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How Solo Travel Changes You

Luke Armstrong | Dec 21, 2020

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Sometimes when I’m asked to tell my story, I say it this way: “A dozen years ago I went to South America and I never came back.”

My passport would tell a different story. Its stamped and worn pages tell the tales of comings and goings to a smattering of places across the world, returning home, and setting out again and again to hubs and bases and new horizons. 
I do not mean I remained in South America. What I mean is that a possibility was planted on that trip from which my whole life grew. The world opened up for me and something within expanded past the point of no return. 
Solo travel takes you away from your known world yet somehow leaves you closer to yourself. 
I am not talking about just taking a trip by yourself but leaving the conditioning of country and culture to discover your world. Through better knowing your world, you better understand yourself. Through better understanding yourself, you better understand the world. 
I speak to the sort of trip one takes to discover the deepest places within. There is a shift in understanding that one goes through on an open-ended trip across the world.
There is every reason in the world not to take a trip like this. What about your financial situation? What about your girlfriend? What about your career? What about your bills? What about the dangers of the countries you’re visiting. And so on.
To these I say, what about you? What about the you that you will never know until you watch him meet the challenges that travel brings? 
I can travel back in time in my memories and see it all so clearly, the ways I nurtured my desire to travel. I can still hear the quiet, meditative music. I can see the flickers of three candles illuminating my room. A map of the world before me, intrepid books of poetry and travel books are scattered in front of me. I’m dreaming of the future in that room, dreaming of myself with a large backpack on, out discovering the world. I’m reading poetry in that room, one of my favorites from that time is Walt Whitman’s Song of the Open Road that opens: “Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road, / Healthy, free, the world before me, / The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.” 
This memory is a vision of my undergraduate apartment. Back then galivanting across the globe while writing and doing philanthropic work was just a dream. In the last decade those dreams have been fulfilled again and again. What used to be a wistful future to hope for is now the recent past I draw inspiration from — nights among the artists of Paris, mornings in Thai mountains, sharing a rum with musicians in Havana, assisting children break out of poverty in Africa, soaking in phosphorescent waters of moonlight beaches, listening to old men bent over dust-bound books filling a night with all they have to say, and so on. 
All this because I set out in the first place. 
My advice to anyone who feels this pull within guiding you to the open road is to follow it at all costs. Follow it past any fears that keep you bound in a life that prevents you from listening to that inner voice that compels you to quit everything else and discover the world. 
Each trip will take a shape according to the person embarking upon it. Beyond the details, you’ll come to discover what many before you have — the deepest truths about life cannot be fit into a simple articulation. They can’t be put into words at all. But they do exist, inside of you. The truth of who you are and how you relate to the world and what you’re supposed to do with your life are inside of you to discover. If you feel the prod to set sail, know that desire as not different from yourself. It’s the you that you need to become, beckoning out into the world so that the lessons you’ll need to learn will allow what’s within to unfold into your life. May you have happy trails on the way. 

About the Author

luke armstrong

Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of "The Nomad's Nomad." He has spent the last decade traveling, writing and designing, and funding philanthropic programs around the world.

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