“So Travel has helped me to have direct experiences, and to know more about myself”
-Michael Crichton, Travels
The fall semester after I graduated college, My friend Monica and I did a three-city tour of Europe. We started in Dublin, then flew to Amsterdam, and took a train to Paris. In Amsterdam we met a young man who was traveling alone, and had been for quite awhile. I imagined him to be a prodigal son, someone who was expected to do great things at home but sought the world instead. Monica and I would often find him in the array of pillows and rugs provided in the common area of the hostel we holed up in, The Flying Pig, and at some point we got into a deep conversation about traveling solo. I asked,
“Why can’t I travel by myself?” He assured me I could, that he knew plenty of young women that did.
Previously, I had traveled to London to visit a high school friend studying abroad, and also gone on a one month group trip to Costa Rica with International Student Volunteers, but my desire of truly traveling about foreign places seemed out of reach. I had been enamored with the adventures of “Alexander Supertramp” after reading Into the Wild in high school. I had no designs on dying alone in the Alaskan wilderness, but the idea of throwing up my thumb and seeing the country and meeting new people thrilled me. As I talked to this lost boy in the hostel, a spark flew in my heart and I knew I would go on a trip by myself, soon.
I had always wanted to go to New Zealand, had even read Lonely Planet travel guides on it in high school, so I decided to travel there, first. I researched and planned, and by the next spring I was on a plane to a place brand-new to me. I had no idea why I wanted to go out to the world so badly, but there I was, ready to dive into that unexplained phenomenon known as wanderlust.
I landed in Auckland and spent my first night alone in a hostel that blew the ones in Europe out of the water. All of the hostels I stayed at in New Zealand were amazing- I don’t know if I planned well or if that is just how they do it there. My foreign running exploration began in that city. On the second day I was there I went on a long run with minimal planning. I had a street map and information for the bus, so that if I ran too far I could ride back. On that run I was able to see Holly’s Auckland, the things that stood out to me, rather than being reported by a tour guide or a book. I ran to the harbor and examined yachts. I changed direction and ran through the city to a calm park with great, drooping trees. I finished at a coffee shop (like many runners, I’m a coffee addict), then took a bus back to the hostel.
I completed more sight-seeing runs on the trip. It wasn’t my focus, but I’m a runner so I ran. The most memorable jogs were along the coast in Napier and a bit of trail running in Queenstown. On these runs, I took my time, and I would slow down when I found the little nuances that made a place a place for me. I found on that trip that it wasn’t about what New Zealand was, it was about how I related to it. I found a small part of my wanderlust explained- I was after the experience of discovering what I was truly drawn to.
In its not always easy to be true to yourself. The search to be “you” is hard. It doesn’t always reveal something easily managed, but I also found that the nicer you are to yourself, the more kindness you store up for the rest of the world. Say you are standing in the middle of a room with ten new objects surrounding you. No one is looking and you have time to consider- Which doodad do you walk to? Which one would you want to examine more closely?
That is how traveling alone is to me. Given no constraints, and with no one really looking, what do I want to pick up? Heck, I went fly-fishing in New Zealand. No idea why I was drawn to that. I’m terrified of heights and falling, but I flung myself down 134 meters at a bungy jump. I also found that I wanted a boat. I get seasick, and I know they are money pits, but when I got back to the States and people started in on me, my stance was solidified and no one could talk me out of it. I still don’t have the boat, but its there on some horizon, waiting for me and my skeptical friends.