GOING SOLO – The Gift of a Daily Challenge

Traveling alone doesn’t mean leaving everyone else in your life behind. Quite accidentally, I found a way to connect with my far-flung friends through social media that I hadn’t really expected because I started a daily project that I shared over the web.

You notice something, take a picture, and post it, revealing yourself in the way the world catches your eye.

Until I took off for a vagabond life, I was only a sometime user of social media. I posted now and then on Facebook. Even more rare were my Twitter posts. And Instagram… well, I had an account. Pretty much empty though. I tried them all but didn’t see the point.

People look at travel photos to imagine for a moment that it could be them, that they could grab that surfboard and join you in the water.

Then, I went to New Zealand for four months for an artist residency. The project I began there was a year of creating a daily miniature drawing or painting. I started posting those every day on Facebook mostly as a way to keep myself accountable. But my friends back home and abroad started commenting and sharing my pictures. Some told me that they looked forward to the next one. I was actually more engaged with some folks than I had been in years. 

One of the daily miniature paintings I did of a young cow that wandered into our back yard.

Four years later, those pictures also have cemented my travels into vivid memories. My memories of the year after, once I’d stopped the project, are only intermittently vivid. The effort of noticing the world around me as I looked for a subject to paint that day, followed by the choosing of an image, and then the making of it, gave me a sharper relationship with the places I went. What I didn’t expect is that my accumulated images would give my friends a sharper and more vivid relationship with me. 

Every day I spent in Chapala, Mexico, I walked along the lake and watched the birds.

So if you’re on your own, give yourself some sort of daily task to hone, focus, or recapitulate the day. It can be as simple as setting a number of steps on your mobile device and walking where your feet take you. And make sure you share it, because your friends, in the routine of their lives, will find your post a momentary gift that takes them out of their everyday grind.

Seeing a church in the bare and beautiful Iceland countryside is like gives the mind a micro-vacation from the everyday grind.

You don’t have to be an artist, or write a big blog post about what your’re doing. Keep it simple and fun. If you’re in the country, It might be that you try to fidentify a piece of nature – a bird or tree or even the kinds of grasses as I did in the pastures of New Zealand. Take pictures of the and then post one on your Facebook timeline or Pinterest, Instagram, or Twitter feeds. You might collect postcards or bottle caps or even grafitti images. Maybe try one new thing every day whether it be a pastry or a dish or a drink. In doing something like that and then fixing it in memory with a photograph, you bring each day into brighter ahd sharper relief in your mind. Share it every day on some social media platform where most of your friends are. 

A hibiscus flower moist with rain brings a whole world with the image.

Don’t stress about making it “interesting” or “clever.” Don’t judge it at all. Just do it. What you think you being lame today might very well make you laugh or proud next week. Silence the inner critic (who really should have been left home) and see what shows up. Who you are is revealed by the collection of images you choose or the ideas you entertain. It’s easy when you’re alone, according to psychologists, to get depressed because we have too much free floating attention that has no anchor. So you want to give yourself an anchor.

The line out the door told me something good was happening at this bakery. I joined the queue and ordered something I’d never tried before: a fougasse.

It really is important to promise yourself that you won’t go to sleep until you do your thing. There were days I got home late, was dead tired, hadn’t posted anything yet, and tried to justify that it wouldn’t matter. But I’d made myself a promise, and the knowledge that others were watching and cheering me on helped me . I told myself that “done is beautiful” and that I could do something quick and easy, but I had to make and post SOMETHING before I went to sleep if I hadn’t already. That one discipline saved me from feeling disconnected from life as I traveled because my friends were there on the other end, noticing, laughing, and cheering me on. Yours will too. Give them the gift of your travels and get the gift of connection even when you’re across the globe and on your own.

Susan diRende travels the world on her own and has been living with no fixed abode since the end of 2014. This twice-monthly column aims to encourage others to try going solo and explores what can be gained from the experience. All photos ©Susan diRende

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