Being alone ≠ being lonely

Solo travel teaches you several ‘life-lessons’. But few are profound enough to send you to the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.

My Goa trip taught me a lesson I should have learned in elementary school had I bothered to stay awake during English class then. Taking in the sights of Goa, awash in Monsoon beauty, I realized that being alone is not equal to being lonely. Thumbing through the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary only confirmed my experience. ‘Alone’ when used as an adverb means without other people, while ‘lonely’ an adjective is defined as unhappy because you are not with other people. Both the words are also used in other context but I am not going into it Often, we end up using the two as synonyms.

Our fear of being alone stems from the fact that we don’t want to be lonely. But what few realize is that we can be alone and not be lonely or lonely and not be alone or both (alone and lonely). Solo travel helped me learn the difference for, during my trip, I was alone most of the time but rarely lonely.

In fact, I am beginning to believe that ‘company’ is an over-rated concept. It assumes that happiness and contentment comes only when we are with someone, making us shun our own company. That is not to say that having someone around is not worth it. The best thing about solo travel is that it lets you be selfish without having to worry about what others may think.

I learned that traveling single is an amazing way to improve your sense of observation and your ability to listen (some would call it eavesdropping). Often when you travel with a companion, you are so caught up in your own world, gossiping, making plans, bitching, fighting, whining and laughing that you rarely take a moment to look at those around you.

I spent a hot afternoon on a popular crowded beach in Goa sitting under my umbrella observing people. I found that almost every other male on that beach was pot-bellied and the language most spoken was Gujarati! Another time I was in a train, my eyes on the open pages of a boring book, I happily eavesdropped on a conversation a family of four, seated next to me, was having. It is amazing how much I learned about them, just by listening. While trekking, I kept on cursing my stupidity in thinking I could walk so long on difficult terrain but thankfully there was no one to tell me ‘I told you so’.  I discovered a local restaurant serving non-vegetarian Goan thali just for Rs 70 near the Archaeological Survey of India museum, found an ancient mosque few visit, got lost several times and discovered Goa’s amazing public transport system all because I was traveling alone.

For the seasoned solo traveler, my observations may seem like ‘so what’? But for me it was indeed a journey of discovery for before Goa happened I had never traveled alone. I went into it with trepidation and fear and came back amazed and knowledgeable. After all, I did learn the difference between alone and lonely.

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