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Why Traveling Alone is Great for the Soul
Where do YOU want to go?
Why haven’t YOU gone?
It seems like everyone has a bucket list, full of goals and destinations. Almost as if everyone caught a bad case of wanderlust. There are countless blogs, magazine articles and publications. Publications which profess how great traveling is. They discuss the places of interests, food, and how to save for that dream vacation. All that is fun and informative, however I have not found an article which goes into detail about the intimacy solo traveling could be. From a young age my parents instilled a sense of traveling which in turn sparked my interest in exploring. Traveling alone also breaks the mundane habit of work, school and a semi interesting social life. What I loved the most was the beautiful interactions, the feeling of being a small speck on this planet, and the mental silence.
One of Meriam-Webster’s definition on soul is a person’s total self. It is quite difficult to achieve that total self in an environment that does not project that idea. Instead it projects the idea of following the crowd, being complacent and looking at others for answers.
My Parent's Influence
From the age of 6 and on, my parents took me to their native country: The Dominican Republic. Seeing the distant family, my siblings and I visited every two years. They always greeted us with an egregious parade and mountains of posters.
We were always with an entourage of family members and we went everywhere with them: The Beach, Colonial Zone, Parque de Los Tres Ojos as well as to the countryside. Unfailingly filled with friends, grandparents, and hope in the air. Although nice at first, we followed the same routine every time we went to the Dominican Republic.
I had a personal bodyguard: my cousin. In my teenage years, I was not allowed to explore past the same locations due to my grandparents and parents fear that my siblings and I would be kidnapped and sold in the Dominican black market. So instead we were held prisoners to the Colmado’s filled with merengue, bachata, domino’s slamming and loud arguments. As a kid this was exciting until we decided that we wanted to step out of the norm and see something different.
You may be thinking “Alberto, big whoop you went on the same vacation throughout your childhood! What’s the problem? Others never go on vacation."
It is not simply about the vacation but about my parent’s inability to explore and venture to new areas and show their children the harsh realities and show them how blessed they are. Instead they sheltered and provided us with the same activities which made us believe was reality.
Three years ago, I went to the Dominican Republic without my parents a 19-year-old. I ventured into new cities, monuments, museums and most of all broke the routine. I spoke to the natives, saw my uncle win a basketball tournament and went to a cock fight but most of all I was carefree. I felt an undeniable love and affection for this country my parents called home. That love came from the different landscapes: the lush green forest which smelled divine when the showers passed, beaches: tucked and hidden with warm blue waters, food: cooked on the beach with freshly caught fish with plantain and a coconut watching the sunset. It was then that I felt a sense a realization that life is beautiful. All we must do is step out of our comfort zones, block out all the extra noise in our lives and appreciate what we take for granted. There is always the threat of being kidnapped whenever in an unfamiliar territory. If we live in fear, it is impossible to live.
Don’t be afraid, being alone is introspective
I wanted to travel with my friends, backpack across Europe and explore the cultures in Asia however, there were multiple dilemmas dealing with goals and lack of funds. After countless talks with adults in my life I realized I could not wait for others. That it is not until later in life that people regret not traveling more.
Whenever people heard I was going somewhere by myself they would say: "Don't be weird! Don't travel alone! There is a contagious virus going around that country, it is not safe." In every situation, there is always something that is going on.
John D. Barbour in “The value of Solitude: the ethics and spirituality of aloneness” writes “the ethics of solitude as an act of social criticism and probes the charges that solitude is selfish or irresponsible.”
The social criticism is when one decides to travel by themselves, without a loved one. When one goes against the social norms of traveling in big groups. These big groups who go to popular destinations such as California or Rocky Point in Mexico. Instead the solo traveler goes to remote areas, areas not on any “Best places to visit in ..” list they allow for the thrill and adventure to guide them.
Solitude is neither selfish nor irresponsible, in contrary. You are taking time for yourself, by yourself. You are deciding to take in a new environment its sights, smells and sounds. You are building yourself from the inside out.
