I recently went away on my first solo trip, just for a week, to Slovenia and Venice. It had been too long since my last vacation, I was set on those two destinations (only a four hour bus ride between them) and none of my closest friends could join me. So I decided to go on my own. And realized that I also needed to.
I needed a break from people, from expectations and from my responsibilities. I set out to put all my stresses and concerns on hold, to stop worrying about the world’s problems for a while and instead to enjoy where I was in the present.
When I told anyone I was going away alone they would ask if I was worried about being lonely, about how I would travel around, going on hikes by myself, staying safe. I didn’t worry about any of those things. I was determined to have as little interaction with other people as possible during the trip, and also wondered if maybe then people at the hostels would think I was rude and unfriendly. The main thing I was concerned about was spending Shabbat at Chabad in Venice, because there I would have to talk to people, and – most terrifying of all for me as an introvert – I would probably have to introduce myself to them first as well! Of course it turned out I didn’t need to worry about that.
But I loved almost every moment of the trip that I was on my own. I love to walk and explore and discover and get to know new places. I get my bearings and I feel comfortable and confident in this new place. I fall in love with the place and I don’t want to leave. I tell myself I want to live there. I want to live by the breathtaking lakes and mountains in Slovenia, where everything is calm and life seems to move at a slower pace and the scenery is enchanting even when it’s cloudy and foggy. But no, actually I want to live in a city of islands and bridges and cheerfully lapping water and boats instead of cars, and old beautiful buildings that take you to another era. (Ok and also the best pizza I ever had.)
And I think of Israel and know that’s my real home and the only country that I want to be my home. And I realize that what I love, what is so comforting and reassuring to know, is that wherever I am I can be – not by myself – with myself.
I did a lot of walking during the trip, and felt at times like I wasn’t still enough. Any time I was still, whether standing or sitting, I would often get impatient and want to keep moving to see more, make the most of everything. I feel like this is something that’s probably ingrained in most of us from living such fast-paced lives. So I had to make a conscious effort to walk slower every so often, or to stop completely, take in my surroundings, breathe.
The part of my trip that surprised me the most was that I did enjoy many of my interactions with other people. Not because I was lonely.
In general I don’t like to rely on other people, I always try to do everything for myself and avoid asking for help. Not only that but if someone offers me help it’s almost like a reflex for me to say no thank you, I’m fine. But on this trip I did ask people for help and advice and directions. And when help was offered to me.. at first I’d give my usual response, no I’m fine. But then I’d suddenly think.. wait a second, no, what am I doing.. please do carry my heavy suitcase up those stairs, enjoy!
So I enjoyed these interactions because I guess I was surprised. As somewhat of a cynic, and an introvert who with good reason is wary of strangers, I felt warmed by every small moment of kindness I was met with.
The hotel hostess who typed up a sign in three languages asking people to leave the bathroom lights on, so they would be on for me during Shabbat. The driver who let me ride the bus for free because I didn’t realize I could only use a bus pass, not cash. The other solo travellers I met, decent people out exploring and appreciating this world we live in. Hiking down a mountain in Slovenia together with two other travellers, refusing to leave the slower one behind as it had rained and was slippery and almost sundown. The young American couple who invited me to join them when we were having pizza for breakfast on Friday morning in Venice, and who would also become my Chabad Shabbat friends that weekend. All the others I met at Chabad, the French couple, the American girls. In fact everyone that Shabbat who brought life and light and singing and dancing to that Jewish ghetto square in Venice.
I went on this trip alone because I needed quiet and I wanted to enjoy my freedom and independence. And I did and it was incredible. But ironically it was by travelling alone that I was also reminded of something I guess I’d forgotten: That most people aren’t there to make your life difficult, make you uncomfortable, let you down. Most people are kind, and helpful, and good. I hope there will always be reasons to remember that.