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We continue our occasional series with world traveler and formidable force of positive energy Lindsay Henwood. Here she talks about the exciting and massively isolating aspects of traveling alone, and explains what she learned she was capable of after she conquered a nagging sense of loneliness. 

Wandering Education: California in Solitude
By Lindsay Henwood

Spontaneous travel is exhilarating. When the decision comes to get into your car and drive to California’s illustrious southern shores, life shifts from predictable to the greatest kind of uncertain—anything can happen. Real life turns on, the daily dose turns off.

Early on a Saturday morning in January, I finished packing the car and as I started rolling away, I looked at my hands and observed them steering the wheel that was taking me away from my regular comforts. Adventure and opportunity awaited as I made my solitary motion from British Columbia to Southern California.

After repeating playlists, stopping for a quick burst of city life in Portland, and then treading on for more than 20 hours of driving, I found myself setting up my tent in a $35 campsite in blustery Bodega Bay, just north of San Francisco. The next morning, the sun rose and the brisk chill encouraged me to go further south to where the cliffs have no name.

This is Big Sur.

A sanctuary for reflection, isolation, and creativity, Big Sur never disappoints with its ever-descending coastline, and the view out West of blue water and a promising horizon.

Sitting hidden and alone on the cliff side where no person could find me, I allowed my mind to wander freely. Letting myself be in that place, void of people but rife with sounds of water and wind, my thoughts began to flow in a poetic verse I wasn’t aware I could conjure. These moments, I have since learned, are so special and rare. It’s like a sense of mastery over something that was once just a youthful passion or curiosity. It’s no doubt a form of intelligence that feels unstoppable.

Driving further south to escape the low-pressure system that I later found was following be down the coast, I had plenty of time to think. I grew up an only child, so solitude is no stranger to me, but traveling alone you spend so much time inside of your own thoughts. During the ride, I began talking to myself out loud—a skill I picked up during particularly lonely moments of my childhood.

I questioned myself as a person, my life direction, and what my next steps were to be. The highs and lows of solo travel occurred often—the exhilaration of being free and only responsible for myself, the intense feeling of being very alone in a great big world. Most of the time I felt endlessly confused. Yet every time I caught a wave, watched a sunset, or ate my dinner in the passenger seat of the car before I went to sleep in some suburb, I realized how awesome this life is, the one that I have created. As a generation that has been given plenty, we believe that real joy lies in what is tangible or will make us well liked, when simply accepting what we have is more than enough.

This solo trip to California opened my eyes to the different forms of education and experience. On my earlier travels, I didn’t make the connection between my experiences and what I was learning. Being raised in such a linear and conventional society, I originally thought education meant only what is to be learned in school. This driving trip down the Western coast of the United States, in particular, allowed me the time to venture more deeply into my experiences and understand that the challenges in my life all have meaning.

Loneliness is felt when you want to share something or have support from someone who isn’t there. On the trip, Christopher McCandless’ quote: “Happiness is only real when shared,” became painfully apparent to me many days and nights, but when I realized how to transform the lonely moments into something only truly cherished alone, it changed my perspective to one that is more appreciative. Things happen when you’re alone. Big decisions get made, answers come to the surface, and great qualities are discovered within you.

One night, when I was in Southern California, pushing down the front passenger seat and slipping into my sleeping bag, I couldn’t help but have the biggest grin on my face. All I could think about was that my life ultimately came to this place of being stoked on whatever it is I have at that moment. I was on my own in a new environment with shelter, food, and a wave waiting for me in the morning. With acceptance, the challenges that came with traveling alone didn’t feel as grandiose or intimidating anymore.

Thinking about conventional education and efforts to follow the normal approach to living, this trip clearly demonstrated learning through experience and with individual style. These became keys to further understanding the capability of my intelligence and potential. Living with this mentally, it opens an energetic pathway to focus on living the good life.

Thank you California.  

For more Wandering Education:

Part 1: Setting the Stage

Part 2: Rwanda

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