I prefer to travel solo. I can stay up as late as I want, sleep in, eat or forget to eat, go here or there and take pictures for hours on end without annoying anyone. Friendly strangers or bartenders usually end my daily solitude, and these random interactions save me from ever feeling lonely.
However, I was never more acutely aware of being single than when I visited Bruges, Belgium. I mean, even the swans were paired up for God’s sake! I should have known – the canals, the romantic boat rides under wispy willows, horse and carriage rides through cobblestone streets that lead to a veritable wonderland of chocolatiers and cozy tea shops. Bruges is meant for couples, and for the first time since I started traveling alone internationally I actually felt… lonely.
I may have gotten over it, but my head wasn’t on straight in April. Here’s what I learned and let this be a lesson for all of you – DO NOT under any circumstances go on a solo vacation when you’re trying to get over someone. DO NOT. If you absolutely must run away, go with a friend. Or, go somewhere without internet or cell phone signal. Climb a mountain or traverse a small strip of the Sahara. Do something that requires so much physical exertion that you don’t have time to notice how everyone in the world is paired up except for you. Otherwise, you may end up doing what I did – texting the person you’re trying to forget because you’re lonely and running up a $350 phone bill. Ouch.
My heart has recovered and other solo adventures await, but I’ve been rethinking the ideal travel situation. If I could have it my way, I’d have a travel companion (someone I know, not some yahoo off a website) who is with me for breakfast and dinner. We’d both, happily, do our own thing during the day and then reconnect in the evening to talk about it over drinks. Does the ideal situation exit? I have no idea. Perhaps I am asking for too much.
If you look at the earth from 37,000 feet, you’ll see rivers. You’ll see the scars left by those that dried up, snaking through the deserts. Farmland will be divided into little squares by red gravel roads, and you’ll see the hovering cumulous cast shadows on fields. There will be glowing patches of city lights, ink blots that are lakes, and the white, serrated edges of mountains. From the stratosphere, it all makes sense. The world is orderly. Quiet. Beautiful. You can’t see the cars littering the highways or the emails cluttering an inbox, and you can’t hear the neighbors fighting or the kids crying, and you can’t feel the shame and disappointments gripping your throat and the fear that you’ll never realize your dreams or find love or ever crawl out from under your pile of debts.
At 37,000 feet, you can breathe. You can enjoy the reprieve, the short moratorium you’ve declared on your responsibilities and open up your mind to the possibility that your life can still mean more than the mistakes you’re trying to fix.
While many of you are slogging through years of classes in pursuit of your MFAs and sketching outlines of your first novels, my 6-year-old niece Lilly is already one step ahead of you. With only a kindergarten education, she has penned numerous short stories and is well-known in her North St. Paul neighborhood. Lilly travels door to door, selling her work for 50 cents, which everyone knows is minimum wage for authors.
I was honored to receive a first edition copy of her novel, The Missing Pig, while visiting her last week. She wrote, illustrated, and self-published it. The Missing Pig is the first book in her Pig Trilogy. The second one, The Pig Knocking Food Down, was also recently released and gifted to her Grandpa Hanson. Rumor has it, the third and final installment, yet to be named, will be on the shelves around the Christmas holiday.
Keep your eyes open for Lilly Maendel, publishing world!