Notes on Loneliness

Is solo travel lonely?

Not in my opinion. But…

Part of me yearns for companionship on my trips because I know the joy of sharing an experience, and the comfort of having someone with me. Yet another part of me feels guilty for enjoying it so thoroughly while alone.

In Into the Wild, Christopher McCandless is quoted as saying, “Happiness is only real when shared.” While I agree that there is powerful emotion in sharing a glorious sunrise or a breathtaking vista with another (somehow it validates the feelings by sharing them with someone else), I also know that I have felt pure joy, on my own.

At one point on my train ride from Kansas City to Flagstaff this week I had a non-English speaking couple and their young child in the seat behind me. The baby, getting tired as night fell, began to cry. The husband picked up the child and stood by his seat, rocking her in his arms. He began to sing a lullaby, in what language, I do not know, but it was the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. The pure love in his voice, the melody of the lullaby, touched my heart and had me in tears. Tears of joy. No one was there to share this moment that I voyeuristically experienced, yet I still felt happiness. So on this count, I think McCandless is wrong.

I believe some day I would like to have a companion, but for now, solo travel feels like the defining moment of my life. I will not return from these adventures unchanged. And each trip brings me a step closer to an intimate relationship with myself: an opportunity I would miss if not traveling solo. Alone. But not lonely.

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