Traveling Alone, and the Importance of Human Connections

Auriane Alix
My 3 best memories of Lisbon are the shared ones.
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Photo by Raghu Nayyar on Unsplash

My friend Johanna, who came from France to visit me in Lisbon, left yesterday. She stayed with me for 4 days. It was during a moment spent in her company that I pronounced the following words:

“This is exactly how I imagined my dream of becoming a digital nomad.”

A digital nomad is a person who travels around the world while working, often from their laptop, needing only their brain and a wifi connection. That’s how I’ve decided to live my life for now. Lisbon is my first stop.

These four days have been intense. Now I am alone again. And this contrast reveals something that has become more and more obvious to me over the last few months.

When I went out for a walk earlier in the day, I realized that my 3 best memories in Lisbon are, by far, the shared ones.

Maybe I’m not as independent as I thought I was

I have always considered myself an independent, introverted and self-reliant person. This is not the first time I have traveled alone, and I love the freedom it gives me. But if I am completely honest with myself, there always comes a time when I don’t want to be alone anymore. Where the lack of sharing and exchange is felt. Where I deeply want to create meaningful connections with people.

I thought I didn’t need anyone. This freed me from the efforts required to connect with people since I was doing very well without it. But the truth is that I can barely remember the moments I spent alone here. Of course, I enjoyed them too. But they blend in my mind.

The ones that I remember clearly, and that draw a smile on my face when I think about the last three weeks, are the ones I shared.

This diner at the restaurant in (very) good company

One evening, I was invited to the restaurant by the guide (name omitted for privacy reasons) I met during the food tour she organizes (which is also a precious memory). Johanna and I went there together. We had a drink beforehand, then we spent the evening at the restaurant with the guide and three of her friends. This dinner, in addition to being delicious, felt out of time. It was magical to sit around this table, sharing a unique moment, laughing, while enjoying every single minute of it.

Beers and toasts watching the sunset

Johanna and I shared beers and toasts during a whole afternoon spent at a “quiosque”, just above the Miradouro de Santa Catarina. It’s a terrace bathed in sunshine, offering a gorgeous view on the Tage. We were in our t-shirts in the middle of January. The view and the sunset were breathtaking. We literally spent hours chatting and laughing on an afternoon when we didn’t feel like walking. That’s when I said that this was exactly how I would have imagined my digital nomad dream.

Apero and diner at the guide’s house

One of my best memory remains the dinner at the guide’s house. She invited me one night, we had an apero with one of her friends and cooked a mushroom risotto. We spent the evening talking, laughing, listening to music. This person is really my favorite meeting here. This evening was also out of time. It was simple, you might say. But for me, it was a lot.

Moments spent alone lack meaning

I certainly feel perfectly at ease alone. I know myself well enough for that. But it just doesn’t make sense anymore. I’ve discovered that sharing moments with people I deeply appreciate is totally different. It makes sense.

It raises the question of living this digital nomad project, and anything else in life, alone. What is the point of a life spent mainly alone? Is it really viable, as creatures in need of connections that we are? We also need to find the right balance, because seeking the company of others is not the same thing as needing the company of others.

That leaves me with two solutions: to act as if I haven’t noticed anything, that is, to do just my thing and not put effort in connecting with people. Besides, I don’t stay in each place for long, only 1 month or so, so what’s the point?

Or, I decide to apply the lessons I’ve learned. I spend more time and energy meeting people, allowing them and myself to connect with each other. Which is not the easiest choice, because connecting with people is at the same time one of the easiest and hardest things to do.

We have to find the balance between moments spent alone and moments shared. Some of us can’t be alone for an hour and always feel the need to be surrounded by other people. I don’t think that’s healthy, because it’s when you’re alone that you really get to know yourself, and that’s a crucial point in your personal development. Also, I personally feel that I can only connect with people when I’ve already had my quota of time alone.

On the other hand, some of us would prefer not to connect with anyone, and choose the easier option of going alone, without worrying about others and the knots that building human connections can constitute. But I don’t think that’s the right option either. We need connections. There’s beauty in human relationships. The proof: my best moments here are the ones that are shared. And it’s not the first time I’ve realized this. In fact, all the best moments of my life have been shared. Without exception.

There is no doubt that you can live extraordinary moments with yourself, all alone. But I can’t help but ask myself: what's the point?

My conclusion, drawn from my in situ experience, is the following: find the balance that suits you, which should involve both moments of solitude and shared ones. Because one of the deepest meanings of life seems to lie in the connections human beings build with each other.

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