Everyone has been telling me this year how “lucky” I am to be doing what I’m doing, which, in their minds, is traveling the world at my whim. That’s kinda true (but also kinda not), and even though I do feel lucky, there are some negative aspects to the long-term vagabond life as a singleton. If you wish you could just pack up and become a digital nomad, consider your options carefully, and make an informed decision. As they say, “the grass is always greener on the other side of the world.”
Without further ado, please allow me to bum you out.
1. It’s all on you. As a solo traveler, you have to do everything yourself. Suffering from a bout of Bombay belly, but need to be on a train at 7 a.m. the next morning? It’s all on you. There’s no one to help you carry your stuff, or scamper off to make sure you’re on the right platform while you slump on a bench and feel sorry for yourself. You’re your own responsibility — all of it, all the time. Even when you’re feeling shitty. That also means hauling your shit all over the airport during your layover, or praying that your seatmates are honest folk — and have conveniently forgotten where you stowed that flashy iPad after you finished stealthily reading Fifty Shades of Grey — who won’t rob you when you get up to use the bathroom.
2. Eating alone. This doesn’t bum me out. Really, it doesn’t. I have a book, I have a journal, I people-watch. I’m not too self-conscious to eat out alone. I do, however, get tired of it. Eating dinner alone for more than ten or so nights in a row will bum me out. Especially when I’m traveling, because I have things I want to talk about, guys! I want to talk about the things I saw or did that day, or my impressions of a new city, or hilarious moments that sometimes occur when I try to speak a bit of the local language. It can also suck because sometimes, other diners will shoot you piteous glances, like, “Oh, I’m sorry you’re eating alone, that’s so sad.” First of all, fuck you, that’s condescending and you know it. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t okay with what’s happening. So mind your business.
If you’re dining solo, waiters either pay way LESS attention to you, or inordinately MORE attention to you. Both are awkward. And ocassionally offensive. I’ve actually been turned away from more than one restaurant in Berlin because I was by myself. Even if they have open tables, often they want to save them for bigger parties, so as a “party of one,” you’re disadvantaged. If I’d had a dining partner with me, I’m sure we would have been seated right away. It burns me up, honestly. I feel like its a type of discrimination! In the U.S., each person in the door is treated equally, whether you’re a group of ten or by yourself. None of this “but a bigger party might come in and they will spend more so we will save this table for them” bullshit. The situation does not improve when they grudgingly DO seat you by yourself, and you promptly order the cheapest salad on the menu and tap water to drink. Meh. Not my problem.
3. New gets old. I love new things. I’m an extroverted and outgoing person. I make friends easily. I love moving to a new apartment, arriving to a new city for the first time, trying new restaurants, and meeting new people. New is exciting and fun, and it sparks my curiosity and my creativity and makes me feel alive. However, new can also be exhausting. Do you know how many people I’ve introduced myself to this past year? Okay, well I haven’t counted, but I bet it’s the same as the number of people Miley Cyrus has disappointed with her life choices. Do you know how tired I am of having get-to-know-you small talk with people? SO TIRED. Do you know how much I would give to spend just one day with someone who has known me longer than 24 hours, and maybe even knows my favorite ice cream flavor, or remembers that I don’t like olives? SO MUCH. Until you don’t have the luxury of doing it, you don’t realize how nice — how easy — it is to spend time with people who know you. You’re familiar with each other’s gestures, your conversation is rhythmic and natural, and you feel more relaxed. Being constantly confronted with new, new, NEW all the time is exhausting.
4. There is no one to share this with. Yes, you will have mini-adventures with new friends and lovers you meet along the way, and you will regale your friends back home with stories over Skype, but this journey — across its largest arc — is yours alone. This is good for some things, like introspection and personal growth, but it can be alienating in other ways. The small but meaningful moments become private. You remember a sunrise or a moonlit night from a few months ago and smile, but there is no one to reminisce with. The people who might have been there with you are miles away now, in a city and a country you have moved on from, or maybe there was no one there with you at all. All of this inspires you to be better at living in the moment, but it can be tough. It can make you wonder, like Chris McCandless, if happiness is, in fact, “only real when shared.”
5. Personal relationships can suffer. If the rest of this list has bummed you out enough that you take refuge in Skyping and Whats Apping with your old friends constantly, maybe you won’t have this problem. But all the video chats and emojis in the world can’t make up for face-to-face quality time, as anyone who’s ever been in a long-distance relationship will tell you. And that’s basically what you’re doing: You’re maintaining long-distance relationships with all of your friends and family members. Not only is this difficult, but it’s time-consuming, draining, and hard to do. You may write weekly (let’s be honest: monthly) update emails to Mom, Dad, and Grandma, and have Skype dates set up with your closest friends, which inevitably get pushed back or rescheduled, but it’s all tough. When you’re not there, you’re not there. You have to work hard to maintain the quality of your relationships with far-away folks, and it will never be quite the same while you’re away from them.
In the end, I’ve learned a LOT from spending 2014 on the road. I’ve seen some amazing places, reconnected with some old friends, made some new friends, and collected quite a few stories that I will remember and cherish for a lifetime. I have learned an immense amount about myself. I have no regrets. I choose to focus on progress. I have new tools I can use to improve the quality of my life in the future.
It’s a moving target, happiness, and it always will be. I have seized upon it several times this year. I have ideas as to how I may find myself in its presence more often in the future. A few hints: It’s about attitude, it’s about knowing yourself, it’s about honesty and sincerity. And most of all, it’s about respecting and embracing this HUGE undertaking called “life” that we always think we know, but that continues to surprise us and shake us up.