Another airport. Another checked bag to worry about. Another couple of hours of trying to figure out how to prop a pillow between my shoulder and head in order to struggle through turbulent upright sleep. Another person who pushes their seat back as far back as it can go. Another takeoff and landing mixed with coffee that is only palatable on airplanes. Another layover. Another airport. Another another. Then there is you, in the middle of it. You can get lost in your world, or you can get lost in theirs. The other stories around you are blossoming and blooming and dying in tiny bursts as you bump the arm next to you and make eye contact with the elderly couple across from you on their IPads.
There is the monk who sits in the window getting his shoes shined, and the man with Nike Velcro sandals, splayed across four armrest-less seats, and the young moms in micro-puff Patagucci holding onto their already too-cool kids hands. There are pilots, puffed up with importance and fatigue simultaneously, and the stewardesses who kindly decline interaction as they gather up themselves again after being enclosed in a tube in the sky with needy and uncomfortable strangers. There was the couple next to you on the plane, sharing their Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal as a pillow between their Coachella Clad attire. There are business men and downright dirty backpackers. And there is you, still there amidst it all, sweating through the layers of clothes you couldn’t fit into your bag and were afraid to leave behind because you’re from California and Yellowstone is cold and unpredictable. You laugh at yourself for the lengths you took so you didn’t have to check your bag.
If there is all of this discomfort and chaos why do you travel? It isn’t luxurious, though it is, if you look at the cost. It isn’t comfortable sitting crammed next to strangers. The food is never good and is always expensive. Yet, you find yourself totally in love with it all. The ache in your back, the constant motion, the heat generated by your baking body, the skylines and terminals, the world stretched out below you… It is all a part of it and you are in love.
This is how I feel when I travel. When I ask myself why I am traveling, the answer is not obvious. For me, the thought of traveling is somewhat exhausting, but once I am in it, it becomes a trance. There is a push and pull of timings and connections that I have to solve like a puzzle. And there are the stories that flit around me in the open air that calm me down and remind me how small my story is in comparison. At the the same time I am filled with an epic sense of wonder for the strangeness of humankind and how many ways there are to live a life. Traveling helps me feel less alone and okay being alone simultaneously. On my flights and buses and Lyft shares I find there are a myriad of people going to the same places to do different things. Convergence and dispersal.
And aloneness and loneliness have become separate things since I have begun to travel. I am comfortable being surrounded by people I don’t know because I never have to worry about the niceties of small talk. If I end up talking to someone, which I usually do, we graze through the entry conversations with genuine curiosity and if time allows we enter into deep conversations about many things I wouldn’t talk about with many of the people who know me well. There is something reckless about the ambiguity of strangers that allows me to open deeply quickly. Perhaps it is because there is no commitment. Perhaps it is my own fear about being held to what I express about my emotions, knowing how quickly they change. I couldn’t really tell you, but I can say that traveling allows me to express the unexpressed parts of myself.
So, when you are alone in a place you don’t know, which I hope someday you will be, remember that there is power in your aloneness. You can be anyone and anything you desire to be. When no one holds you to any preconceived notions, who do you find yourself to be?