The question I get most often was: “So, why are you traveling alone?” or from those here, just “ALONE??!!” That’s an interesting question and one that I hadn’t actually thought about until someone actually expected a solid answer out of me. Honestly, it hadn’t actually occurred to me to ask anyone to go to South America with me. It scared me to death to be traveling alone where I didn’t speak the language. But ultimately it came down to: I’m scared to be really alone in South America, so let’s find out why.
This trip was mine and only mine. I rediscovered that the freedom of traveling alone and without a plan is exactly that: I’m traveling alone and I can do whatever I want. Sometimes people come along, sometimes people don’t. Both can be good. I also found out that having no plan is having no plan. And sometimes it can be boring, sometimes there are too many options and sometimes you sit down to drink just to pass time and spend the next week drinking with the same people. And in that rare moment, sometimes you meet someone who’s on the same page as you and you feel like you’ve lived a lifetime together. Sometimes, you find a soul mate and it doesn’t matter if you never see them again. Sometimes you fall in love and consider throwing your life at home away or bringing him home.
I found myself in wonderful company and unexpected company. One early morning, I looked around at the group I was with and suddenly realized I was sitting with the entertainment from two bars last night (a trio of guys on guitar and some guy with a crystal ball) and three tables full of people we collected along the way and I was the only woman. One night I walked into the hostel and was greeted by name by everyone there, and it occurred to me that some of these people I had never actually talked to and others I didn’t know the names of: but everyone knew me and of me because I was pretty much the only one not from Argentina there. Getting blind drunk, smoking and giggling with the girls, falling down stairs, breaking glasses, flashing the crew in the frigid Antarctic air while passing by penguins, seals, whales and icebergs - what?
Then there are those moments alone. Wandering barefoot through Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires in the rain and staring at the open tombs with cats in them, thinking “I’m probably slushing around in the ashes of dead people right now... I wonder if I could catch some kind of disease from this.” Being stung by a bee and wondering if I was allergic to bee stings and was about to die in one of the national parks in Argentina and no one would ever know what had happened to me because I never told the hostel that I was setting off hiking today…and anyway I was just walking and the bloody bee flew into me, what kind of death is that???!!! Or getting into town and realizing hang it all I just want to sit down, get drunk and write in my journal! And proceeding to drink myself stupid and laugh to myself as I wrote, ignoring everyone else who was preparing dinner at the hostel.
One of the things I appreciate about traveling is the immediacy and speed in which decisions and consequences play out. Also, the fact that these happen among strangers who don’t have any responsibility towards each other. What if I follow him on a walkabout for a week? What if I leave this town just because I don’t like the feel of it after having been here for 5 minutes? What if I create a completely new identity? No expectations, no apologies, no shame.
So why do I travel alone? Because it scares me. Because the experiences become my own and it’s up to me if anyone ever finds out about them. Because strangers can be wonderful to each other. And maybe most of all, because it’s a chance just to be. To live, love and die in a condensed version then come home and wonder why everybody tunes out when I start telling my stories.