I used to wait for him to plan things. Wait for him to make the call on when, where, and if he would even like to go. Wait for him to make some time for me, find some days out of his busy schedule to make some time for us to travel together. Business school is time consuming, and even the most unaffected individuals will get pulled into the business school social race of always having to be involved in every event, to be visible, and to be seen as financially able because they can attend every trip organized during breaks and holiday (never mind the fact that they are low on savings, have no income, and live on loans... Business school requires you to keep up with appearances. But I digress). Beyond that, business school consumed a lot of his time. I wasn't going to be priority and that's OK, but I shouldn't have waited...
I used to think that the world was meant to be traveled with the one you love.
In an ideal world that would be wonderful. We would all get our wishes granted and would always be with our lover as we explore foreign lands.
But here's the things that you don't get if you travel with a lover always attached at the hips; You won't learn much about yourself or the place that you are in.
Traveling alone immerses you completely into the experience and environment in which you are in. It forces you to step outside of your comfort zone to explore places for yourself, not because someone else wanted to. The familiarity that comes with having someone else there with you almost hinders you from seeking out things you wouldn't normally seek out.
While I was in Paris, I met up with my girlfriend J who was traveling with her boyfriend as he traveled for work. It was J's third time in Paris, but she hadn't explored it much. Her experience of Paris were limited to places that he took her to to eat or sites and shops that she would go to with his friends or him. Beyond that, she has never set foot on a Metro or bus or out to do things on her own. Paris' public transportation is extremely safe and convenient. It was such a shame to me that she hadn't taken advantage of this. Her reason was that she was afraid to go anywhere without him since she did not speak the language, but I think it would be a totally different story had she gone to Paris on her own. The inhibiting comfort that comes with traveling with another person is subtle and sometimes unnoticeable. She noted me for my 'courage' for exploring Paris on my own. To me it wasn't as much courage as it was curiosity and the desire to make the most of my trip, to not hold myself back and to confront my fear of being in a foreign land where I do not speak the language. So as J waited around for her boyfriend to be free to explore Paris with him, she put herself second.
Needless to say, traveling alone is an introspective journey. You learn so much more about yourself than you ever could if you were to go with a companion. Do you have the courage to ask strangers for directions? How strong is your desire to stay in the freezing cold for half an hour just to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as she begins to sparkle on the hour for only 15 minutes? How do you ask for help when you need it?
I notice more things when I travel alone. I spend more time doing the things I want and less doing the things I don't. I change my plans on a whim and I make more new friends than I normally would. I learn to appreciate my own ability to be independent. I learned to put my needs first by simply attending to them own my own. I came back with a lot more confidence, knowing how capable I could be on my own.
So to the commenter who wrote that she was inspired by my trip to travel to Paris for a weekend, I hope you get to travel alone. I know you will have a glorious time. You have no one else to please but yourself. If you accept that fact you will find it very liberating.
I wrote this a long time ago for a introductory speech about myself, but it is very fitting with the theme of this entry:
Marriam Webster defines wanderlust as a strong longing for or impulse toward wandering.
I took a sabbatical of sorts last summer. I went to Paris for a week to visit Pere LaChaise, a famous cemetery in the city where some of the most prominent people in the world have been laid to rest, people like Marcel Proust and Jim Morrison. It was a bucket list item to visit the tomb of Oscar Wilde, one of my favorite writers.
It was raining very lightly that day, a sort of soft drizzle my Chinese friends would call mao mao yu, which literally translates to mean fuzzy rain. I took my time and wandered through all the fascinating tombs. The place was very antique; tomb doors rusting gracefully with age, graves coated with green moss. It was like being in a library full of books that you couldn't read because the books were now resting underground.
I didn't stay on the cobbled path, but worked my way between the tombstones where there was less foot traffic and more peace and quiet. There was a strange calmness in the air, a stillness of souls resting, a sense of yearning and nostalgia. Time stops here to rest.
When I finally reached his tomb, there was no one in sight. But the tomb itself was exactly as it looked in pictures, except it was almost glowing red from the many hundreds of kisses that covered its surface. The tradition is to put on red lipstick and lay a kiss upon the tomb. It is to pay homage to the work of such a great writer, who evokes so many emotions, the main one being passion.
I timidly put on a red shade of Chanel and waited until I found another visitor, standing close by looking just as shy. I asked her if she could take a picture, but it was obvious she did not speak English. So I gestured to my camera and the tomb and she quickly understood. As I laid a kiss on the stone surface, my new friend snapped my picture, forever immortalizing that moment of bucket list completion.
Afterwards, this new friend used the same gestures that I had and so our roles were reversed.
At least two strangers had accomplished a lifelong goal that day.