Why we’re all the lonely traveller
I don’t know why I can’t get her out of my head. I didn’t know Anita Mac personally; she was just the voice behind a URL, someone who shared some connections with me, who loved travel and writing like I do. I don’t know why, when I opened my Facebook newsfeed and saw a note that she had taken her own life, when I read her final blog post about feeling alone, it hit me so hard that I sat at my desk sobbing on a Sunday afternoon for a woman whom I had never met.
I don’t know why, even today, when people’s messages to her pop up in my social media stream, I tear up. And so I do what I always do when I don’t understand life, and I put pen to paper or, in this case, fingers to keyboard. And maybe I’ll hit publish or maybe I’ll just delete this right after I write it.
Anita’s final blog post, published just a few days ago, was about feeling lonely. About coping with a broken heart and losing her father, all in one go. And maybe she haunts me because I see some of myself in her and that post. I’ve had a boyfriend resent my travels (the relationship eventually ended), and I’ve wondered how long I can keep putting adventure first before I’ll need to start tending to family responsibilities. I’ve had someone close to me commit suicide, and know how the people left behind will continue to ask themselves, even decades later, what they could have done to stop it. I know more people who have battled depression at some point than who haven’t. And so maybe all of that is why Anita’s tale upsets me so much—I know her story too well.
But I’m not the only one. Sunshine and Stilettos, whose post on Anita was what alerted me to the story, commented how the challenge of solo travel versus relationships is rarely discussed by female solo travel bloggers, despite being a very real struggle. BreatheDreamGo confessed last year that she had to leave India after realizing she was homesick and burnt out. Candice Does the World wrote a hilarious but poignant piece about feeling like you’ve travelled so much you can’t even date anymore. I had dinner with Dobbernation Loves this evening, and he told me how he had been feeling lonely just a few days ago, but how complaining about being alone while you’re galavanting around the globe tends to induce lots of eye rolls rather than sympathy.
I admit that my life doesn’t give me time for finding or maintaining a relationship right now. And on the whole, I enjoy that—I like the freedom to move and travel and change my mind without consulting a significant other. And I’ve always called travel my true love—I’ve even written before about how I have a tendency to fall in love with destinations as though each one is a new relationship. But every now and then, I wonder if the day will come that I’ll feel differently and wonder why I flew more than I dated.
I’ve heard people comment before that perpetual travellers are running away from something. That angers me so much. I’ve always believed the opposite—that we’re running toward something: new experiences, new friends, new understanding of ourselves and the world. As travellers, we proudly declare that #WeGoSolo, and collect passport stamps like badges of honour, and people tell us they live vicariously through us. And then every now and then, we let ourselves admit that, yes, travel and living a life in motion is wonderful, but sometimes it can also be lonely.
Reading Anita’s blog now, knowing that she’ll never update it again, is an eerie experience. I see the comments people left on that final post, trying to comfort her and reassure her that she’s not alone, and my stomach churns.
I’m not writing this post to incite pity for the plight of the travel writer. I’m writing it because it’s easy to forget in our plugged-in world—where cheery status updates show us what a great time everyone around us is having, where we believe that everyone’s lives are more perfect than our own—that sometimes we’re all a little bit lonely.
And yes, I will publish this. Because maybe someone out there will see it and realize they’re not so alone after all.