“Are you looking for inspiration?” he said. I nodded as he gave my passport a beating with a green stamp. “Well, good luck.” I wasn’t exactly sure what border control had in mind. Was it a good “good luck” or one more of sarcasm? It quickly didn’t matter as my days in Ireland came and went.
After spending a month in the country traveling solo, I am now a firm believer in taking a trip alone, however big or small. While the customs agent was referring to my occupation as a writer, for me, the inspiration I was looking for was not just for my job but also for myself. Solo travel can only make you face facts about who you are. What you can and can’t do, what you fear and what you suddenly don’t are all tried and tested. I don’t think there is really any other area of life that can give you that sense of not just accomplishment but also inspiration of the self. You are away from all you know. In that not knowing, you figure it out and feel empowered for blurring the lines of foreign and familiar.
I used to read solo travel articles as a skeptic. Not to say solo travel doesn’t have its negatives, but now I understand this need to travel on your own. You don’t have to go far or for long. I found inspiration for myself and for travel in a number of tiny moments in just one month. While reviewing each and every place and person I encountered, I know I had to find these moments alone.
• A conversation with Noel at Number 31 in Dublin set the tone for my Irish travels. I discovered Irish humility and hospitality in its best form here. Sitting in the famous hotel’s lobby, one of the party places in the 1960s in Dublin, I realized travel and its emotions transcend time. You can be far from home and alone, but there is always someone concerned about you, Noel’s motto in running a hotel.
• Becoming more comfortable driving on the wrong side of the road, I cruised through the Wicklow Mountains. The eerie beauty of Glendalough reminded me I can run and hide but those graves are all still speaking. I am not alone.
• I sat in a pub, uneasy and somewhat self-conscious of dining alone in Kilkenny. The first time you dine alone can feel as though everyone is watching you. The truth is, they aren’t. By my last dinner in Ireland, I was comfortable and confident in that silence that comes with eating with no one on the other side of the table.
• Being bombarded with drunk men getting up in my face on Saint Patrick’s Day in Galway had me wishing for a big strong companion to scare them away. Walking quickly and with confidence proved I didn’t need that companion. However, I still believe huge national holidays are best enjoyed with those who know you.
• Aimlessly searching from memory for the home of a relative I had visited 10 years ago in County Donegal, I knocked on a simple door. The look on my distant cousin’s face when he realized who I was gave a purpose to my trip.
• Driving through the Burren in County Clare and seeing a woman holding bright yellow daffodils and walking her dog was pure poetry, a novel cover in the making. It is a scene only I saw and only one I could create in my mind. That scene is just my own. There is a power in seeing grand landscapes or noticing subtle observations of people the solo traveler seems to be much more aware of as they are not distracted by another person or influenced by what their companion thinks and sees.
• A chat with a café owner in Clifden on the problems with the recession in Ireland opened my eyes to how a place can be suffering so much and outsiders might never know it. “But it will get better,” she said with resolve, a motto I carried with me on my solo travels when things did go wrong. Traveling alone opened me up to countless conversations, conversations I fear I wouldn’t have had traveling with company.
• Hearing the echo of my boots in an abbey in Adare as an old man fervently prayed, I realized his prayers were intertwined with my own. Under the same roof, I followed some solo travel advice I received and lit a candle in numerous churches around Ireland. Sitting in churches with just a few others has a calm the solo traveler needs every once and awhile as you are guarded from the elements and hopefully not being judged.
• Opening up my wallet at dinner in Belfast and discovering I had been robbed both defeated and sickened me on Ireland. I quickly realized none of us are immune, no matter how cautious and careful we might be. Don’t beat yourself up or the place the theft occurred. Move on and hope they donated your hard earned money to charity. I dealt with this alone, something at the time I wish I hadn’t, but now I know made me strong.
Upon arriving home, family and friends commended me on my adventure of traveling alone. A month ago, I could understand those comments, but today it just seems as something I set out to do and did.
Are you thinking of traveling solo? Have you traveled alone? How do you explain that feeling after returning from such an accomplishment?