The 21st century is a catalyst for contradictions. We are at our most connected, yet we often feel alone and misunderstood. Being by yourself is frowned upon. Why would you want to be yourself when every day you see thousands of photos and videos of people having “the time of their lives” together? This idea produces the most harmful of behaviours – where one continuously pushes their limits to feel “included”, a part of a “community”. But these idealised, often photoshopped, visuals are just myths and most of us know it. Yet we cannot help but feel left out. Being by yourself, therefore, is daunting. Especially during the years immediately before adulthood. You go to university, meet so many people and want to spend all your time with them. Limits are blurred and more autonomous and independent persons can be ostracised for resolutely withstanding peer pressure.
The mental assault by the hyper-social on my balanced, less outgoing and more mature character resulted in doubts, fear and discomfort. This summer Interrailing solo proved the panacea that I had been craving. Hardly am I a guru or a moral authority but I do see a problem in my peers’ inability to accept and cherish solitude, for solitude is richer, greater and more exciting than meaningless companionship. Solo travel really helped me accept that one cannot constantly be around others. Beyond that it showed me the beauty of spontaneity and opening up to new people, places and ideas. The two weeks I spent travelling proved that I was incredibly capable of organising, socialising and learning. They were a huge confidence boost.
I left without having processed the fact that I was leaving. The entire ordeal was only mentally registered at the end, on the 19th July 2022, and to this day I am navigating the aftermath. I was shaken to the core because I had no one to look after me, no one to rely on, no one to share with. Until I met all the fellow solo travellers who instilled a remarkably forceful sense of comradeship in me. Staying put in one country your entire life seems to me the bleakest of conditions because one forgets that we do not live in nation-states and we have not for quite some time now. From climate change to racism, issues are global, not national. And the key to overcoming them is immersion in internationalism – and what better way to achieve this than travelling?
Interrailing introduced me to American, Byelorussian, Canadian, Ghanaian, Dutch, German, Italian, Swedish and Japanese people who taught me lessons which are not obtainable in the halls of universities. They offered me their perspectives and reflected on the life in their countries. I was reminded that most issues that we are facing in the UK are universal and not at all insurmountable. Were it not for solo travel, I would not have met these people and would not have learnt the things I did. In that regard, solo travelling gifts lifelong blessings – those of solidarity, respect and understanding – and offers hope for a better future. But in the less profound and glamorous spheres of life which are often overlooked in the glossy pages of neo-colonialist travel magazines promoting extractionism and careless consumption, Interrailing solo provided valuable lessons. Cooking, cleaning, planning and budgeting all weaved themselves into my daily fabric and a steady rhythm was born.
Of course, there were times of sadness, fright and confusion. The itinerary was ambitious beyond reason. There was only one day where I slept past 9 am, in Amsterdam. In total, I spent over a day on trains across more than 26 journeys in 4 countries. I had breakdowns as a result of not being able to handle the emotional shocks evoked by the places I was visiting – from the Homomonument in Amsterdam to the Nazi Party’s Rally Grounds in Nuremberg. But I would do it all again, because this journey was absolutely life-changing. It exposed me to kindness, bliss and a love for all peoples but also to the appalling history and nature of mankind. In times of crises, such experiences are most relevant. As we are navigating the turbulent 21st century, we are besieged by evermore increasing pressures and threats. Hate, division and alienation are returning with such gusto whilst war never left. We shall overcome. And the key to that lies in dialogue and cooperation – things best understood through peoples- and planet-considerate travelling.