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Buy the Ticket

May 9, 2012

In a completely coincidental span of about two weeks I read the book “Wild” and watched the film “The Way.” What’s a bit weird is that both works (which I highly-recommend) dive into the same theme of traveling alone. Specifically, going out on a somewhat isolated journey to sort through life-altering events.

Have you ever traveled alone?

I did, once … kind of. During my senior year of college I enrolled in a program called Alternative Spring Break. It was an interesting week during which I traveled with complete strangers to Chicago to work on “Streetwise,” the newspaper (although I think it’s since been converted to a magazine layout) sold throughout the city by homeless men and women for a nominal amount. It’s a wonderful organization, and the people that run it are the salt of the Earth. So, I can’t say I was solo, exactly, during those travels. I wasn’t trekking through the Pacific Crest Trail like Cheryl Strayed in “Wild,” or embarking on the historical quest of el Camino de Santiago like Martin Sheen’s character in “The Way.” No, I was surrounded by people the entire time, but no one that I knew beforehand, which was a strange feeling–to be without the comfort of an existing relationship with my travel companions.

I have a friend whom I worked with in news who really travels alone. She leaves her very high-pressured field-producing position with a major network reporter and virtually disappears. Leaving the conference calls, the war zones, the Blackberry, the television scripts, the countless hours of raw agency video loaded with horrific images, and just like that she’s gone. She wouldn’t even tell me the name of her latest spot, except to mention that it’s somewhere in the Caribbean, is too small to show up on a map, and it takes a couple of days after a flight from New York to reach it by boat. She needs to be that alone. And I think she’s one of the bravest people I know for actually booking her annual off-the-grid trip and not just talking about doing it.

I remember just after my father died wanting to be that alone. I think most people in a crisis or life-changing situation all experience that universal fight or flight notion and can picture themselves, not unlike the Runaway Bride, hopping on that Greyhound bus headed for anywhere-but-here. There’s something about the notion that sounds so freeing and appealing. It’s the idea that travel can somehow make it all better.

But, then I remember how much of life is about shared experiences. No matter how many times I describe to my husband how wonderful a Guinness tastes at a pub in Dublin, he’ll never know because he wasn’t on that trip with me. But, we can laugh for hours about winding up in the formal living room at some random person’s house in Atenas, Costa Rica before realizing this was, in fact, not the bed and breakfast we’d booked. They were so polite! Or if I tell my sister to stop acting like a Honey’s Doughnut employee, she knows I’m telling her she’s being as snotty as the counter staff at the hole-in-the-wall joint in Vancouver we experienced while on a family vacation several years back.

My husband traveled alone, as you can tell from this photo. Well, it was a trip similar to my Chicago one. His was a 20-day journey through the Wind River Mountain Range in Wyoming for National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) where he knew no one, but by the end his travel companions were like family. In the course of those weeks they figured out when one person needed quiet time in the mornings, that this person liked to photograph everything along the way, and this person liked to stay up late talking. But, after the trip was over, he’s never talked to any on the NOLS trip again. The only thing binding them might’ve been that experience while they were actually in it, but without that, there wasn’t much else. That time or place or people can never be replicated–all that’s left is my husband’s memory of what he experienced.

That to me is the interesting dichotomy with travel, we all leave searching for something. Whether it’s culture, or adventure, or an experience you’ve always wanted … to book the ticket, to take the ride. Would you ever book it alone?