I am part of a group of partly solo-travelling, exclusively female and mostly francophone backpackers on the internet. We share tips and warnings, and support one another in times of need. Some time earlier this year, one such woman “K” was travelling in Laos. She stayed in a guesthouse, as many of us do.
In the middle of the night, one of the men running the reception desk downstairs tried to come into her room, clothed in only a towel. She got up, grabbed her pepper spray and confronted him, saying she was calling the police. He returned to his room, the door of which was just in front of her own. She called a friend and posted a message on the aforementioned group. The moderator of the group called the embassy, who allegedly said they could do nothing to help if no harm had come to K.
K stayed in her room until sunrise, on the phone with a friend, and keeping the other women in the group up to date in the comments. The next morning, a group of French folk came to collect her at the guesthouse. She eventually made her way to Thailand where she spent time recovering with some friends.
An opportunity for unparalleled selfishness…should we choose to take it.
There’s nothing quite like living and/or travelling alone to show you where your priorities truly lie. When alone, with no one else to get us up in the morning, or to motivate us to hike up a mountain or trek all around a city all day, what we do each day boils down to what we decide. It’s an opportunity for unparalleled selfishness, to pick up a map and head out, or burn it altogether, should we so desire. With no one else there to direct our desires, what will we decide?
What about when you’re travelling alone, in a city in Laos, and you come across a message like the one above? Over 300 comments were written below this post. She had plenty of support, though not all of these came from within Laos. Someone else will help. Will they? How can we be sure? The moderator of the group could have done nothing but post a short comment of support. The group of travellers who came to collect her at daylight, could have continued on their merry travels and not given her a second thought. Her friend could have told her to go back to sleep and hung up. Distance, travel and the internet bring equal amounts of anonymity, what will we choose to do with it?
With only God as our witness, what will we choose to do, who will we choose to be?Surrounded by people who don’t know who we’ve been, our past or anything other than the present we’ve shared with them, there is no “reputation” to live up to, no precedent to follow up on. Without people who know us nearby, will we choose to do the right thing, be the right person and stand up for what we believe in (John 13:34-35)?
In a sea of anonymity so vast that we could easily disappear unnoticed, will we hold ourselves accountable to the Lord (or Whoever or whatever our heart kneels to), or does it take someone else’s comment to keep us on track? Who are we behind closed doors? Who are we when the only person present who knows us and will hold us accountable is God? Is He important enough to us that this would matter (Matthew 16:24-26; 22:37); or are we able to brush past Him, indifferent to His presence.
Where do your limits lie?
Left to your own devices, you begin to see not only your priorities come to light, but also your strengths and weaknesses. Similar to your true priorities appearing when no one else is around to define them for you, your true strengths and weaknesses will often make a front row appearance. With no one nearby to pull us up from the depths of our weakness, or to lean on without having to use our own strengths, who will we lean on? With no trustworthy friend or knowledgeable family in sight, who will we go to in times of need?
What if we weren’t really alone? What if the One family member closest to us, the One who knows us better than our entire family put together were within earshot of the quietest whisper? What if after all that “soul-searching travel”, the one with the answers to all those questions, the one with the capacity to fulfil all our needs (even those we never knew we had), were with us no matter where we are?
Perhaps we don’t need as much “soul-searching travel” as we think.
The Ultimate Lesson
If travelling alone has taught me one thing, it’s that we are not built for a life alone. By this, I don’t mean that we must all find that mythological soul-mate to live life with and finally “feel complete”. I refer to something much greater, much holier than our mere relationship status.
Created by a triune God, in His image, by design we reflect some of His traits. “He is Love”, because He is relational. The very fact that He is and has always been three and yet one at the same time, teach us that relationship is at the very core of who He is; it’s part of His Identity, as it is part of ours.
This relationality, if you will, is part of our identity too. It will look different for everyone, and within different seasons of life: for some it will be most obvious within their community relationships, for others it will be through marriage, or family relationships, or friendships; but perhaps the answers we are looking for, aren’t necessarily where
we first think.