Besides experiencing new cultures, trying new foods, taking social media-worthy photos and crossing off global bucket list items, when you travel, you are also pushing the limits of your comfort zone. I have been lucky to travel a lot with family, friends, family-friends, and student groups. I am also lucky to have a supportive family and group of friends at home. Needless to say that when I am home or have traveled before I am rarely alone. My year as a Fulbright ETA has been full of new friends, students, colleagues, and acquaintances, but some of the most important lessons have come from the times I have been by myself.
If you were to look at this blog or my Facebook photos or what I might tell you when you ask about my time here, you would hear about or see the big events and the busy parts of my life here. However, even after 10 months of developing relationships and a whole new life, there is still a lot of time that I spend just with me, myself, and I. While I would definitely say it takes a social and adventurous person to travel without company, I would also recommend that before embarking on any great trip solo (especially to a country where you don’t know the language) you look at yourself and consider whether you can really handle being on your own.
Here are some of the lessons learned and reasons I have found for taking some time for you and turn inward:
- Confronting yourself.
In today’s world it’s become pretty easy to distract yourself from how you really feel or what is really going on inside of you. If you’re emotions get scary you can run to a friend and immerse yourself in their problems or opt for some small talk or gossip for a lighter subject. You can blame your unhappiness on others, but also you can get lost in helping others with their problems. When I left for the Czech Republic I was in a pretty bad state. I had had a pretty bad summer and felt pretty awful about a lot of things, but most importantly I felt awful about myself. From the moment I got here, I had never felt happier. Although being alone has been hard many times, having distance and testing my limits here has meant a new confidence and a better understanding of my true emotional state and method of processing life’s ups and downs. Being alone means confronting yourself and the way you think, without the outside influence of friends, family or society. At the core, without all the distraction, are you content to be you?
- You can become your most awesome you!
Especially if you are an extrovert, having a lot of alone time can be hard. In order to prepare myself for the challenge I came up with a lot of self-developed “duties,” including this blog, to occupy my time and give my hours of free time some structure. While I have missed some social obligations, being alone has meant having the time to improve myself and do a lot of things that I have always wanted to do, but never had the time. This year I have learned Czech and passed the A1 exam, improved my Spanish, trained and run a half marathon, watched movies and TV series without guilt, read a book for fun everyday, studied for the GRE, learned to play guitar, kept a blog, painted and made collages, enjoyed nature, and generally felt like a personally accomplished person. Being alone doesn’t have to equal lonely idle time.
- No Holds Adventure.
Have you ever wanted to go to an exhibit or even try a new restaurant, but were scared of going alone? Or if not scared, you just kept waiting for someone else’s free time and interests to match your own. Traveling alone gives you the perfect push to get out there and try new things in the here and now and on your own schedule. Your only excuse is yourself. In November a new café opened just two blocks from my apartment and it stays open all the way until 10pm! (most things in Znojmo close at 8pm). I started going there, got to know the people who work there, and now it’s one of my favorite places in town. I have shown up to shows, museums, and festivals on my own and it’s the experience and the random people you bump into there that make the risk of looking foolish worthwhile.
- Little things go a long way.
With a lot of time to kill it’s the little events that give you something to look forward to and give the day some meaning. This weekend Jana invited me over for lunch and to go on a day trip with her dad and daughter to one of the chateaus near Znojmo, Jaroměřice nad Rokytnou. Then we drove around the Znojmo countryside while they told me local legends and a bit of history of the region. Not only was the scenery beautiful, but also their enthusiasm about showing it to me really meant so much. Even yesterday, I was feeling a bit bummed with a whole day to myself. However, when I was walking to the grocery store I bumped into one of my recently graduated students who gave me a huge hello and told me about how she just got into her top choice law school! Just when I’m about to give up and wallow in being alone, it’s the little things like these that remind me why I’m so lucky to have this experience and to appreciate every moment through the highs and lows.
- Quality over Quantity.
I am guilty of spreading myself too thin with relationships, especially when it comes to friends and family. However, moving away from the great number of people I love at home has taught me to really value deep and quality friendships over having a lot of shallow acquaintances. While it has been very different not to have a list of people to hang out with at a moment’s notice, the people who have reached out to me here and become my family over the past 10 months really have come to mean the world to me. Having meaningful friendships with just a few caring people is worth so much more than a huge social network of small talk.
- Using your senses, and your mind.
Alone time means thinking time, which can be both good and bad. However, I like the aspect of being detached from technology and being more open to the present. My Czech phone is pay-as-you-go and I have no data plan. Therefore when I walk places I don’t call my friends to talk, I look around, hear the sounds of the street, and think about various things. When I’m out to coffee or a meal with someone, my phone is away, I am focused on our conversation and our food/drinks. In this sense I think being alone simply means living in the moment. Without half of your brain focused on another voice, Facebook status, or email you can really take in the most about where you are.
This post isn’t meant to challenge anyone’s lifestyle or pressure you to drop your life and travel somewhere solo. Maybe just take a moment to yourself and think about what is important, who you are and what makes you happy. Enjoy your weekend!