Travel and the Lonely Girl

"When that open roads starts to callin me..."

I have been in a post-trip funk.

It’s embarrassing to admit, especially since the trip that propelled me into the sucking black of it wasn’t much of a trip: 10 days, in-country—shit, wholly within California. No form of public transportation was ridden, no bulky backpack bulged to the max: Traveling Lite, Reduced Hassle.

But it wasn’t just that trip that launched me soul-first into the aching void. It was the accumulation of trips, the momentum and gathering steam, wheels spinning and dust pluming. It was a short drive through my own backyard than confirmed what I knew was true, solid and sore as a cancer, sitting unmovable in my gut, in the way that things we suspect (but don’t want to admit) are true do: I like myself better when I’m traveling.

God damnit. I’ve been restless, irritable and discontent since I’ve come home, an itch in my veins, mounting, rising with the blood and coming out (this part is true) in a pink dry rash on my arms and legs. On one particular night last week, when I felt like I was going to crawl out of my own skin, it dawned on me: I’m far less lonely traveling, even solo, than I am at home.

What the fuck is up with that? It’s one of those logic-defying spiritual axioms. But it’s not just the loneliness, because I’ve always been lonely, not in a no-friends kind of way, but in an ache-in-the-center kind of way. (“She had a funny way of looking, too, that was like bird looked: you know, with the head turned, never dead at something, but kind of past it, past it like she could see something nobody else could see; and whatever it was she saw sometimes scared her like a ghost. ‘I’m lonely,’ she says.“) No, it’s more than even that central fact. It’s that I feel like I’m a better version of myself when I travel—as though being on the road irons out all the rough spots, calms all the kinks and hushes me with a lullaby of engine roars and brake squeals.

Sure, there’s the departure from reality aspect: no work, no bills, no floors to be swept and trash to be taken out. Free of mundane tasks and responsibilities, travel allows you to turn to loftier activities, reflecting on life and culture (and street art and soda pop). Traveling isn’t “real” life—or rather, it’s realer life, a sudden plunge back into the ice water of all that surrounds us, but we’re just too wrapped up, too nose-to-the-grindstone, to see at home. It’s either an escape or a return, a reverse kind of homecoming—I haven’t decided which yet.

But it’s something more than that too, I think. Somehow, when I travel, I feel more connected, even when I don’t speak the language, don’t look like anyone around, don’t know anyone for hundreds or thousands of miles. I’m more curious, less shy and inhibited, more apt to  engage (even wordlessly) with a stranger or go traipsing off on some impulsive adventure. I’m totally consumed with my surroundings, and all the shooting sparks and trembling brain waves usually spent hamster-wheeling around myself are redirected, sent to other, sleeping parts of the brain that yawn and stretch and come to life only when I travel.

It’s not that I don’t love my home or my life. It’s that I think about myself less when I travel. Freedom from the bondage of self is what it’s all about, right?—the closest I’ve ever gotten to feeling whole and content and, holy shit, not lonely.

Of course, there are spiritual practices that can achieve the same effect. (“When we retire at night, we constructively review our day… Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of others, of what we could pack into the stream of life?”) But I want it now, I want it the fast and tangible way, the board-a-plane-and-stuff-a-bag-and-drain-my-bank-account way. I don’t want to sit crosslegged on a lotus leaf and wait for, not enlightenment, but something to ease the itch and fill the void, the little lonely I carry, that I sometimes think we all carry.

I’d planned to go back. I’d switched my shifts and made hasty arrangements, was going to go back to LA. I told myself it was attend the renaming ceremony of John Fante Square (as much for the ceremony itself as to witness whatever bizarre cross-section of humanity would come out for such a thing—myself included, of course). I told myself it was to take more pictures and get more material and possibly go to a print studio that sounded pretty killer. But really I just wanted to relive my last trip—to get back to that place, that elusive illusive place, where I’m not just happy, but something that resembles content. It’s not actually a place at all, an anti-place—or else it’s every place, the possibility and freedom of the open road that courses through the world and ourselves and that, goddamn, I wanna get back on, wind-rattling and dust-covered.

12 Responses to “Travel and the Lonely Girl”

  1. 1 Keith April 15, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Gripping writing. I think I understand where you’re coming from. I appreciated the honesty in it. Thanks for a good read.

  2. 2 mickey April 15, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    I am most impressed when you write about the meaning of travel – “all the shooting sparks and trembling brain waves usually spent hamster-wheeling around myself are redirected, sent to other, sleeping parts of the brain that yawn and stretch and come to life” – to me this is far more interesting, mysterious, and hard to get to than any locale or destination.

  3. 3 Gray April 15, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    I can so relate to this. I like myself better when I travel, too. I’m much more social and outgoing and self-confident when I travel. At the same time, I feel content with my aloneness on the road, whereas I am not as content with it at home.

  4. 4 di April 16, 2010 at 3:22 am

    I love what you say about thinking less about yourself as you travel, and the soothing rumble of the train on the tracks.
    Back home blues are hard to beat.

  5. 5 Candice April 16, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Kinda unrelated but maybe will boost your day…I just had to tell you that I think you’re one of the most exceptional travel writers goin’. I’ll rarely read through a really like blog entry like this one, but yours is always a pleasure.

  6. 7 Brian April 16, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Once again you’ve written a picture that puts me inside your head and makes me realize things about myself that I didn’t even know were there. I’m writing my why I quit my job and am about to take off down the road for who knows how long post right now and will be linking to this story as you tell it like few could. Damn, I feel bad calling my post writing on your page. Anyway keep up the great work and write a book!

  7. 8 Guy McLaren April 17, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    I feel you. I also feel trapped right now and need to get out there and live. It needs saying, thank you for saying it

  8. 9 Ekua April 18, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    Lauren, I love this. This exactly describes why I ache to travel… things that I thought were a little inexplicable you’ve eloquently put into writing here. BTW, one of my friends found your blog through mine and she was telling me yesterday that likes your writing a lot. She said she was really “drawn in” by it!

  9. 10 Angie De Angelis April 19, 2010 at 11:08 am

    I found your blog while looking for some about travel writing and this post alone has made me a fan. I completely understand your point of view. I feel the same way and the way you put it words was perfect.

  10. 11 nel April 19, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Hi Lonely Girl,

    Thank you for putting into words what travel means to me. It all so often is failed to be translated to the people around me who have not been able to experience it for themselves. Living what i’ve been told as a relatively ‘normal’ life…finished school, finished uni, now with a job using my degree…i have little motivation to further my studies or career as everything pales in comparison to travel and the mindset it brings with it, that feeling of ease. I’m about to embark on a trip for a few months starting in LA and travelling down to central america as a solo female traveller. This has been considered to slightly left of field for my family and there has been some concern. But reading your blog reminds me of the feeling my other travels have brought me and gives me comfort that the head burn i’ve been feeling for the last six months is about to be cured, i might even get some decent sleep. If you come up with something that enables you to bottle that feeling, please let me know as no doubt the dark clouds will be awaiting me on my return, until next time 🙂

  11. 12 nel April 19, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Ps. I have tried the lotus leaf…and i’m still waiting

Comments are currently closed.

Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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