Last month I spent five days traveling around the North Island of New Zealand in a camper van by myself. Now whether your reaction is – “Epic!” or “But what about all of the things that could go wrong?!” – I’d like to make a case for why I think everyone should do something like this at some point in their life.
Guys, I literally preach mindfulness and, I’m telling you, I’ve never felt so present EVER in my life. I didn’t realize how much time I spend talking (this may be less revelatory to those who know me) and “doing”. When I was alone, the option to talk to someone was removed, and I didn’t have any pressing tasks, all that was left was to just notice and be. At one point, I was sitting on a rock in a cave in total darkness, the sound of a river running below me. And while my eyes adjusted to the darkness, thousands of bright blue glowworms began to appear, scattered along the roof of the cave. And in that moment, I cried. That’s never happened to me. But I saw and heard and felt everything so vividly that I felt fully immersed in that precise moment in its full beauty.
Do you have trouble with rigidity or needing to be in control all the time? Well then have I got the thing for you! I have never traveled without something going wrong or things changing in a split second. My second day on the road it POURED all day. My international data plan wasn’t working, so I could only use the internet when I could find free WiFi. The campsites I was planning on staying at weren’t covered by my Department of Conservation pass. So, I had a choice: I could let these hiccups derail and ruin my day/trip, or I could roll with them and make it work. I chose to hike up a volcano in my rain coat, learned how to use Google’s offline maps, had the nearest McDonalds (free WiFi) in constant awareness, and adjusted my itinerary to find available campsites along my route. And it was All. Still. Awesome.
There is nothing like having nobody else to rely on that baptizes you with the fire of self-efficacy. Think of any small accomplishment you’ve done on your own, recently, for the first time. Now multiply that by the power of “I just drove through a roundabout on the opposite side of the road during rush hour” or, “I changed my first flat tire!” I didn’t actually have to change a flat tire, but I learned how to for the first time before I left in case I needed to on the fly. Traveling alone is ripe with first experiences for you to run, trip, or crawl through on your own. But with each one, you’re going to come out feeling so capable and accomplished! And if you don’t – something to learn!
Life is Better Shared
I once read a study (I’m sorry, I couldn’t find the citation) where subway riders were surveyed prior to their ride and asked whether or not they would prefer to talk with someone else on the train during their commute. The majority said they would not. Then riders were surveyed as they exited the train asking whether or not they interacted with other riders and then were asked to rate their happiness level. Even though the majority of people preferred to do their own thing, the overwhelming majority rated feeling happier if they interacted with another person (typically a stranger). Do I love some good “me” time? Was it amazing to know that I could travel through a foreign country all on my own? YES! But when I think about some of my favorite moments, they almost always involved a shared experience with another living, breathing human being. I also can’t deny how much I wished my husband was there to experience everything with me. My research mentor once quoted a proverb that says, “shared joy is double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow” and I felt the truth of that on this trip.
I know that being able to travel is a huge privilege that is not available to everyone. But I would invite you, if possible, to carve out some time to do something new, something that makes you happy, or something that stretches you that you can do on your own. Maybe walk around a new neighborhood/city nearby or try an activity you’ve never done before. You can still practice these same principles. Get creative! And then share it :)!