The great lecturer and literary genius Mark Twain once said, “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” And while I myself was traveling alone throughout Europe, I found his words to be very true for quite a few people I met along the way. When I began conceiving the plans for my journey, the thought of traveling with a friend never even entered my mind. The whole idea of my trip to was leave everything behind. And leaving everything behind also meant leaving everyone behind. A few friends of mine, upon hearing of my travel plans, suggested the idea of traveling with me. Without being rude, I kindly said thanks, but no thanks. This trip was for me. In my mind, the truest form of adventure is one in which the traveler is totally and completely free to do as he chooses without having to compromise. No discussions about what to see, where to sleep, where to eat, or where to go next. Just decisions. My decisions. And for me, just the thought of the complete freedom that this would allow me was a beautiful thing.
Cruising the British countryside by bus, my journey well under way, I knew I had made a wise decision. We made frequent stops at various castles, abbeys, mysterious standing stones, and the like. The bus only took you there. Once you were there, it was up to you to make something of it. And with only a limited amount of time at each stop, there was no time for indecision. But what decisions were there? I mean, I didn’t have to consult anyone’s opinion, I just went. So I made a wrong turn? Who cares? At least I don’t have to explain it to someone and apologize for wasting their precious time. Besides, it was usually those wrong turns that led me to the most interesting places of all, the kinds of places you won’t find in your guide book. For the first time in my life I realized that being “directionally challenged” had its benefits. I had a girlfriend once that I literally drove insane by constantly making wrong turns while driving. Looking back, I can say that she just lacked a sense of adventure. Besides, didn’t Columbus discover America by making a wrong turn? He was pretty adventurous, right? And even once he got here, he still didn’t know where he was. My point is, sometimes you go looking for one thing and end up finding something much greater, even though you may not realize it at the time.
What I did realize is that while I was continually getting lost and enjoying the hell out of myself, there were others who weren’t so lucky. One thing I can say for sure is that if you want to test the strength of a relationship, then try backpacking Europe together. If you can handle a month or so of traveling, then you can probably handle just about anything. Matt and Kellie were a prime example. I didn’t get to know either of them too well, but I do know that after that one week on the bus, their relationship was basically over. And it was funny, because everyone commented on what a cute couple they were. Little did I know, they barely spoke to one another the entire week. Now, like I said, I didn’t know either of them too well and have no idea about what was going on in their relationship, but whatever the problem was, it surfaced on that bus. I ended up running into Kellie about a month later at a campground just outside of Venice. She and Matt had gone their separate ways and she was traveling alone now. She seemed pretty happy but she said that she missed him. I guess travel can be cleansing in that way. I guess when we put ourselves in an unfamiliar environment, the only way we can truly enjoy it is if we let go of anything that may be holding us back. For Matt, that was Kellie. For Kellie, it may have been the fear of being alone. But regardless of the reasons, they were both better off for having made the effort.