When traveling alone my thought process was: “If I have a chance to do it, why not?” With a negative pessimistic view, there will always be a reason not to do something.
I enjoy the buildup and planning: choosing the destination, dates, planning the itinerary, deciding which historical site to visit first whether to eat from the street vendors. These are all things that give me relief from my normal job and all the stress involved with school assignments and finals. I voraciously count down the days to my next adventure.
In an article published in The American Physiological Association they stated: "When they’re always connected; children, adolescents and adults become dependent on the presence of others for validation in the most basic ways.” The connection comes from always being behind a screen. Don’t take barrages of pictures to then hide its real beauty with filters. Take in the moment by yourself, for yourself. It may be the only time you are at that location.
I know what it is to be a millennial and to feel bombarded by Instagram posts, Facebook likes and Twitter retweets. I was not taught how to enjoy solitude and throughout the years I have developed the skill and now cherish that time. People are not living, they rather live behind a screen. They watch popular destinations on social media and hope to travel someday. What is worse is that they place their hope of traveling on someone else. They sit around wishing and hoping for something to happen instead of making things happen. When you are alone, you have control over where you want to go, where you want to check out, where you want to eat the list goes on. I am not seeking to turn this into a debate between introverts and extroverts but rather an explanation that when you travel alone you can accumulate knowledge. Knowledge of the culture, and most of all yourself.
In one of the scenes in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” it displays how being alone is looked down upon.
So what? Is it a mortal sin? I
mean, normal people get to sleep
late on weekends...
With few exceptions, time spent in
the company of others is
therapeutic, while every minute
spent brooding alone only increases
(This movie released in 1975.)
I think about my family, current situations, future and my health when I am brooding alone. A film from the 1975 forecasted how reliant people will be.
Cidade Maravilhosa: Beauty everywhere
Brazil is known for the Amazon as well as some of its cities such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In 2016, Brazil was in its worst economic recession since the 1930s.
According to Pri.org "Street robbers were up 48 percent, deadly assault up 21 percent, and homicides are up 18 percent."
I went to Brazil during the Olympics and saw a vastly different Rio that was depicted beforehand in commercials. I saw a Rio that was beautiful, hopeful, divided, and in shambles. I had the time of my life when I went to Brazil from the flight steward teaching me the correct pronunciation of Portuguese words to the hugs and pictures I took with new friends I met.
Traveling alone I was able to:
- Enjoy the strenuous hike up to Christ the Redeemer.
- Be more aware of my surroundings and the pick pocketers.
- See the segregation of the sexes on trains during rush hour.
- See the citizens of Rio getting on a city bus at 8am.
- See families playing together in the park and eating Açaí.
- See the homeless begging for money outside a bank.
- See the city and its passion for soccer whenever the national team was playing.
I spoke with the locals and asked them what issues were predominant in Rio. I flirted with a Brazilian outside of the Olympic park; she thought my Portuguese was cute and funny. I went shopping at a grocery store and noticed how cashier's work on a high chair with no regard to the building line of customers. All are things you are bound to miss when you travel with someone or when you chose only to see the tourist attractions. I believe you should make it a mission to be aware and see the world for what it truly is and not for a picturesque Instagram post.
Parque de Los Tres Ojos- translated in English is "Park of the Three Eyes" It is a national park that is an open-air limestone cave. Previously inhabited by the Taino natives it is located in Santo Domingo.
Colmado- corner store selling convenience items.
Merengue- Upbeat music usually accompanied with dancing, this style has African Roots.
Bachata- Romantic music with roots in the Dominican Republic.
Cidade Maravilhosa- Portuguese for "Marvelous City".
Price, Michael. "Alone in the crowd", Vol 42, No 6, American Physiological Association.
Carless, Will. "Crime is getting even worse in post Olympics Rio", pri.org, December 07, 2016.