Less than two weeks ago, I decided I needed a getaway, alone. In the spirit of spontaneity, I chose to do so at the earliest dates that I could excuse myself from work. In all honesty, I chose a short 3D2N trip to Penang because I was afraid it’d turn out badly and didn’t want it to be a waste of money, time or leave. Looking back, I’m thankful it was none of the above. In fact, I had 5 rather valuable takeaways (on top of aesthetic Instagram pictures, of course) from my first solo trip.
1. I’m okay with myself
Despite having read/heard countless stories of how traveling alone helps in finding oneself, I cautioned myself against doing so with reasons to do with safety and not being able to split hotel/transport costs. In truth, the underlying reason why it took me so long to travel alone was this: I was afraid I’d get lonely. That if I did find myself, I might not actually like what I find. Just in case that happened, I even brought my MacBook along so I could edit photos/videos if I got too tired of myself at night.
Turns out I didn’t need any distraction at all. I’m perfectly fine with silence, time alone to reflect, and time alone to ask God about life. On hindsight, it baffles me that it took 26 years before I finally plucked up the courage to find that out.
2. It’s freeing to stake your own path
This is a luxury you can’t really afford when traveling with friends, because there’s always an unspoken pressure to maximise your trip by following a specific itinerary. Traveling alone, on the other hand, affords you the chance to you do whatever you want, whenever. In fact, when a Grab driver asked me if it’s sad and lonely traveling alone, my instinctive response was “No, I love it! I get to do whatever I want.” For someone who’s stuck to the well-trodden path (from what schools to go to to what kind of employer should be my first) for all my life, it’s definitely liberating to wander and get lost. And so it is with life: just because everyone else is following it, doesn’t mean it’s the path most suited for you. Even if you wind up getting lost, there’s always beauty to find.
3. There’s beauty in getting lost
If I hadn’t gotten lost while looking for a cafe, I wouldn’t have found the reflexology/massage parlour at a nearby shopping mall (read: getting a massage was one of the most shiok parts of the trip). If I hadn’t gotten lost while searching for a night market, I wouldn’t have chanced upon this sunset at Batu Ferringhi. In essence, it’s okay to get lost, because there’s always beauty to be found at every turn.
4. Knowing who’s your guide is more important than knowing the path you’re taking
Whether it was trusting that Google Maps would lead me to my destination even when the path seemed unlikely to be the right one, the book by O.S. Guinness I was reading on my trip about trusting God in the dark, a text from my mentor, or even the sociology of religion course I took in my final year of uni, all of the above point to one simple truth. As long as I know the Person leading me, trust in the face of mystery is not baseless absurdity.
5. Sometimes you need to get lost to find yourself
I’ll admit: when I set out to ‘find myself’, I didn’t exactly know what that meant; it just sounded like a nice thoughtcatalog ideal. I didn’t come up with a checklist of personal issues that I needed to come face to face with, nor set any goals I wanted to achieve.
I still don’t know if I’ve found myself, but I do know that the only way I could process the lessons above was by choosing to come away; away from incessant activity – not just work, but thoroughly planned holidays with friends as well – to get lost in a flow where I get to clear my mind and get in touch with myself. Until next time, I’ll take that as having found myself.
Interesting nuggets of wisdom as I’m finishing this piece on the plane: there were (unexpectedly) over 150 people in front of me and an elderly couple I befriended at the immigration queue 50 minutes before departure. With only 30 minutes till departure, we heard a last call for our flight but were barely halfway through the queue. I spoke to an immigration officer, but she insisted us we were to queue accordingly despite coming close to missing our flight (??). Had the uncle not asked the massive group of students (who were on a later flight) before us if we could cut their queue, we would’ve definitely missed our flight. Two lessons learnt: (i) Even if you’re traveling alone, you’re never really alone; in fact, traveling alone forces you out of your comfort zone in social ways that can be pretty beneficial (such as making it for your flight) (ii) Even if you think you’ve left enough buffer between check-in and boarding (I reached the airport 3 hours early), don’t take your time at a cafe outside the departure gate.