Last month in Hong Kong, I went to the New Territories, a part of the region I’d never visited before. It was only half an hour from bustling Kowloon, but it felt like a totally different part of the world.
On the eve of my departure, before I’d fly to Tokyo and then to Los Angeles, I was feeling anxious.
I went for an hour-long run, my longest in a while. I set out just as the sun was setting and ran along the water, looking at the Kowloon skyline just across the narrow harbor.
I felt as if I were completely alone in the world, a pilgrim on a journey of discovery that would lead me back to my hotel. I wasn’t truly alone, of course—all around me were island residents walking dogs and pushing strollers. But I didn’t know them, and even though I came to Hong Kong often, it wasn’t my home.
I was just another traveler, out in the South China Sea, dreaming of my projects and soaking in the combination of disorientation and nostalgia that came from being in Asia again.
As I ran I told myself: Everything is going to be okay.
Don’t you get lonely doing this? (AKA “What’s wrong with you?”)
Sometimes I do get lonely. Sometimes I get anxious and other times I feel sad. But these things aren’t necessarily connected to travel or to being by myself.
There’s nothing wrong with you if you want to travel alone. If you’re in a relationship, it doesn’t mean that your relationship is unstable. If you’re not in a relationship, it doesn’t mean that you’re looking for one.
If you want to travel alone, it pretty much means exactly that: You like to travel, and you like to be on your own at least some of the time.
If you want to hang out with people, it’s easily done.
These days I usually stay in hotels, but that’s after a dozen years of traveling around the world almost every month. In the early days I’d stay at hostels or small guesthouses, sometimes booking through a website like Hostels.com and other times finding something local directly through a search engine or asking around upon arrival.
While I’d never crack the spine of a guidebook now, in those early days I dutifully prepared for a trip by picking up the latest Lonely Planet or Rough Guide, which always lists the most popular spots for expats and travelers.
So the point is: If you want to be with other people, you can. But you can also appreciate the joys of being out in the world on your own.
Being alone helps you appreciate your surroundings.
When I mentioned this topic online, several people said things like: “Being on my own allows for much more spontaneity”—and also “There is a difference between loneliness and solitude.”
Traveling alone, you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want. If you want to sleep late or get up early, it’s entirely up to you. Extend your trip a day or two in a place you especially like? The world may not be your oyster, but all of these things are your decisions.
There are so many beautiful places in the world. You can see them with someone and share in the experience. Or you can see them on your own, and that’s okay too.
Do you ever travel alone? What have you learned?