My previous post shared a brief analysis of takeaways from my first solo trip; namely, my surprise at finding myself in the company of others most of the time.

As I traveled home from Sri Lanka, after keeping a near-daily diary of my experiences, I wrote a stream-of-consciousness essay about my first time traveling solo. I stumbled upon it as I prepared my other post, and I thought it was worth sharing.

These are raw emotions that I felt at the time, with only minor edits made for clarity and to fix typos. Reading it reminded me of why I travel. I hope it inspires a little something in you, too.


“Evolving”

It is freedom, solitude, yet you’re never really alone. I was joined at different times by strangers who became friends, but was free to resume my joyful lone-ness (not to be confused with loneliness) when I so chose. And that was the beauty of it. The meeting and the curiosity and the greetings and small talk and comparing and contrasting cultures, the camaraderie and companionship when needed, and the returning to yourself when desired, when decisions became too dependent on others and when the joy of others turned to the slight annoyance of reliance and joined-ness.

And yes, this is a privileged and self-indulgent idea, to travel alone so as not to have to consider anyone but yourself in your plans. But it is also an opportunity to grow, and a chance to bring a better, perhaps more slightly evolved version of yourself back to the world from which you came.

It is all an escape, yet bound by the same life, intensely personal because it is only experienced by you, in that way almost spiritual, the gaining of perspective and essence and knowledge that two weeks ago did not exist, and in a blink to those you left, is suddenly and inexplicably within you, part of you. But they were not there to witness the moments in which the perspective and insight was gained, and so to them you just seem changed while to you, you are evolved.

And there is the good and the bad. For every wave you ride there are five spectacular wipeouts. For every bronzed inch of your body there is a deep burn brought upon by the sun on the backs of your legs while you surf. For the softest saltwater-exfoliated skin there are pockmarks from hungry mosquitos dotting your body like a disease. For every perfect experience there is one in which you learn a valuable lesson. And in this way you grow, you learn your preferences, and at the end of two weeks you wish you had two weeks more to apply what you had learned, but never mind, it’s time to board the plane.

The person disembarking two weeks and two days ago, the spirit of you walking the other direction in the terminal, is timid, appearing confident but not knowing which way is the exit, and so you walk with purpose in the wrong direction until you find the right one. And the person leaving this night-morning is a newly-minted expert of the country, having driven its roads and talked with its people and eaten its food and seen its hills and ruins and jungles and beaches. A two-week expert on a land with ruins from two millennia ago, so history laughs at your confidence, but hey, it’s enough for mastering travel through today’s country and talking about it intelligently, and plus you learned a lot, so whatever.

And now, as I prepare to return home, I expect that I should feel deeply changed, but I don’t. Evolved, sure. But I have not had some sort of epiphany that struck me like a lightning bolt enlightening me to do this or do that or be this or be that. What I have gained instead is reinforcement of what I always knew: that I was capable of this, that it really isn’t as hard as you think, you just have to try it, that people really are just as friendly and neighborly as people back home, that new doesn’t mean scary, that what was strange only days ago now feels familiar. That a bus or a train or a taxi in the USA operates just about the same way as they do in Sri Lanka, save for some creature comforts, driving in the opposite direction, the aggressive driving tendencies, and the number of wheels carrying you. You hail a tuk tuk like you hail a cab. You make small talk with the driver. You sit next to someone on a bus and share a smile. You talk to the men and the women and the girls next to you on the train because it’s the friendly thing to do. You learn about how their lives are similar and different from your own, but you’re all just living your lives and finding joy in what you’re doing. And their names are Melanga and Vincent and Helena and the older gentleman and the university girl and Evginy and they are from Colombo and Lyon and a farm in Switzerland and Austria and Wellawaya and St. Petersburg. And it reinforces what we already know, that we can be from different continents and have vastly different lives and lifestyles but we are all decent people just trying to live a good life and find bits of joy and magic where we can. And sometimes the magic is in other people, sometimes it’s in places, and other times it’s in our daily lives.

So this is what I’ve experienced on my first solo trip. It’s not the number of things I did and the newness of those things and the checking off of items on an invisible list, though I did enjoy all of that. It’s the people and the feelings and the tastes and the colors and smells and the learnings that I will hold with me forever, that have evolved me. Isn’t that what it always is, the impacts on yourself that you don’t expect.

And so I return home quite fulfilled, back to my daily life where I hope I will find new magic in things with my heightened perspective, with Sri Lanka inside me.

Mihintale, Sri Lanka

In Mihintale, recognized as the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the day I arrived in the country.