I grew up with an intense desire to be independent when I was young. I frequently fantasized about the day I would get my driver’s license, and dreamt of moving away from my small town and going to college. My life was never quiet. I grew up with three other siblings and a bustling household and became comfortable with constant noise. Every family gathering drowned in energy and chaos and, while I now long for the clatter of my childhood, as a child I wanted to escape.
I pretended to be traveling alone, high off my potentially perceived maturity.
Family trips and vacations incited the most pandemonium. Long car rides to the airport, frantic layovers, and exhausting journeys to different fast-food restaurants were loud and hectic. Traveling was somewhat anxiety-inducing in my eyes. My family was always running late, sprinting between gates, forgetting certain items at home and losing luggage. I would jump on opportunities to take a trip to the restroom or the airport convenience store alone, clinging to my small doses of freedom. I pretended to be traveling alone, high off my potentially perceived maturity.
Despite the stress, I miss the thrill and comfort of my family adventures. I never felt alone while my siblings attempted to crawl on the moving baggage claims, or while we all ate McDonald’s chicken nuggets. I always had an airplane buddy, someone to watch movies, and share snacks with. There would always be a familiar face to return to after using the airplane bathroom.
The first time I traveled alone was on my way back from summer camp in high school. A bit anxious, yet thrilled to experience the adventure of navigating an airport on my own. Things did not go quite as planned. I missed my first flight and spent hours waiting alone in the customer service line. I frantically ran through the airport, put my name on standby lists for new flights, and hid my tears behind sunglasses while sitting alone in a crowded gate.
Constantly torn between the different people and places I loved around the world, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.
My views on traveling changed completely when I left my family and moved across the country for college. Gone were the rushed missions to find the tastiest yet quickest restaurant in the terminal. Gone were the road trips where my parents and I would play music from their childhood and belt out our favorite tunes. There was no one to grip my hand when turbulence hit the plan. I found myself awkwardly asking for tables for one at airport restaurants and dreaded riding the subway back to campus myself, having no one to return home to. Traveling became an act of solitude, a chore to get me from place A to place B.
I began to look at traveling alone like this: you’re always leaving something or someone you love. When I would fly to and from college, I was either leaving my friends or my family. Taking the subway or a bus usually meant I was leaving my boyfriend after a weekend visit. I felt constantly stretched between almost-homes, and never felt at ease in my current location. I began to hate going anywhere alone, fearing the anonymity of traveling solo would become a life sentence. It felt like my non-consented vulnerability was on display for all the strangers around me.
What I hated most about traveling alone, and just being alone in general, was the forced sense of reflection. Without distraction, my brain focused on thoughts and memories I attempted to repress. I was scared of who I turned into when I was alone and felt lost and homesick for a home I couldn’t identify. Constantly torn between the different people and places I loved around the world, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.
While I still don’t enjoy being alone, the current pandemic and enforced isolation period forced me to grow comfortable with myself. Introspection is sometimes a brutal but necessary process in life. By allowing time to grieve and reflect, I’m growing more accepting and familiar with myself. As at turns out, you’re never truly alone if you know and are comfortable with yourself. Maybe next time I’m on an airplane, I’ll be able to hold my own hand when turbulence strikes.
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