The world out there is scary. You don’t know the language, and people eat dogs. There all kinds of horrible, bewildering things going on outside the bubble of your safety zone. It’s a war torn maelstrom of chaos and suffering out there.
And traveling alone is especially dangerous. You could get robbed, kidnapped or worse. You’ll probably never see your family again. Better to just stay at home and kick it with your video games. Maybe you’ll go on a cruise next year.
Now that we’ve gotten your grandma’s objections out of the way, let’s talk about travel for real. Traveling alone is one of the most dynamically empowering, personally enriching and just plain fun things you can possibly do in this lifetime. The glorious, colorful world out there is yours to explore. And there are plenty of good reasons to dive into it. First among these? Personal growth.
Everyone has the opportunity in life to become ruler of her own inner realm. No one knew this better than Roman philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was also ruler of his outer realm as well. Although he was too busy becoming emperor to travel much for leisure, his empire encompassed most of Western Europe, Asia Minor, the Levant, and North Africa. Needless to say, he saw a few things in his day. And his writing is considered among the best in the history of philosophy. So here are six great reasons to travel alone, supported with quotes by inspiring philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius.
1. You Get Scared
People like to describe solo travelers with words like ‘fearless.’ But the truth is, everyone gets scared. Preparing to travel alone is like standing on the edge of a cliff, getting ready to jump. It’s scary! If you’re not scared, it’s not an adventure. What makes a true adventurer different isn’t that they don’t feel the fear. It’s that they acknowledge the fear, and jump anyway.
Traveling alone is about facing fears. And it’s not just the terror of leaving your comfort zone. Along the way you’ll encounter many situations that endanger, disturb, and rattle you. But you learn to deal with them in stride, avoid them when possible, and keep a level head about it. That means little by little, you have less to fear in the world.
Besides, what’s scarier than letting life slip away from you? As Marcus Aurelius put it, “it is not death that [wo]man should fear, but [s]he should fear never beginning to live.”
Marcus Aurelius’s empire, or your next backpacking trip?
2. You Get Stronger
When you face your fears, and come out the other side alive and kicking, you find out you’re capable of more than you gave yourself credit for. Often you realize your fears were in your head. And when you put your fears aside and look at the nuts and bolts of traveling solo, you can learn most everything as you go. It’s not hard to buy tickets and book a hotel.
Making your plans and following through on them builds confidence, endurance and inner strength, qualities which increase as your fears decrease. “Look well into thyself,” says our philosopher-king. “There is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look.”
Grab life by the horns. Tackle it full on. Carpe diem and all that, because “the art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.”
3. You Learn to Trust Yourself
Every time you prove that you can handle a situation, you prove to yourself that you’re capable and competent. As your strength and confidence increase and your fears decrease, you learn that you’re actually a pretty good person for you to rely on.
Don’t know how to get from the train station to your hostel in Saigon? You’ve got the people skills and the maps to haggle down a taxi and figure that out. Never had a communist official with a scary looking firearm approach you after dark to say you’re in the wrong place? Good thing you know how to smile, be cool and keep things amicable. You can trust yourself to navigate these situations.
If you’re ever really in a jam (like a jail cell or a hospital, heaven forbid), make sure you have the number for an over the phone interpreter handy. Part of trusting yourself is knowing when to enlist help, and planning for it.
Remember, Marcus Aurelius said that when you run into a problem, think “not ‘this is misfortune,’ but rather ‘to bear this worthily is good fortune.’” The problems are never really problems. They’re just situations. They only become problems in your head.
Sieze the day. Face your fears. To bear this worthily is good fortune.
4. You Distinguish Between Your Inner and Outer Life
If you travel long enough, you may start noticing certain problems following you around. No matter where you go, who you meet, or what utterly alien context you’re in, you still manage to encounter the same bad feeling or negative experience. Maybe it’s a lingering resentment, a feeling of loneliness, a vague frustration or sorrow. Eventually it might dawn on you that the problem isn’t coming from your environment, or from other people. It’s coming from you.
The good news is, that means you can change it! You can’t control the outside world, but you can definitely master your thoughts and emotions. The bad news is, that makes you responsible to change it. If you want to live a different story, one without the resentment or self pity or despair or whatever it is you’re carrying around, it’s up to you to start thinking different thoughts.
“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength,” says our friend on the Roman throne. “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”
5. You Can Redefine Yourself
Building different thoughts to create a better experience of life is nearly impossible around your friends and family. It’s really hard to do in your old apartment, at your old job, or in your hometown. That’s because people there have expectations of you. They’re used to you dressing, walking and speaking a certain way. You slip into roles. It’s also because the familiar stimuli of your work and living spaces reinforce the thought habits of the old you. This is why getting out of your comfort zone is so healthy–and so terrifying. It makes room for growth.
When you’re in a totally new context, surrounded by people who have never met you, you can be whoever you want. In fact, you can try on a whole new personality. Imagine you’re a favorite film or TV hero, and role play their attitude for a couple days. Ever wondered what it’s like to be the confident, outgoing life-of-the-party type? Or what if you stopped trying to hide your intellect and just ran with it? Suppose you let your guard down and approached people with more warmth and sensitivity? See what kind of a response you get with different angles.
You can even dress differently. All those pretentious hippies you used to scoff at? Why not chill out and try on the fisherman’s pants? Or smarten up and wear sharp shoes for the city instead of hoofing around in grubby sneakers or flip flops. Who knows… you may end up finding something more comfortable than your old skin.
When you redefine yourself, you move towards a sense of peace and harmony within. “[S]he who lives in harmony with [her]self lives in harmony with the universe.”
Our boy Marcus at the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome
6. You Learn a Thing or Two About Happiness
There’s a reason so many people connect travel with mystical transformation, spiritual journeys and epic empowerment. Solo travel hurries you into these things like nothing else can. Going on a literal outward journey facilitates a more significant inward journey, and that’s where the possibility of happiness starts to creep in.
A life lived fully is a life well-lived. So “let [wo]men see, let them know, a real [wo]man, as [s]he was meant to live.” In other words, you do you. Go out there and find yourself!
And when you go, be sure to take a thought provoking book with you to mull over during those overnight train rides and long ferry crossings. If you’re not sure where to start, just grab a copy of Meditations. You can probably guess the author.
As a parting thought, here’s one final inspirational home run from the late, great Marcus Aurelius: “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” Happy travels!
About the Author:
Sean Hopwood, MBA is founder and President of Day Translations, Inc., an online translation and interpretation provider, dedicated to the improvement of global communications. By helping both corporations and the individual, Day Translations provides a necessary service at the same time as developing opportunities for greater sympathy and understanding worldwide.