touch. Then, when the excitement does come, in whatever form this may be, it is wholly yours. The activities that you get up to were conceived and followed through all by yourself. The scares, the beauty, the ridiculousness, all uniquely yours.

Such solo experiences are important for self-development, but also hold you in good stead for your return in other ways. Much of conversation is based around what it is that people have done. This is discussed with other people, who also talk about what they have done. It is one of the things that bonds people together. However, if your time is mostly spent in similar circles then most of what you will have to discuss is what you have done with those people in question. But they’ve already heard it all, as they were there when most it happened!

This is the blessing of travelling alone. Though it may be tough at times with long days and lonely hours, take comfort in your loneliness from the tale of literature’s greatest traveller, Odysseus. He was loved by deities, even offered immortality if he would but live in paradise with the beautiful goddess, Calypso. And how did he woo such a figure? Yes, he was an exceptionally handsome fellow, a wise king and militarily renowned, but all Greek heroes were. What it was that Odysseus had, above perhaps any man in history, was a library of personal stories to tell. He was the man of a thousand tales, most of which were unique to him and owed their inception to his insatiable curiosity for the world. So, this will be your reward for the long struggle. The gift of varied and wide-ranging stories, quite apart from ones that others may have heard before. A gift, of course, to be used appropriately.

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