There is always something so romantic about visiting a new city. Something enticing. The thought of being on new streets, a stranger in the crowd, it appeals to me. It awakens part of my soul. Always, every time.
Until I get there.
When I actually arrive somewhere new, I generally get a sense of disconnection, both outwardly and with myself. All my little demons, the ones I’ve been staving off by being too busy and too involved and too focused on other people, they rise up to the surface, and I have to learn how to embrace them all over again.
Think of it like a road trip. We romanticize the idea of road trips all the time. We think of the music and the laughter, the snacks and the long open road… but then we go on the trip and three hours in we are so done with the car. We grow frustrated, discontent, stir crazy. Those are the little demons I’m talking about.
One of the reasons I travel alone a few times per year is it makes me practice being at peace with myself. It requires grace toward me. It requires resisting shame, embracing loneliness, moving at a slower pace. And in the end, I’m glad I did it every time. I need it. My spirit thrives on it. Too long without some solo time in a new place and I fall back on bad habits. I grow too self-critical. The expectations I have for myself grow too high and I get consistently frustrated because I can never measure up. I find myself forever making excuses. But travel, it awakens my desire to be better, to refocus, to begin thinking I’m capable again.
So today I landed in Halifax. I watched clouds over the ocean and forever rolling green from the plane. I contemplated man’s habit of dividing everything into squares and straight lines and sharp corners–there is no better place to see this from than the sky. I talked to two young men from England on the plane. I felt good. I gathered my things, grabbed a cab, and breathed in ocean air on the long drive into the city. I dropped my bags off in a small Airbnb, and immediately went back out to start exploring.
I must have walked four miles. I saw homeless men ask for change. I saw happy couples sipping red wine and drinking pasta. I poked my head in to listen to a band that called itself “a mix between emo and Motown”. I saw overly dressed men and women look each other over outside of bars. I saw too many humans passing paper to each other for goods wrapped in plastic. No one noticed me, or if they did, they paid little attention. I was entirely anonymous and on new streets, exactly what I’d needed.
And sure enough, the demons showed up, the little negative voices, the old pre-programmed thoughts that have to force themselves out and remind me they are there.
Who travels alone? Pathetic. You’re going to get bored here, you’re going to stay too long, you’re going to regret it. You could have done this at home. You flew all the way out here just to walk the streets? No one even notices you here. You could go days without a conversation. What are you even doing here?
The voices stayed small, which made it easier. I’ve had a bit of practice at all this. Finding safe ways to accept these shaming impulses as part of myself was a huge part of my journey to emotional health. I need to feel just a bit lonely, pathetic, and trapped once in a while. I need to reassess myself.
I breathed, slowed my pace, and took a moment to counter the voices.
You are welcome here. It’s okay to be frustrated. Lonely is okay. Pathetic is okay. Frustrated is okay. Every part of you shadow spaces is fine here. You are a part of me and you belong. But you won’t influence me. You won’t cloud out the rest, the parts that hope and strive, search and create. They belong here too.
I stopped along the water, watching it splash against the dock. A group of people were crammed on a boat nearby, drinking too much. I thought of the exploring I would do tomorrow, the slow pace I would take, the things I would learn about this city, its history, and the people here. I would find little pieces of me here. I would write, think, plan. I would center.
The demons weren’t gone, but for now, they were at rest. I breathed in ocean air and exhaled negative self-talk. I needed this. I needed this.