Henry David Thoreau wrote, "The man who goes alone can start today but he who travels with another must wait until the other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.”
In his memoir "Walden," Thoreau reflected upon the benefits of solitude and how having a quiet space can be a great friend and teacher.
“I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude,” Thoreau wrote.
The idea of being alone can be scary. However, entering this unknown space provides the opportunity for personal transformation and introspection.
Solitude is not the same as loneliness. Solitude, the state of being alone, can have a positive connotation, while loneliness is a negative experience. Quality alone time is beneficial. It helps to define and prioritize interests, boosts creativity and can improve relationships with others in the long run.
The road to such can be found down an array of avenues, including venturing off on a solo trip.
Although in “Walden,” Thoreau spoke more about the journey of solitude as a state of mind, with a figurative “movement through life” sense, these ideas can be applied on a more literal basis.
Traveling by yourself allows for the potential to self-reflect and discover new parts of oneself, which can then be incorporated into everyday life when surrounded by others and the usual distractions.
Spending time alone has become increasingly difficult over the past decade. With social media and smartphones, we are constantly connected — whether with those we know or just the information we receive from the internet.
This has enhanced the desire for quiet time and peace, as well as a need for solitude and self-reflection. Traveling alone provides this opportunity.
When thinking of traveling or taking a vacation, it often involves going somewhere fun with family and friends or maybe visiting someone you know in a different city or country. However, taking a solo trip somewhere new provides personal rewards that Thoreau mentions in “Walden.”
A journey alone can make us reacquainted with ourselves and explore our thoughts and ideas. It allows for personal insight and a chance to recharge from the chaos of everyday life.
One study published by Research Gate and conducted by Elaine Chiao Ling Yang, reviewed what prompts people to travel by themselves, and found that a transformative experience is one of the top motivators. Yang described this transformative experience.
“Self-change resulting from the inward journey taken by travelers when encountering an unfamiliar environment and experience, and the transformation is amplified in solitude,” Yang wrote.
Solitude does not necessarily mean being cooped up all day but rather relying on oneself for decision-making. Traveling alone can also help to overcome the fear of being lonely — by learning how to be by yourself and have fun.
Many who have taken solo journeys are motivated by self-empowerment, reflection, confidence, growth and peace.
When by yourself in a new place, one is forced to make decisions and face challenges of their own volition. This may be navigating obstacles such as a new city’s transportation, culture and language. It includes choosing where to eat, stay, and the activities to participate in.
These choices and experiences provide confidence and a better understanding of oneself. The solitude experienced in a new environment gives time to think and reflect on life circumstances that need more contemplation and insight.
Self-reflection on a solo journey provides clarity to help navigate thoughts, ideas, memories and emotions in a way that may not happen in one’s typical surroundings.
We see this transformation from self-reflection in solo adventure play out within history and pop culture.
Amelia Earhart exemplified this in her solo aviation journeys, both nationally and internationally. Earhart’s eagerness to explore led her to make history. She conquered achievements alone that no one thought was possible and took risks that required confidence and self-reliance.
The meaning behind Maggie Rogers’ popular song “Alaska,” also encapsulates this idea of taking time for self-discovery. She reflects on how traveling alone to Alaska provided her with clarity about relationships and young adulthood, with lyrics like, “I walked off you, I walked off an old me.”
Similarly, award-winning author Cheryl Strayed embarked on a journey that completely changed her life. Her book, “Wild,” is a testament to what can happen when taking a trip alone and the meaning that emerges from it. The solitude she experienced on her 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific coast saved her life and helped her return to sanity.
Although we may not all become famous from the solitude experienced on our solo trips, like Maggie Rogers or Amelia Earhart, we may still experience some of the epiphanies and achievements that these individuals did.
Learning to befriend solitude allows you to become better acquainted with yourself. Living in a cabin in the woods like Thoreau did is unnecessary, but traveling somewhere new on your own can provide the same life-altering benefits.