The life of a lonely traveler.

March 22nd, 2014, 1pm

It was 11°C with few clouds. There was moderate breeze.

I used to enjoy traveling alone, it was an adventure, an unencumbered excursion into the world, and often, the unknown.

Trains, planes, airports, hotels, busses, taxis — all were exciting in their own way: When journeying to new places, every step was an adventure, a challenge to overcome, no matter how small; when revisiting a place, those steps, the pieces of every traveler’s puzzle, were familiar yet full of promise, knowing what was to come.

Conferences, clients, workshops — delivery mechanisms for seeing new places. Not excuses, no, but enablers: How else does someone travel so much without any expense?

Never in years of this sort of travel did the act of traversing the space between places feel lonely. Naturally, certain destinations had qualities that would lead to such feelings once there — my first trip to Paris in 2009 was replete with such moments, owing as much to that city’s romantic heritage as my own romantic inclinations and desires — but the path to and from remained exciting.

It’s difficult to describe what changed, without delving too far into how it changed, and because of whom; that’s another, much longer, story, for which I have not the energy nor the strength to relay here, now.

The short of it is this: Once you have traveled with someone of like mind, explored with them and seen the world through their eyes, experienced the destination as well as the journey alongside such a companion, and when they are the only person you’ve trusted enough to share things you would be ashamed to utter to another living soul — that person — it changes your definition of travel entirely.

Every hotel room, airport layover, security checkpoint, escalator, restaurant, crosswalk, even the act of packing (both varieties: that which is done before the trip, and that other kind which is most often done in haste, featuring dirty clothes and souvenirs) becomes a team effort, a segment of an ongoing conversation, woven into the fabric of the relationship.

It changes how you travel, how you relate to those steps, and how they reflect your mood, thoughts, opinions. What was once a passing thought not uttered, becomes the source of a laugh (or a disbelieving glare). A trip to the toilet while waiting for that delayed flight can now be achieved without carrying all your possessions — huzzah! And the joy upon seeing a new place for the first time — that most incredible joy of all — can be expressed at that very moment to someone who understands, in words, glances, and in the simple squeeze of a hand held during landing. Every meal becomes a journey all its own (my favourite meal of all time, at La Brouette, a Dutch restaurant overlooking the French town of St. Paul-de-Vence, was one of many such experiences); every book store, monument, and side street, a memory shared. Travel becomes something more than the sum of its parts.

The solitary traveler is an observer, taking part in the journey by watching others making their way through the same spaces. Once you have observed — and shared — with another, it forever changes how you experience it alone.

Moving through these spaces now, they are converted into reminders of what cannot be shared, of the hand that is no longer there to squeeze, the glances that are not returned. The experience returns to one of solitary observation, though now everything reflects the same message: You are alone.

Andrea, Penelope, Ragini, Samantha and 61 others said thanks.

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Dan Rubin

Designer, photographer, teacher, storyteller, dreamer.

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