Alone abroad can't be about 'finding oneself'. Not realistically.
There is a crafty idealism to the millennial belief (I am not exempt here) that shoving one's savings into a one-way ticket out also buys the licence to stumble across one's calling.
It begs the question: Out?
Out of where?
I've been running arounf remotely for nearly half a year now, and despite assuring myself I would have plenty of time to work, blog, earn, catch planes and take sunset snaps in a variety of exotic locations, what has been strongly reinforced that there is nothing glamorous about being in transit.
And with a grungy sort of glory, I revel in that.
With nowhere mandatory to be, and nobody to keep arrangements with, experiences in transit are fluid and shaped almost exclusively by people I have chanced upon in a moment of good humour.
With enough time, and the right eyes, everybody has the potential to be revolutionary. It's the underlying premise of projects like Humans of New York, and why National Geographic has the power to humanise politics with something so simple as a front-page headshot. Of course, this rose-tinted view of our fellow man disperses in our over-peopled reality: we do not extract the life story of every librarian and dentist we come across.
There are buses to catch and meetings to make and Facebook posts to scroll through. We simply don't have the energy for it. There are too many of us, and too many things we tick off in a day. Who needs to fall in love with humanity twelve times over in an afternoon? It's exhausting - it's just that we somehow believe we're wrong in saying that.
Looking out, not in
Traveling alone has given me the space to daydream and wander without critical self-examination. I don't believe I need to be traveling, or even alone, to do this. However, the daily labour of earning my way forward and the ever-unfamiliar surroundings provide a shift in focus, making it easier to look at everything from a distance. Excessive introspection is like examining a bowl for structural flaws with a headtorch. Any harmless irregularity in the glaze can seem more physically marred than in regular daylight.
A few months of comfortable distance and I am finding myself far more amenable to the general populace who walk, talk, and think much the same as me. Having worked in the service industry for the past four years, I have developed an almost comical distaste of crowds and The Noisy Public, and am relearning the magic of the individual human being one clumsy conversation at a time.
A weird spinoff is that I have developed infrared sensitivity to group selfies. It is a simple kindness to offer to take a photo for someone, and their gratification is usually disproportionate by comparison. Too many people walk by each other unseeing. Stepping out of a comfy clique to become the nondescript stranger has made me aware of how often another's discomfort, big or small, goes unnoticed.
People can be cool
After tough schooldays, my Dad made a (probably subconscious) point of teaching me 'good life stuff' during the drive home. I can see the scouts hall on the hill near my first school and feel the sticky leather of the passenger seat as I write this, because he almost always brought up this particular topic at the same corner.
The original quotation I suspect he was referencing is attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt: "Small minds discuss people, average minds events, and great minds, ideas."
If I recollect correctly, what my Dad said whenever I relayed my latest oddball escapade and its unfortunate consequences:
"Boring people talk about people.
Average people talk about events.
Exciting people talk about ideas."
It was a source of comfort during times of moody adolescent isolation to once again sit at Dad's knee (or behind a slammed door) and turn his pearly wisdoms between my fingers. The planet is bustling. But people en masse aren't representative of the individual alone.
Friendship on the fly
Traveling alone catalyses the formation of close companionships. These friendships are pithy and authentic because they are transient. Last week's acquaintances become this week's supportive shoulder. Conversations get gritty and real. The inevitable parting brings out the best in friends - we become even more generous and forgiving - and all that social nicety and beating about the bush falls flat. If you really want to make plans, you really will keep them. And if you really do flake, they really will forgive you.
I have met some incredible people as I have moved between cities and jobs. I've been offered beds and meals and company with which to share a stretch of road in silence. There have been mentors who invested more time than they could spare teaching me the ropes (literally) or demonstrating the intricacies of managing a commercial kitchen at high speed. There will be a leg up or a well-timed word of encouragement. People will surprise you with their humanness.
The interim periods, when one is alone (and in my case, often on duty and housebound), there is little escape from oneself. There is only one solution: to take Dad's advice and grow to be more exciting. I've always rather enjoyed being on my own, but it's a privilege to have the time to be. I'm pretty sure that Ancient Greece and her philosophers were the last to consider being lost in thought a valuable use of time, but I'll claim it while I can.
Sure, travel grows you. Traveling alone especially. But only because it's sometimes hard. If it's not sometimes lonely, it's not new. And without new, there is no excitement.