When You’re Truly Alone… You Appreciate Nature For the First Time

Staying home for months at a time during this pandemic has made me miss what life used to be like: roaming without worry, from country to country.

You’d think after I’ve been cooped up for this long, I’d be itching to hop on the first flight out of EWR to rush off and go solo backpacking again. Don’t get me wrong, there is a part of me that would love to go somewhere new right about now. If it were safe. If things were somehow different. But what if I told you… traveling solo isn’t actually all that different from routine life during COVID.

This Isn’t My First Time Social Distancing

You might be thinking I’ve lost it. That to imply coronavirus lockdown and traveling could be in ANY way similar is just absurd. Or that it makes traveling alone sound dreadfully boring. You think life all locked up during COVID has to be the complete OPPOSITE of what roaming the world freely must feel like.

I’m sorry to tell you, in certain ways, it’s actually not all that different…

Traveling the world alone and staying home in quarantine are actually not nearly as different as you may think.

How can traveling the world solo… and social isolating at home indefinitely… be even remotely alike?

You’re probably thinking, “Sure, you can travel “alone” but you get to meet people and see novel things! That is nothing like being locked up alone.”

Reality vs. Social Media

Well, there’s no denying that in the age of Instagram, travel gets glamorized. Vibrant exotic photos lead us to believe that backpackers go on these fancy trips and see these amazing places all while having nonstop fun, right? We find a page filled with photos of some person:

Kicking back on white sand beaches…
trekking up mountains…
swimming alongside dolphins…

Isn’t it great being a free spirit? Not tied down by any job or anyone?

Who wouldn’t want that? Isn’t traveling the world the dream?

Social Isolation Abroad

Contrary to what social media might lead you to believe, there’s a lot of overlap between social distancing for a pandemic and traveling the world alone.

Traveling gets lonely.

That’s not to say the two are the “same.” All I’m stating is that they’re not as different as people might assume.

Sometimes you really want to be around people you know, like, and trust, and much like now during COVID, you simply can’t. Whether it be by law or by personal choice, the option to see certain people simply is not yet available to all of us. (Although, thankfully, things do seem to be improving with the quarantine now.)

I Felt Alone in Greece

When I first left my family and friends behind, it took time to adjust to being completely alone in another country. Without anyone to take solace in right after my arrival, I was forced to adjust.

I was alone indefinitely and I needed to be okay with that.

Being on my own made me take greater notice to those around me. Not only did I notice strangers more, but I found myself connecting to nature. Anyone who knows me knows that I love birds. I always have. Without anyone around, I found comfort in taking the time to appreciate the wild cats and feral birds in Athens.

Put plainly, birds make me happy. I love watching them. I’m fascinated by them and I adore them. While I cannot say I’ve ever paid much attention to pigeons in particular prior to backpacking, I first took notice to them while living in Athens.

Birdwatching Brings Me Joy

It was there that I learned pigeons are actually monogamous birds. When I saw two pigeons “kiss” while walking along a street, I was absolutely blown away. I didn’t know pigeons did that…

Pigeons in Love in Athens

Without many people or any friends around, that summer I decided to spend some time observing pigeons. I took notice to their little tendencies. They’re such interesting little birds. I know a lot of city people tend to hate on pigeons but I also wonder if they’ve ever stopped to really watch them.

I did not know anyone in Athens, but pigeons were everywhere right from the start. Seeing them in different places immediately brought a smile to my face, and for me, that was enough to help me to push onward and not give up with the intention of my long-term trip.

Living in isolation tests you. These birds gave me a reason to smile and that was all I needed in the beginning.

Supposedly, I’m Not Alone

I’m not the only one who feels like this about finding comfort or happiness from seeing birds. A long-term reader of my blog recently reconnected with me during quarantine. Knowing how much I adore birds, he forwarded me an article titled Amid the Pandemic, People Are Paying More Attention to Tweets. And Not the Twitter Kind. (Thanks, Eric!)

So it turns out that people across the USA are taking a greater interest in their backyard birds now that they have nowhere to go and no one to see. I’m happy to see birds are thriving for a change. It’s usually the opposite.

Between their freedom to go anywhere they please, their tendency to flock together, and their extreme aversion to conflict…. I just adore them.

Sometimes You Should Stay Home

When you travel long-term, you face a unique struggle. The struggle of guilt over staying home when you’re tired and in need of break. You feel bad when you’re not doing something. It’s basically “Traveler’s FOMO.”

While traveling in Poland, I became EXHAUSTED. I was constantly working. If I wasn’t teaching online, I was out exploring. When I came home, I’d cook and clean and I still needed to find time to write. I wasn’t giving myself any breaks and I became totally burned out. Until one day…

I WANTED TO STAY HOME AND WATCH NETFLIX ALL DAY

So I did.

