Peace can be found in travel, but sometimes it requires understanding solitude. Solitude is a concept that is often misunderstood, as something to be avoided like the plague. Too often coupled with sadness, isolation, and loneliness, solitude is all-together something different that speaks to a different part of ourselves – or perhaps from a different part of ourselves. In fact, solitude can be a tremendous act of self-love.
Travel pairs well with solitude, though from an outside perspective it can seem as though the two are incompatible, or mutually exclusive by nature. When we think of traveling, we think of meeting others, mixing in crowds that challenge our sense of “normal” and make us think outside the confines of comfortability. While true, and while travel most definitely helps one expand his or her capability to love, to know one’s self and to make fast friends with those who would otherwise remain strangers, travel is in fact the ideal practice in the art of solitude.
Solitude has been written about by wise men and genuises throughout history as something far different from the negative attributes of isolation. We think too often that they are one in the same, but brilliant minds have known better and known that travel helps to enhance our comfortability with solitude – and in the process helps us find ourselves. As the poet Lord Byron put it;
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”
Travel is the vehicle by which this type of expanse happens, and by which one becomes comfortable with the most important person with whom they could possibly connect – themselves.
Solitude Among The Crowd
Of the things that are truly intoxicating about travel, the thing that is possibly most alluring is how the traveler can simply mix anonymously among the crowd, to enjoy the passing of time, moments, and people while being only a passer-by.
This is most common an experience when you travel to a place in which you aren’t familiar with the language. To sit in a place where you can’t read the signs, where you don’t understand the conversation, yet find peace in the solitude of a breeze down a busy city street with a strong cup of coffee is what I picture when I think of travel. I become the “watcher on the hill”, and find myself most in tune with my own presence. Even when Tracy and I travel as a couple, we find ourselves separately, yet collectively, finding more reasons to find silence and repose among the buzzing of local life.
While you aren’t empowered in your abilities to communicate, there is empowering in a different sense about having the inability to communicate in a foreign land. When you find yourself in this situation, don’t feel fear. Don’t feel disempowered. Look for the beauty in the scenery and setting, and allow yourself to enjoy the solitude.
The Art Of Anonymity
At home, we live in a close-knit community of people who know each other well, have fun together on the weekends and spend a lot of time with each other. While wonderful, it’s human nature to sometimes enjoy being where no one knows your name. To achieve this, you needn’t travel to a distant land – you can simply travel to the town adjacent to you.
It’s through this that we bridge the gap between our larger trips abroad, when we simply want to see something new and do so in anonymity so that we can once again connect with ourselves. While spending time with friends and family is essential to happiness, the person you must be friends with first is inside your own head. It doesn’t take a thousand dollar plane ticket and a posh hotel to “get away” and find this person. Find a museum you haven’t been to. Take a walk through a park you’ve never visited. Go somewhere where you aren’t known, aren’t needed, and simply connect with yourself and the surroundings. Maybe the big city isn’t what you want to see – maybe your speed involves a couple of hammocks on the beach?
Finding Solitude While Traveling As A Couple
Because you travel as a couple, you may find it tempting to want to constantly engage with your partner. Yet, some of the best times we’ve ever spent (and the most memorable) have been the moments when we allowed one another to absorb the setting of a natural scene or bustling, strange city.
You have to remember that, while traveling as a couple, traveling is also individually meaningful. Think of the words of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who said;
“I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.”
We always travel together, dine together, shop and explore together, but in each situation we allow each other to enjoy moments of simple mindfulness. It’s too often that couples cloud moments of deep meaning by chatting over it or over-planning (which is something we especially struggled with early in our travels).
While this is perfectly natural, remind each other to steal moments in silence. It’ll help you connect more with the setting – and each other.
The Peace In Mindfulness
There is no other way in which we are renewed as we are when we allow ourselves to simply exist. Travel is the ideal vehicle for this, as being is enhanced in a setting where we can take in that which is new and strange to us.
Especially as writers, this is essential to our mental well-being as well as our enjoyment of travel. We find that when we allow ourselves to simply get lost, not in thought or doing, but simply by the surroundings of what is around us, we come away from the moment more creative, more alive, and more renewed with energy.
You see, while simplistic a believe as it may be, we look at our sense of self and enjoyment of travel very much like a bank account. You make deposits in the same way you spend, as moments of mindfulness found in travel help you to “store up” inspiration. When you “spend”, by engaging in conversation or having a truly connective experience with someone, you want to be fully there. If your account is “over-drawn”, you won’t have the presence to make this moment worthwhile. Virginia Woolf put it much more eloquently when she said;
“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.”
Travel brings out, at least at the outset, those things in you that seem to abhor solitude. Yet, once the jitters, excitement, nervousness, and tenseness all work away, you’ll find yourself settled. What then to do with a restless body and mind?
Use that opportunity to truly immerse with yourself in this foreign place. Enjoy the opportunity for solitude that travel gives to go deeper into your surroundings, the destination, and even the one with whom you travel. Most importantly, use the solitude in travel to dive deeper into yourself.