It’s a mighty weird thing to wake up alone in a new-to-me city of 3 million people and realise that I don’t know a single person here. I have no one local to contact; no one I’m accountable to nor responsible for. I am, ostensibly, totally alone, as in – by myself, untethered, separate, apart, isolated from others in my immediate vicinity.
Swiftly following this awareness, comes the delicious sense of possibility that anonymity brings. I can be, do, say, go, and wear whatever I like without being mindful of repercussion or the subtle need to fit in somehow (rest assured, I am still behaving responsibly!).
Apart from being a proud representative of my country every time my accent spills forth, here I am not known as a daughter, mother, partner, sister or business owner. Any judgment of me carries no weight, nor is it a reflection, on anyone else I care about. And even though I don’t feel burdened by my various roles, I still find it liberating to be unencumbered and alone with me, myself and I – for about a week.
I experience this sense of liberation every time I travel alone and it reminds me exactly why it is that so many people in their late teens or twenties feel compelled to travel overseas. It’s not just the potential adventures that ignite their souls, it’s the possibility of reinvention when freed of responsibilities and the censure (real or imagined) of those they respect, admire and cherish.
After a week or so alone, however, I find myself wanting to connect with someone else but not necessarily in a deep and meaningful way. A mutual sharing of observations or experiences, which goes beyond the weather or mainstream tourist spots, will suffice. Originally I thought it was akin to having a full memory stick – there’s only so much I can absorb, alone, before needing to download it elsewhere. But as I continue to ripen, I’ve realised it’s also a need to have my existence acknowledged and validated (especially when travelling overseas).
Because with aloneness comes vulnerability – if we are not ‘seen’ by another, do we really exist? It’s like that old chestnut of a question: ‘if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it actually make a sound?’
I become acutely aware of accents that sound vaguely Kiwi or Australian, and whether a conversation with its owner takes place or is merely overheard, an instant sense of kinship, not ordinarily experienced in the motherland, is felt. And that’s all it takes to remind me that we are never really alone, no matter where we are in the world.
How do you feel when travelling alone?