Between Road Trips and Aloneness


Ready for the road trips?

Going on a road trip is one of many things in life that I cherish the most. Not only broadens my horizon of spontaneity and capriciousness, but it also provides the opportunity to exhale the fresh air of freedom and escapism. A road trip also offers a possibility to bond closely with friends, family, or even self. By definition, a road trip is generally a long-distance on the road travelled by different types of vehicles to visit places. Visiting places incorporated by the desire to roam around the unknown land has been portrayed in several Hollywood movies that might influence people visually, me included. But more than that, I was so inspired by lots of writers that turned their journey into self-discovery and a purpose in life. Shout out to Sylvain Tesson, John Steinback, Bruce Chatwin, John Muir, Che Guevara, Jack Kerouac, Bill Bryson, Chriss McCandless, Cheryl Strayed, Blair Braverman, Dervla Murphy, Gola Gong, Diego and Marlies which make the road less travelled become more compelling. Reading their adventures fueled my fervor to hit the road and made me feel relevant. I felt that their stories had so much more meaning than just visiting places and it resonated deeply with a certain phase in life. I couldn’t resist such story. Their stories to my soul are like pouring gasoline into a fainted bonfire. They revealed more about how they discovered about themselves and life through people they met or the unpredictable adversity along their journey.

Reading the books about road trips made me ponder how road trips may change people into better or worse. And I imagine it also has something to do with escapism. If you are part of a society that overly values collectivism, having too much self-independence will get you smirked at if not asked why. I was raised in a tradition that valued the importance of neighborhood, friendship, and togetherness that to some extend were useful. My family had been doing their best to raise me as part of the society by providing the insights and practices to bond with my surrounding. However, growing up in a densely populated area where everybody knew everyone had led me to engage in a close social interaction where the concept of privacy barely existed. Even though I considered myself a fully functioning social animal, when everything got so suffocating, I often closed my eyes and conjured up memories of places with tranquility where I could be all alone like in the middle of expansive field of grass. That was perhaps when I gradually grew fonder of enjoying my own company.

I won’t fully deny that I enjoy so much my individualism. Even so, I cannot disavow my tradition either simply because I also value it as of importance. Being surrounded by supportive friends and family feels so nice. They remind me that I am not entirely alone in this universe. I also enjoy a good friendship that nurtures each other through thick and thin of life. That being sad, being proportionally alone and still immersing myself in the warmth of people’s embrace are my ultimate goals for social cohesion. It takes a lifetime to learn to know the right portion of time to mingle just to remind you that you’re not alone and at the same time understanding the right amount of your aloneness to sustain your own tranquility.

Many people perceive aloneness as something scary, intimidating, and jeopardizing. Perhaps it is one of many reasons that they don't like solo traveling since it poses a bigger danger than going together. This is half true, half not. True because going alone surely takes much effort to stay guarded for future dangers and threatening uncertainty. Not true because along with that comes aloneness which is manageable. Aloneness is not a wild boar running around inside your home breaking every piece of your furnitures. It is something that we can befriend.

I personally would have never thought that aloneness has opened the door for me to so many things I don't know existed in me: self-acceptance, resilience, and equanimity of mundane life. For such a long time I had perceived myself in the skirt of introversion, rather than extroversion. I was obviously not a social butterfly, and clearly didn’t know how to keep a conversation interesting. Conversely, I like the quietude, a deafening silence. Maybe that is because I have determination to suffer in silence whenever I feel excruciatingly miserable.


Starting a Road Trip

I came from a low-income family. I must emphasize this so that you will understand a grasp of my condition that road trips on any vehicles means a luxury for me. Going on road trips requires saving so much money months before spending it. Or getting sponsored through cultural exchanges or scholarships. When I was in college, I had to save 60% of my monthly wage for three months to fund my first three-week road trip with my friends. It took me two years to save money so that I could go to Australia for working holiday. I had been allocating my saving for small trips that possibly came. Being able to save some money to go on travelling was also a privilege I won't deny I have. So here I am elucidating excessively the road trips that might have changed me.

