When is the last time you took a trip that was entirely for you? A trip that wasn't about the people you were traveling with, nor the people you were traveling to see? A trip with no agenda except your own?
I just got back from exactly such a trip. And holy shit.
Before I get started let me say that I generally don't have anything against other people. It's just that they're not always my cup of tea. To be clear: I love my family. I love my friends. I love the people I work with. I'm the luckiest bastard in the world. I know this. But sometimes it's just... you know?
That's where I was back in August when I booked this trip to St. Croix. I needed some time alone.
Over the course of this year, I'd been feeling a growing need for Less. Less constraints. Less time commitments. Less of those goddamn ICS meeting invite chips people keep sending me which basically say "I didn't get a chance to pee on your granola bar this morning, so instead I'm sending you this unrequested obligation."
What I needed was a good long meander. With the emphasis on "me."
As the departure date neared, my basement became a staging area where I'd determine what to pack and what to leave behind. I decided that the aesthetics of this trip were important: I'd be taking a minimalist approach. A one-man tent. Very basic camping, fishing and diving gear. Just two t-shirts: green and grey. Two swimsuits: grey and green. A bluetooth speaker. A book. A ukulele.
Just as important were the things I decided to leave behind. No laptop. No extra clothes for "a nice dinner." No schedule of events or list of things to see.
None of these decisions required second opinion or sign off. They were entirely my own, as were any repercussions. This realization felt so freeing. Down in my basement with King Tubby blaring, it seemed like some kind of transformation was already underway.
One of the huge upsides of traveling alone, to my way of thinking, is that you can be exactly who you truly are. Or exactly who you'd like to be. You're free to try on enhanced or entirely different versions of yourself and nobody is the wiser. My enhanced version of me? It's a guy that's unencumbered (mentally, physically, and spiritually) and entirely engaged in every moment.
I know I can hit those notes on occasion at home. We all can. But in St. Croix, I was going for the long sustain. In a place I knew very little about. I basically created a situation where I'd be forced to leave my natural introvertedness behind – down in the basement with all those unnecessary pairs of underwear.
Well, I hit the ground running in STX. My first night in Christiansted (the only hotel stay of the trip), I was hellbent on talking to as many people as possible. I continued my course while camping and diving around Fredriksted and Cane Bay. This, I realize, is a weird thing for a guy to do who consciously decided to visit an island during the off-season to live in a one-man tent. But conversations lead to connections. And connections make the difference between observing a place and engaging with it.
This approach, combined with an open-ended agenda, meant that I got to know more people on this trip than I would in several months back home. All kinds too: Locals, expats, and wanderers. Hanging-outters and hangers-on. It wasn't long before I ran into people I knew almost everywhere I went. They would introduce me to their friends and their favorite haunts. We'd share drinks, dive sites, and hazy late-night hijinks.
This rarely happens when traveling with others. Why? Conversations are easier with old friends. When we travel with others we eat huddled around tables (instead of out in the open at the bar as God intended). We move in clusters like middle schoolers. We have plans and other places to be.
If you want to go fast, says the African proverb, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Well, I couldn't agree more. For this trip though, I wasn't looking for fast. I wasn't looking for far either. In fact, those are the exact kind of measurements I was looking to avoid. I knew I'd have plenty of fast and far waiting for me when I got home.
What I was really looking for was freedom. Freedom to seek. Freedom to see. Freedom to make a fried egg sandwich over an open fire while shittily playing a ukulele naked at dawn.
If you're interested in the same, or your version of it...
I'd definitely suggest going alone.