It is hard traveling. It feels like you are always doing something. I hit a breaking point in Warsaw. I became so emotionally DRAINED from constantly moving that I didn’t want to go out anymore… I didn’t want to do anything! I was SO tired.

And I felt guilty for feeling like that!

I’m overseas in this country that most people would love to visit if given the chance… and I’m going to spend a day in my room doing nothing?

What a waste, right?

That’s the challenge with long-term travel. It blends together your “vacation mindset” and your “work mindset.” Finding yourself somewhere in the middle, you need to find the space to grant yourself breaks or you’ll burn out like I did.

I ended up staying home for two days to binge watch the entire series of Death Note (highly recommend it) on Netflix. I finished all of the episodes. It was my first time ever binge watching anything. It was 100% worth it and I’m glad I did it. It was a break from constantly thinking. I desperately needed it. Also, Death Note is so addicting and at that time, I had never seen it before despite it having been out for years. (It’s so good I actually recently rewatched it during this quarantine haha.)

I felt a bit frustrated with myself for not being as productive as I could have been so I needed to keep reminding myself that I had been going nonstop for months (literally!) and this was a break from daily life that I needed.

It’s Okay to Do Nothing

In quarantine, things are the same way. If you’re anything like me, I sometimes feel guilty for not working. I like to keep myself busy and it can be hard to take a step back sometimes. I loathe feeling like I’m not being productive with my time. In the same way people struggle with procrastination, overworking yourself is a thing too.

If you’re anything like that as well, it’s so important that you remind yourself that it’s okay to take a step back and relax. Don’t feel guilty for not working in lockdown. In this particular situation, you’re actually being more productive and helpful by staying home and not doing things.

Besides, this isolation is involuntary and out of our control.

Technology Connects Us

It’s like I always say, technology has changed the way the world works. Thanks to our smartphones, laptops, and other devices, we’re able to interact with one another in a way that was impossible not too far back in time.

When I was backpacking alone, social media made the world of a difference to help me still feel connected to my life back at home. As did blogging.

For people living in COVID quarantine, you should never hesitate to video chat or call up old friends. It’s so important to feel connected with people.

Respecting All Life

With all of that said, I’m going to wrap this up. In recent months, I’ve had this really big shift in my mindset about how I think about people and our planet. More specifically, my place and my attitude toward it. I’m going to share a story that I’ve been wanting to write about since April.

I hate bugs. I’m absolutely disgusted by them. It’s a cross between fear and repulsion. The sight of an insect paralyzes me.

When I saw a spider in my home not too long ago, my immediate reaction was to step on it. In another instance, there was a fly buzzing around. I grabbed a tissue and squashed it in my hands.

And then something unexpected happened.

I felt guilty.

I felt guilty for killing two of my least favorite creatures in the entire world. Soon after my sorrow passed, anger swept over me.

Who did I think I was?

Those bugs did nothing to harm me and I got rid of them without giving it a second thought. They were in my space, sure, but they were essentially harmless to me and minding their own business. The same way we might happen to be in a rabbits space when we walk across a grass field. Yet, I was going out of my way to eliminate these bugs…

I began to wonder what makes my life any more valuable than theirs.

The point is that people seem to only value animals they can readily connect with like cats and dogs. I’ll be the first to admit, I feel ZERO connection to insects. In fact, I dislike them. Very much. But this is different. This isn’t about “liking bugs” enough to spare them. They’re living things and what I did is horrific. I literally crushed them…

Stepping on small bugs is bound to happen accidentally but doing it intentionally… suddenly seems much less humane. Why had that always been my first method of getting rid of them?

I feel sorry now.

People shouldn’t feel like it’s too much trouble to relocate another living thing to a safer space like a garden or backyard. Why does a living thing need to die? I didn’t know anything about it and chose to kill it.

It begins to get complicated when we consider things that pose an imminent risk to our health or safety. Obviously anything poisonous or dangerous is different. Mosquitos are coming for your blood. Ticks carry diseases. Termites eat your house. Murder hornets are attacking our beloved honeybees. Not everything is innocent haha.

The fact is, however, most bugs aren’t harming us. Bugs were just an exception I made in my mind and I’m not sure why I thought excluding their lives was ethical or okay. When we begin to make exceptions through our own biases and judgement on who deserves to live, our ethics begin to blur.

2 Comments

  1. I have not seen either the anime or the movie they did for Death Note, but the manga series was good. Glad it kept you occupied during the lockdown. Here in Iowas they just opened the last of the businesses back up today. Are you still taking slow steps to return to something close to normal? Stay safe!

    1. I haven’t read the manga yet, but my friend who has read it says it fantastic. In New Jersey, places took the first steps to reopen today. It’s going slowly, in phases. We’re airing on the side of caution. Stay safe! 🙂

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