You don’t need anyone to hold your hand.
One of the great things about the internet is that it’s brought travelers together; in forums and on social networks, backpackers and vagabonds can share experiences and tips, discover new places and ask questions about destinations they’ve yet to hit.
But in the end, the only real travel is done alone.
When you head out on the road by yourself there’s no longer anyone around to define you, no one who knows your personal history, no one who knows where you’ve been and where you’re going. You’re forced into the Now.
And unless you make the mistake of carrying a GPS phone and check into internet cafes every ten minutes to report back to friend and family, you digest your experiences by yourself. There’s no one to hold your hand when you get scared, no one’s shoulder to cry on when things go wrong. There’s no childhood buddy to help you decipher the train timetables and no one to introduce you to the cool bunch of travelers sitting at the other end of the hostel.
Travel should be a rite of passage, a sacred journey, a vision quest. It’s about leaving behind the cloying emotional support system of family and friends and learning to stand on your own two feet. Then, later on, you’ll be able to support others in their time of need.
Although we do our best to deny it, filling all our quiet moments with Messenger updates and shuffled tracks on the Ipod, life itself is actually pretty scary. It’s a blank slate for you to make what you will of it and no where is that more true than when you travel. You could get lost or injured, you might get married or change religion. You might even die: the greatest journey of all and one which is almost certainly a solo trip.
You can only find yourself on your own terms and that’s why just about everyone should leave home and head out on the road for a year. Your prejudices and values will be challenged, you’ll have to get by on your wits and find out who you really are.
Compare such a voyage of self-discovery with the gaggles of school leavers who head off i groups of 5, all armed with Eurorail cards and guidebooks, collectively bumbling their way from train station to hostel to local bar and back again. Each time something out of the ordinary happens they shrink back into the safety of the herd and they carry with them a mini-world from home with them as they go. Why did they bother leaving in the first place?
When you travel alone you’ll meet more people and move at your own pace. Sure, you’ll team up from time to time with other travelers and find yourself sharing a train carriage with an Israeli, a Finn and a couple of locals. Spontaneity and variety are what it’s all about.
Hitting the road alone you’ll grow in ways you never imagined. You’ll experience stuff that your friends and family will never be able to understand.
And nor should they. It’s your trip and it’s entirely up to you to make sense of it.