First road trip circa 2008

My first road trip was with my college friends going to the neighboring provinces on a train long time ago. It was a memorable journey and relatively safe because there were six of us who had known each other quite long time. We went for culinary trips, paid a visit to museums and old buildings, and even managed going to a secluded beach. Couple years after that, we had graduated and been busy with our lives. My choice after graduation was working and studying at the same which made me juggle between both for 12 consecutive years. During the span of the last four years of my study, I got an opportunity to study abroad. There I was building my home away from home and getting used to individualism. However, this experience was beyond my expectation. I lived in Leeuwarden – the capital city of Friesland located in northern Holland where the famous Frisian Flag came from. It was a small city where people seemed to know each other. It sounds familiar, eh? Strangers greet each other on the street and sometimes if you’re lucky, when you go the market a merchant seller will give you free stuff for an exchange of a big smile. I managed to make friends and was sheltered conveniently. The respect for people’s individualism most of the time was apparent. People simply mind their own business. I was wondering if that what made me adjust quite well. Despite it all, I was also reticently cultivating the depth of my aloneness that I happily plunged into it. I travelled by myself, went to a crash course subjects in other campus, and even paid tribute to monuments I considered significantly important. Then the good two years had to be over and I went back to my home country to complete my research.

Second road trip circa 2015

My second road trip was for an academic purpose. Because the research was a requisite for the completion of my study, I had to do it alone back in my home country. Having the remnants of the courage from traveling abroad made me a bit ignorant and crazy. I forgot to understand that criminality rate differs in every city in the world, including in my home country. I can sum up that this road trip was not as good as my first one. This trip I went alone on an interprovince bus to Banyuwangi on stopovers in Cirebon and Malang and Surabaya in the span of three weeks. During that time, I nearly fell into scam, witnessed police officers dealing with two groups of Begals, had to pull people away from fights on bus, slept on a shelter and in a mosque, spent the night at 24-hours convenient store just because it was the only building existed for the 10 km radius. Those experiences were quite alarming, but nothing compared to when I met three local backpackers during my journey to Malang. At time I was quite happy because they claimed they were from the same hometown as me. You know how it feels meeting strangers coming from the same hometown. You let your guard down because you thought you had a sense of security and similarity. Taking a bus to Malang from Bandung consumed at least 14 hours excluding the waiting time (ngetem) and the bus transfer. So, when they were trying to engage me in an incessant conversation, I was happy to oblige. But as time went by all I did was listen to their story. I gradually deducted the information out of the conversation. Everything felt normal until their story unmatched with each other. Then I was asked to sit far from my 65L backpack that I put in the back. They reasoned that sitting in the back was too crowded because people got off and on through the bus door. I didn’t feel suspicious at first, but my intuition told me to stay guarded. Before I got on the bus, I had secured my wallets and phones in a place that only God knows nobody could reach. So, when I excused myself to get some drink and snacks from my backpack, they looked worried. It was confirmed by my backpack zipper that wasn’t completely sealed and its main compartment was half open. I stayed calm but started harboring copious doubts on them. They continued to extract my stuff out of my bags but failed. As I observed their actions, the interesting part of this group of three was they were overly confident. They seemingly had a good plan, but they were not adept in execution. They lacked experiences and were unskilled in covering their true intention. The more they spoke and moved, the more information I had gotten for my analysis. I immediately made a mental map who the leader was, the right hand of their operation, and their pleaser. Funny thing that I still remember vividly is they tried to tail me whenever I went. An even funnier thing, I was tempted to prove my suspicion by playing their game. Long story short I successfully caught them red-handed. Nope, it didn’t end at police station, but I guess they will also remember this experience as one they couldn’t forget. It was enough for me to leave them with strong disgust and felt so satisfied for proving them wrong. I was lucky to extricate myself from such situation. Even though it felt good to win against such deceiving people, I would never ask for the same experience. Thankfully, I arrived in Banyuwangi safely and began to register my research permit and paperwork.

Third road trip circa 2016

My third road trip was when I had no choice but continuing my research trip. After my second road trip that went awry, I thought I was okay, but I was wrong. The fear of traveling alone bloomed profusely. I talked this out to my close friends who were in shock to hear my experience. Some of them suggested me to at least go with a reliable trip buddy. I knew they meant good, but it was a bit impractical. I couldn’t bring any of my close friends because our schedule didn’t fit. Previously I had a colleague who was willing to help me out in the field by going with me but turned out he was also occupied with his research. It was nearly three months my research didn’t have any significant progress. I distracted my mind by plunging myself into my other work at TV. I spent so much time there as an excuse of skipping my research. I tried once or twice to open my research work, but every time I opened my laptop or touched my paperwork, those memories from previous experience came up to the surface. There was a shiver on my body and my stomach started to feel bloated. My preliminary research data must be continued with more in-depth data. I had to go back to Banyuwangi and Jember and spent at least three to six months to complete the data necessary for my research. My stomach suddenly got shaken whenever I envisaged what awaited me.

