When people found out that I had traveled around the world, they always asked a few predictable questions:
“What was your favorite country?”
“How many countries did you go to?”
But one that always caught me off guard was this one:
“Did you travel alone or with someone?”
The answer is, I did travel with people for several months, and then I broke off on my own. But why? What was it about Ryan, Aaron, Brandle, and Mike that made me leave them? I’ve quoted their lack of energy and their incessant drinking, two reasons that seem to contradict each other, especially when I quit partying later in the trip. I’ve talked about how they were not as interested in learning about the culture as I was, yet Ryan spoke French, Spanish, was learning German, and picked up a fair bit of Mandarin during the trip, while Aaron spent three months on a Kibbutz in Israel. Mike ended up traveling to the most remote parts of Laos, areas I never dared to venture, and had intense relationships with Laotians. My reasons were hollow upon inspection, hypocritical on the surface and weak in debate.
And perhaps that’s why I didn’t leave them until Budapest, long after my quoted “reasons” had angered me. In the end, I realized that I was giving them too much credit. They didn’t force me, by their actions, into solo travel; I took the initiative and went off on my own. In the end, I didn’t ditch them because they didn’t party all night with me in Berlin. I didn’t go off on my own because Aaron was too negative or because Mike only cared about himself.
I left because I wanted to explore Eastern Europe at my own pace, because I wanted to go to Nepal in October and volunteer, because I knew that the only way I would ever get what I wanted from this trip was if I broke away and began blazing my own path. And the truth was, I was scared to do this. Amama’s death still hung over me, and my experience in Italy had scared me. The longest I’d ever traveled alone before this trip was a four-day voyage to Northern Ireland two years prior, and the solo road trip from California to Kansas the previous summer. A grand total of eight days of solo travel, and now I was facing seven months. Seven months.
For all the grief they gave me, the Trippers did provide comfort. I knew that I would always have a dinner partner, always have someone to split a hotel room with, someone who would at least get me some medicine if I happened to get sick. Yeah, they weren’t perfect, and no I wasn’t breaking new boundaries, but in this new, unknown, and often scary world, it was nice to have some people to cross the border with. And that’s what I had to escape. It had shackled me even in Italy, when I was putting things off until I would meet them.
No more. From now on, I was on my own. I would blaze my own path through Eurasia. It would be a rocky path, as I would have no shoulders to lean on. Instead, I would have to procure my own flashlights and use my own eyes to navigate myself through our complex world. I’d have to learn through experience, through failure, and through intense emotions.
Alone. It was the best decision I made this trip.