When asked why travel solo, I often respond…
…to discover who you are when no one is looking.
It’s not an original line but it does sum up what I consider to be the most important “why” of solo travel.
Cheryl Strayed took the solo trip to self-discovery to its max in an 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. She tells the story in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. This 2012 memoir came to life on film in 2014 (trailer below) with Reese Witherspoon playing the role of Cheryl Strayed. It is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, one of my favorite directors.
Eleven hundred miles on the PCT is enough to test the most seasoned hiker. Yet Strayed did it alone, as a novice. During the 94-day hike, she found herself. She came out the other end of the trail changed – she was more of what she had been before her life went off the rails.
I had to change… not to be a different person but back to the person I used to be.
She did it by being alone.
Why travel solo? Because solitude is not about loneliness but about having the space to discover who you are.
Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was.
Solitude is a place where you can be you.
At various points along the trail are informal register logs. Hikers are not required to sign these notebooks but by doing so they contribute to the stories of the trail and are communicating with those who come after.
Cheryl Strayed signed the registers with snippets of poems, including this one by Emily Dickinson. She gave only the first two lines. I had to find the poem and read more.
Why travel solo? To discover who the “You” is.
Emily Dickenson numbered her poems. This is number 292.
If your Nerve, deny you—
Go above your Nerve—
He can lean against the Grave,
If he fear to swerve—
That’s a steady posture—
Never any bend
Held of those Brass arms—
Best Giant made—
If your Soul seesaw—
Lift the Flesh door—
The Poltroon wants Oxygen—
Reading this poem was a serious challenge for me so I went searching for an interpretation. This is taken from one.
Taken together, the three stanzas offer readers two pieces of advice: 1) always remember that death waits for all of us; this knowledge should help us live to the fullest rather than safely. 2) give your soul nourishment. Don’t let it wither for lack of air. You can read the full interpretation here.
This poem was an interesting choice for Strayed. She was certainly living to the fullest on the trail. There her soul was nourished with both solitude and fresh air.
Oh, and I don’t think we need to hike for 94 days to discover ourselves. We can discover much in a short solo trip lived well.
Why travel solo?
What’s your answer?