Nevertheless, no matter how afraid I feel, deep down I know that to finish what I start I must choose moving forward to seal it off completely. So, I decided to move forward. I tried rebuilding my confidence and recollect a healthy sense of self by doing my best and let God do the rest. I planned everything meticulously this time. I asked my parents’ blessing and gently asked them to pray for me. I chose taking the train and minimized interaction with strangers. Only when I did this, life was getting inexplicably funny. I met many strangers who this time genuinely helped me out. I am pretty sure without their help my struggle at a secluded massive national park would not bearable. For some obvious reasons, they helped me because I couldn’t do this on my own. So, when I went back and forth to collect the data, I grew a liking to a place that gave me a wrong first impression. And eventually I completed my research thanks to everyone who crossed my path.

Fourth road trip, circa 2017

My fourth road trip was when I was in Australia. During my working holiday period I grew even fonder of aloneness. On weekend if I wasn’t working, I straight went to nearby national parks or explored the nature lookouts alone. I even took a train for three hours to get out of town and went back the next day to come to work. My body and mind remembered the lessons from previous road trips without my being aware. If I have some company, that’s alright, I can split the bills and talk to kill the time. But if I have none, it is not a big deal. Going alone clears my head. The most memorable road trips when I was in Australia, though, when I went to Litchfield National Park with some of my housemates. It was the first time I was driving in Australia. We went swimming in the creek and saw a field full of termite mounds. We even got the opportunity to see a pack of kangaroos crossing the road. Going far into the nature from dawn to dusk is such an ecstatic experience.

Fifth road trip circa 2017

My fifth road trip was happening after I went back to Indonesia to extend my visa. I intentionally landed in Bali from NT for a road trip. I rented a small car for nearly three weeks. I put my two big suitcases in the back of the car. I stayed in Kuta to spend the early days of my vacation at a fancy hotel. Oh boy, waking up in a comfy bed without the rush to get up and work in the morning felt like spoiling my soul with gentlest feeling in the world. I went to Padang Bai to take a diving course and to Ubud to instill my mind with tranquility. I started to comprehend that everything indeed happens for a reason. Reason that might be illogical to my feeble mind but actually holds a great virtue of life lesson. This road trip I reckon as part of my healing trip I unintentionally arranged.

Sixth road trip circa 2018

My sixth road trip was departing from my hometown Bandung for Lombok overland. I took train again to Banyuwangi and crossed the Bali Strait by ferry. I went diving in Nusa Penida. On this trip I met two backpackers and befriend them going to Rinjani. This time they were genuinely kind. I felt blessed. In Lombok I rendezvoused with my long time friends to go hiking the Rinjani. There were unpredictable things happened on this trip, but I was happy with how it turned out. Sleeping under a starry night, bathing at a secluded hot spring, feeling so dehydrated during the hike, those moments pushed me to learn to seek the silver linings behind everything. I spent nearly four weeks on the road before my mom called me to go home because she wanted me to accompany her to family event.

Seventh road trip circa 2018 

My seventh road trip was with my close friends traveling to Belitung. There we spent much time to lazy around, eat good food, and snorkeling. It had been such a long time since last time I traveled with my close friends. There was one afternoon we were in the car and passing by a bayou near the main road. We pulled over to witness the landscape that was so serene and eminent. The sun was setting, and the air was so calm. I suddenly felt the poignancy flooded my eyes. I truly cherished these moments with them.

Eight road trip circa 2019

My eighth road trip was traveling alone on a motorbike to Ciletuh-Palabuhan Ratu Geopark. I spent nearly a week there from pitching a tent on the beach, waterfall, and slept at local guest house. I harbored a deep gratefulness during this trip.

Ninth road trip circa 2019

My ninth road trip was when I went back to Australia to let my remaining visa time expires. Honestly, I didn’t do many road trips here. I recall two short road trips to secluded beaches. I spent most of my time by working and going and participated at social gathering. After some time, I felt the urge to came back to my hometown and tried to rebuild what I left there.

