After several months of traveling and my arrival on a new, exotic continent, I had forgotten what I intended to get out of this second leg of my round-the-world trip. I spent ten days trying to distract myself into getting settled in, but even after making some great memories with lovely people, I still felt a draw towards the ocean and away from other people.
During this period, I re-read the essay that inspired me to take my trip and was reminded of a key concept within it – the importance of solitude. According to the essay, solitude is absolutely necessary in getting clarity and in letting your mind go to new places. This idea of taking time to myself, away from other people and distractions, was exciting but also quite scary. As an extravert, I gain energy from social interactions with others and I can’t say I’ve ever had a huge need to be alone until this trip began. I find I crave alone time often, at least once a day or sometimes even for full days. My cousin sent me this list last week which made us both laugh because so many of the traits seem to work in conflict with each other – which is very true of my personality.
I spent years with my best friends as roommates, coworkers as friends, attending every huge family function (I have over twenty cousins on one side) and, in general, involved in a very social life. I loved it all, but I am also very easily influenced and I think I lose focus more easily than the average person. This is most likely why it took me years to get my act together and do something so drastic. Now, in the midst of it, I don’t allow myself to get too distracted – I am calling all the shots as well as dealing with all the consequences on my own, for better or worse.
In order to address my reticence as I arrived in Asia, I decided to do a little test to see how long I could be alone and how much I would get out of it. I flew to the Krabi Province and settled myself in between a fantastic yoga studio and a beautiful beach in a little simple bungalow. This was, as far as I could tell, the most comfortable situation I could find to take the leap into intentionally being alone for days on end.
What started out as three days ended up as eight. Over this time I was able to “get rid of all the shit I don’t need” (a phrase I heard from a friend and have latched onto). Very quickly I realized how much of my time is taken up worrying about whoever I’m with, where my next destination will be, where to eat my next meal, or what to do all day. During my week of solitude, I could do whatever I wanted and no one would even know or care; it was incredibly freeing. It made me realize I have never, in twenty nine years, done anything so crazy as taking a week of doing nothing on my own. Most people have probably never done this in their lives either – it needs to be intentional otherwise it will never happen. There will always be a distraction.
Over these days, I did yoga once a day at the beautiful treehouse-like studio fifty meters from the beach, I read books I’ve been wanting to read for a decade, I watched the most stunning sunsets with a glass of white wine in hand each night, I ate dinner at the same cafe on the beach while reading a draft of my mother’s latest book, something that I normally don’t have (or make) time to do. I was able to catch up with my family and friends, one by one, which put my mind at ease after missing some of them for months. I sorted through my thousands of photographs and found some gems I didn’t initially see, which I can now share. I discovered that the best way to end a deep, meditative savasana is to dip your toes in warm salt water directly after.
American Thanksgiving fell within this time and, despite my worries of being homesick, I started my day with my first ever meditation class and, because of it, felt a lightness and focus which lasted for days and helped me keep in perspective that I’d been at every holiday for my entire life. Missing it one year was no big deal and being on a beautiful island in Thailand was something I shouldn’t take for granted, even on the hard days.
I read The Alchemist in two days and found myself totally entranced with this short, simple, beautiful book. It echoed a theme which ran throughout my week, following your heart or your “Personal Legend” as they call it. Without giving too much away, the book conveys the concept that things may happen in a way that doesn’t make sense at the time. However, if you stay present, keep an open mind, and pay attention to the signs (or “omens”), a path will become clear. For someone looking for new direction in her life, this certainly resonated with me. I also latched onto this term “Personal Legend,” as I think everyone would hope to make their own life legendary.
As I found my rituals each day, which didn’t require me to go outside a half mile radius, I learned a bit about human nature. I walked to a little cafe for breakfast, my yoga studio, a little beach bar for my sunset wine, and a beach cafe for dinner. At every place as I continued to show up alone, I felt people’s concern for me and the desire to take care of me. Despite my insistence that I wanted to be alone, the people I continued to encounter from all over the world made themselves available to me. Towards the end of the week, I stopped fighting it and opened up to some of them, which led to some wonderful conversations and meals.
I was invited out by a lovely Thai woman to go out after her shift ended at 10pm. This isn’t something I would normally do, but we weren’t going far from my bungalow and I had been wanting to connect with some local people in a way other than the tourist – employee relationship. I met up with Jackie and two other coworkers and hopped on a motorbike, going down the road to an outdoor restaurant for some after work Tom Yum and Jack Daniels (which I was surprised to find out is huge in Asia). For the next three hours, I got to talk – like really talk – with these three. Then sometimes I would sit as they spoke Thai to each other and tried to pick up on what they were saying based on hand gestures and tone. They could not believe what I was doing and I felt the concerned, maternal urges of the two forty-something women in the group.
I explained to them that I had a choice: I was either going to take the risks that go along with taking this trip or miss out on an entire continent, as well as all the intangible lessons I’d learn from solo travel abroad. In the end, they understood and appreciated my perspective. I found out later that they thought I was 22, which was a large part of the concern, and once I revealed my age, they felt a lot more confident in my abilities. When Aon drove me home, he had me hop on the motorbike behind him and stuck Jackie behind me. As I sat sandwiched in between these two Thai locals, the thick, warm wind whipping through my hair, I smiled to myself – there is no way this would have happened if I had stayed at a hostel, if I hadn’t listened to the signs. And I was proud of myself.
During this week, I not only felt I had settled into Asia, but I became totally alive and like I had reached a new place. This refreshed energy brought me back to why I was traveling – not just to see new physical locations, but to push myself to new limits and unfamiliar places mentally and emotionally. Spending a week avoiding distractions, I was left feeling more confident, more comfortable, more relaxed, and more creative. I wrote constantly, took some of my favorite photos since leaving for my trip, and felt I understood something new about the world and my place within it. It was just one step towards becoming legendary.