I was nursing a broken heart when I started to travel alone.
I used to over-eagerly report to him the adventures I had in a new place with pictures, videos, and stories via Facebook and Skype. Each awe-inspiring moment in an unexplored white sand beach or the shocking taste bud instant of a weird exotic dish was always paired with that involuntary longing that wished he was physically there to share it with me.
I was on a train from the old Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya to Bangkok when I realized he was no longer on the other end of the computer screen to say that we will come back there together next time.
I always found my Facebook news feed too noisy because of the constant barrage of the mundane. Then I just figured I had no more use of it anymore. I deactivated my account.
It has been one of those life decisions I continue to not regret.
I was walking through a quiet footpath that passes through the World Health Organization to my conference venue in Geneva. As a community nurse, I have always longed to see it with my very own eyes. I took a keepsake photo and felt a certain joy that I was freed from the shackles of posting it on social media to perpetuate this crafted online self-image and to contribute to this whole new economy of instigating envy among your online friends. I just stood there and reveled in that intoxicating reality that I am halfway around the world from home.
Waking up alone in a foreign city was always filled with both that dread and excitement of encountering the endless possibilities of the unknown. I celebrated my birthday in a noisy Swiss youth hostel over microwaveable salmon pasta with some tourists from Australia. I met a generous gay couple who later hosted me for my participation in the United Nations Human Rights council. A kind Swiss French guy served me Italian dinner at his apartment and ate gelato by the Jet d’Eau fountain in Lake Geneva while talking endlessly over Nietzsche and the geopolitics of Central Asia.
Nothing was ever planned and surprises just continued to unfold. I crashed on the street gutter after sensing that the Grote Market in central Brussels started to spin after losing count of the mugs I guzzled during one Belgian beer weekend. Beside me was an American who collapsed from having way too much. I was ethically bound to assist as a health professional but I had the perfect alcoholic excuse. In Amsterdam, I walked home so stoned that I could not differentiate a rainbow flag from the flag of the Netherlands and got lost for seeing the same bridge and canal. Before flying out of Holland, I puffed my remaining sticks along with other tourists right outside the Schiphol airport. While waiting for my flight to Berlin, I started to scandalously laugh as I thought the amount of THC in my blood was making me hear tweeting birds. Later I read, it was indeed the airport’s ambient sounds. I was alone but immensely happy with myself.
I nearly missed my flight from Berlin. I had to drag myself out of bed in the morning after a night full of Jagermeister, the sight and smell of so much gay men in leather, and the till-dawn partying. I came cutting through the airport lines and just made it before they closed the boarding gate. Talk about never ending adrenaline.
Travelling alone didn’t entirely mean I was solitary the whole time. I was hosted by Filipino families, old friends I met in the Philippines, and made new friends with those I just happened to sit next to in a tour bus. In Busan, South Korea, I ended up eating adobo and sisig with a Swiss German guy on holidays. I met him on a city tour into the ancient Korean temples and accidentally found a Filipino karinderya in downtown Busan for lunch. I started to bring along Filipino and African colleagues from the conference to the port city’s sites after figuring out how to use the public train. I found commuting, walking, and just getting lost a much more intimate way of making memories in a foreign place.
There were moments I still thought of him. I imagined how his face would light up like a five year old boy while marveling at the grandeur of the ancient coliseum and while having pasta with my bestfriend in Rome. I have thought of what it could have been to have him beside me in the train rides through the European or Thai countryside. Yet I surrender that this may be another reality in another time or life. What I am amazed with now is the discovery of the bliss of enjoying my very own company.
The adventure of travelling alone or just travelling in general is not about soliciting validation or approval from others by providing evidence of it through social media. Being caught up in this age of over-sharing is just one big delusion that makes you miss out on what is truly real. I found just spending time with myself in a train ride or flight to an unknown place is an experience that brings me in an intimate inward journey. It is getting out of your zones of comfort and that surrender to the spontaneity of the unfamiliar that helps you find yourself. The way you deal with the unforeseen brings out the stuff you are made of.
Maybe one day I would find again my other wing to fly with me higher and farther to the ends of this world to discover the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful. Till that day comes, I will continue to learn the difference of the joys of being alone and the trap of being lonely.