Tenth road trip circa 2019

My tenth road trip was going to Mount Lawu with two of my high school friends. Prior to this the three of us also went to Mount Ciremai by car. I drove while those two were sleeping peacefully. I started to make sense of my role on every journey I took.  

Perhaps there are short trips that also need appreciation that I can’t mention. I believe it is not only the distance or destination that makes the journey riveting, but also how we can install the values we gather along the way with our life. All in all, every journey has its own perks and charms.


How Road Trip Changes Me

I think many determinants may contribute to how we change. Or maybe we actually do not change at all. Maybe we just reveal our characters that lie dormant within as we age. A road trip is solely one of many catalysts that help us transform. During my road trips, some of my worldviews had been altered and improved, hopefully in a better way.

For an instance five years ago, I would still see this fragment of my road trip to finish my study as part of a battle against self, but as I kept pondering later in life, it was not a battle. Rather than a battle against self, it was an attempt to reconcile with myself.  As I explained vehemently before, I was completing my research with bloods and tears. To sum it up, I was running out of budget, time, energy, basically everything. But this was something I needed to complete. It was not the degree I would get in the end that benefitted me the most, but the self-discovery journey. I got to know myself better and it felt amazing. During my research journey, I met strangers who helped me sincerely that made me believe that kind people do still exist, and I will take these words to my grave. Another road trip taught me to accept the humility of the discomfort. I was guided to make peace with uncertainty. Years later I was still contemplating if this marked a small steppingstone for my spiritual journey, the inevitable life lesson I must take.

It appears to me that everyone has different conditioning in attaining their life lesson. Some people can equivalently get their life lesson through commuting from home to work. Some can realize the meaning of home through their own surrounding. Some can contemplate in a very crowded place. Some can meditate over the hustle of bustle of their life. Some can learn fast through one or two experiences. Some are just born natural. But some need more effort and must do those things differently. Some need to go far from home to find the meaning of home. Some need to contemplate in a very placid spot to realize their own thoughts. Some need to meet people they don't align with to tame their expectation of people. Some need to fall in the same hole over and over to learn a lesson. Some need to be guided in the nature to ground their feelings. We might take different routes for our spiritual journey in life, but we're on the same journey. 

A road trip creates an opportunity to look at the back alleys of our souls. In this context I learned to realize what angers me. What turns me down. What the source of my lamentation is. What holds me back in life. It improves my connection with My Creator and therefore gradually fixes my perspective on seeing people’s behavior. I, most of the time, was a tense person, a hardcore pessimist. Rigid, very structured, gloomy, well-planned, unapproachable, intimidating, obnoxious, repulsive, demeaning, and lacking sense of humor. My close long-time friends would attest to this description of me. But if you asked them how I am now, they would say that I have changed. I didn’t plan or impose the intention to change to be like that, but I am just letting myself to get molded by life. My close friends were the ones who felt the change and they told me that. I was quite surprised by their take. Not because I was unhappy, but because I didn’t realize how much I have changed. My friends said that I have grown warmer personality, more approachable, compassionate, and overly optimistic. I wouldn’t deny their perception of me, but I still must confess I still have the shades of me that are melancholic, gloomy, and even dark.

If I can exult how I feel about myself now, I would say two things. First, I started to let things happen and allow them to flow. I knew I have an ounce of fatalism right in me and my road trips journey has extended it into a bowl. I started to learn to surrender. My part is doing what I can do best. Que será, será. Second, I learned to accept my aloneness. During my research trip there were times on the road I whined and cried. But still I completed it. It has conflated a lesson that my mind and body has remembered.  It reminds me that I am very capable of being alone. During my trips I rarely felt so lonely. Probably there were two or three times I felt lonely because I was in the agony of yearning for my family’s presence. But it usually subsided after I called them right away. Getting some company isn’t always necessary. I believe that if I can deal with my aloneness, then I can also deal with loneliness. Consequently, it will help me feel comfortable with myself and people around me. In the end travel will make you realize that you feel much better being alone with yourself than with someone that makes you feel like you’re alone. 

As Bruce Chatwin once said,

 “Travel doesn’t merely broaden the mind. It makes the mind.”