Running Scared and Traveling Solo

By:  Talor Stone                                                                                                                March 12th, 2018

Solo travel is often viewed as an inspirational and courageous act undertaken by naturally independent adventurers.  Countless travel blogs peddle its merits and encourage readers to just go for it.  I truly admire these people who have had the courage to weigh their options and willingly choose solo travel for the joy of it.  But my journey to traveling solo required more of a violent, heart-breaking shove than an eloquently blogged nudge.  My story of how I started adventuring alone may not fill you with warm fuzzies about taking the leap for yourself, but it is a tremendously more personal story.

For me, traveling solo for the first time was downright terrifying.  Like jumping out of a plane and not knowing for sure whether there was actually a parachute on your back.  It was a true roller coaster of emotions from the elation accompanying the moment I pulled out of the driveway to the unadulterated sorrow of the first night spent alone.  Everyone has a personal reason for the first time they venture off the beaten path solo.  Many travelers are simply tired of waiting for friends to follow through on trips.  Some have a lifelong enjoyment of solitary activities.  And some are running away from something as quickly as possible because whatever scary thing exists out there in the world pales in comparison to their current state of affairs.  I was definitely the latter.

My first steps into the world of solo travel were not tentative or planned.  They were impulsive and driven by fear, anger, and a gut-wrenching need to be anywhere else and far away from people.  My marriage was dying.  The highs and lows that accompanied having a spouse with an addiction had finally taken its toll.  I won’t even pretend to place full blame for the failure of the marriage on him.  After a myriad of wrong turns early in the relationship, I know that I was poorly equipped and inadequately motivated to provide the level or type of support he probably needed from me.  Regardless, there is a special kind of pain endured by those who repeatedly celebrate sobriety and mourn relapse.  It’s like watching someone you love die over and over and over again until they are nothing left to you but the cold yet still stirring corpse of someone you once held dear.

After celebrating several weeks of apparent sobriety, the familiar wounds of a roller coaster marriage had finally begun to again scar over.  That is until I spontaneously stopped by the house while out running errands for the day.  Upon entering the house, I found a strung out figure laying on the couch shocked that I walked through the door, but incapable of providing even the weakest of responses.  Within 12 hours I was gone.  I can’t tell you what my thoughts were in that moment beyond the overwhelming sense of being suffocated alive and a compulsive need to take flight.

I didn’t want another round of fighting.  I couldn’t survive another failed bout in rehab.  It was time to act in self-preservation.  So I ran.  I drove towards a happy moment.  A memory from my childhood when I drove with my dad during our move from Delaware to Louisiana.  Normally I had to share my dad’s very limited time with my younger brother and mom, and it always felt like I was shorted.  He coached my brother’s sports teams while my mom always took me to my activities.  But on this trip I finally had the undivided attention of someone I revered.  I remember being deeply happy.  My mom had bought me a stack of magazines which were, rather ironically given my current situation, filled with wedding dresses and pretty brides.  My favorite stop along the drive was at Tallulah Gorge State Park in northern Georgia.  So, in my flight, I drove 9 hours straight there.

At the time I had never camped a single day in my life, let alone traveled solo.  While I loved the outdoors, I had hardly ever done more than a 2 mile hike.  I was an amateur all alone in a whole new world.  Because I didn’t have any camping gear, I settled into a sad motel.  The elation associated with pulling out of my driveway was immediately dampened by the overwhelming sense of being alone in an unfamiliar place.  That first night I cried myself to sleep out of sheer self-pity.  But the next morning the sun rose with hope and the cold February fog lifted from the Blue Ridge Mountains.  I had survived the night.  A rather shocking feat, it seemed, for a girl who had never traveled unaccompanied before.

The realization that a night spent alone in an unfamiliar place wouldn’t actually kill me quickly sank in, and with it a little seed of courage quietly settled in my gut and began to grow.  Over the span of a week hiking solo, I climbed to the top of several mountains (albeit tiny ones) and chased many waterfalls.  I completed hikes that I never thought I would be capable of finishing.  Hikes that, had there been someone beside me, I would have complained about and found a reason to turn back.  But with only me there to bear witness, I wasn’t about to let my own ego see me flinch.  I walked out of those woods more resilient and confident than I had entered them.  For the first time in a long time I felt capable of overcoming challenges and I saw myself as strong.  This marked a true turning point in my life.

In the end, after a week of self-exploration, I returned home.  As anyone who has ever endured a protracted breakup or divorce can attest, the deceased corpse of a relationship can sometimes spasm enough in the end to trick those who are hopeful into seeing a semblance of life.  It took 2 more months before I finally left, but that’s a story for another time.  What I do know is this:  If I had not taken the chance and made that first solo trip, there is no way I would have had the courage to leave my marriage when I did.  Solo travel had shown me that I was capable of great things both physically and emotionally.  That I could stand on my own.  That I was enough.  And for that I am forever grateful.

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