‘The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.’…more appropriately ‘the woman who walks alone, finds herself screaming at the top of her lungs whilst being chased by wild dogs through a field in Northern Spain at five am.’ To have been following the crowd would have been pretty handy right about then.
Let me explain.
A couple of years ago, I planned a trip with a boyfriend. He was living and working in Italy and I was in England. (Long distance…hmm!). The trip would signify the end of his term working abroad and the end of us both spending a torturous six months apart, we even joked about getting engaged at our final destination! We spent months buying maps, equipment, books…anything and everything we would need.
However, two days before the trip, following a series of tricky months apart, he flew home and dumped me.
I sat the night before my flight with no idea whatsoever on what I was supposed to do now. Cancel the trip?
Except ever since I was young, I always talked of a plan to take a sleeping bag and disappear travelling. I never did it though, there was always an excuse and as I entered my twenties I was aware that I needed to make that leap. Just throw myself into the deep end and hope for the best. It is a scary concept, firstly as a woman to have no one there to protect you, but even just as a human being with no one there to talk to, or share the experience with or even to kick your ass and point out where you’re going wrong.
With some consideration and massive persuasion from my mum (I think this was through a midlife crisis moment of hers where she also mentioned wanting to jump from a plane…) I decided to go by myself.
The next morning, I flew to the south of France, to ‘Saint jean pied de port’ and I walked for a couple of months, covering eight hundred kilometres to Santiago in Spain. I envision, maybe you’re thinking…WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO WALK THAT…EVER!? BUT it was the best experience I have ever had in my life!
Imagine waking up at five o’clock every morning and walking through fields of sunflowers while watching the sun come up or telling stories around a fire, toasting marshmallows before falling asleep by the river at night. Imagine sipping red wine (80 cents a glass!) in the streets of Logrono with the sun lapping against your back or dancing through the town of Pamplona watching the festivities as they prepare for the traditional Bull Run celebration.
Walking alone was empowering. There is no thought in your head that doesn’t go unexplored. Any problem you need to work through in your life, re-analyse, consider, appreciate, you cover all of that. I mean, you have hours to do it! Don’t get me wrong, one day I might pass ginger haired Brian, the teacher from Dublin, also walking the same track and we might chat for hours and that day, I might not get a second to myself. Largely though, you’re alone and you grow to love it that way. The best thing by far, there is no compromise! There is no ‘shall we go here, but I want to go there’. I do exactly what I want, when I want.
Since that trip, I’ve travelled numerous times alone and as Shirley MacLaine once said “The more I travelled the more I realised that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends”. I met an elderly man whose wife had just passed away, so he had sold everything he had and he was now travelling the world. Another girl had just walked out her front door, already covered two thousand kilometres. One particular man was travelling with his thirteen year old son, he was providing massages to injured and struggling individuals walking the trip and these donations were funding his travel.
My own advice is to be brave; it’s easy to be scared. I could have sat at home that night and decided never to have gone. Don’t wait for someone to go with, or the right amount of money, or the courage, or the weather. Just go.