Traveling alone… is not that great, in my opinion.
The entire semester, my roommate had been hyping up the prospect of travelling alone, claiming benefits such as being able relax without pressure to compromise on how to spend the day. But all I could feel throughout my entire three-day trip to Dublin is loneliness. It is a loneliness that I have forgotten about for quite a while, and it was not “relaxing.” Because, there mere act of travelling necessitates an exposure to an unfamiliar environment. That is, of course, one of the many motivations of travelling. But there are also multiple ways to confront unfamiliarity and discomfort: one is with others, the other is by yourself.
I can always feel the indifference of the universe. But, sometimes, especially when I have been in a singular environment for quite some time, I forget about the indifference just for a little bit. There are aspects of familiarity that cause me to believe, even for one second, that the universe is not a stranger to me. I remember within my first days in London, I was reminded once again that I have only constructed pockets of illusions to address my fears of indifference. People would walk past me, unaware even that I existed. I would see stores such as Sainsbury’s and Curry’s PC World and Waterstones have no memories associated with them.
It was in those moments that I genuinely missed the automatic interactions that I used to have on Locust Walk. Even if I were to ceremoniously make plans to get brunch with someone who I have not spoken to for multiple months, there exists a degree of familiarity to the interaction. I would walk in a street an actually recognize the people around me. I would have the option to converse or engage with a person that would make me isolated from the indifference of the universe, even for a little bit. It was a choice that I had, which I sometimes took because I have social needs.
I was surrounded by familiar objects. From the walk from my house on Filbert Street to my first class in statistical learning in the Vagelos Building, I would walk past familiar sights. I would walk past the 40th and Market subway stop, where there would be a line outside of Crown Fried Chicken in the evenings when I return from the library. On 40th and Chestnut, I could turn left and ride on the bike lane instead of the sidewalk, where I would be able to cruise downhills without fear of chips in the road. I would know when to turn right when I hit the bottom of the hill on 34th and Chestnut. Then, I would pass by sites such as New College House and Penn Book Center before I arrived at class.
Slowly, the familiarity grew, I ate enough Tesco meal deals to know intuitively which sandwich I wanted to get even before I arrived. I have played enough games of Starcraft II in Curry’s PC World never to want to touch Starcraft II in my life ever again. I have read enough books in Waterstones to memorize the layout of the books on display in the philosophy section on the second floor. Slowly, the unfamiliar because familiar, and I once again constructed an illusion of familiarity to forget about the indifference of the universe.
This, of course, is assisted by routine. But, it is also assisted by the prospect of sharing discovery. I discovered London with people. It is the existence of people that mitigates the feelings of alienation that is associated with the transition into an unfamiliar environment. And now, when I reflect on all of those cities that I have discovered in the past, it is always the existence of a familiar person to mitigate the sense of profound discomfort that is associated with re-discovering the indifference of the universe. Because, while individuals can walk past me without a blink of an eye, it is the person beside me that genuinely cares.
It is nice to know that someone genuinely cares about me in a sea of individuals who couldn’t care less whether I died or became president or whatever. They have their lives, and I have mine. It is the same standard. Given the homogeneity of strangers, there are limitations to how much I can feel and empathize without shared life experiences. Without the familiarity that is associated with sharing existence, there only exists me facing the indifference of the universe alone.
I would walk along the River Liffey. I would see sights that have been pointed out to me in the past. All the way to the west, there is the Guinness brewing factory. I could tell because it says “Guinness” at least two times in this massive hunk of metal. It was recommended on virtually all lists of things to do in Dublin, and Google Maps makes sure to point it out. Then, in the middle, there is the Temple Bar area, where “Circe” in Ulysses took place. Even at night, it is not nearly as lively as I imagined it to be, which is good in some cases, I suppose. I imagined it to be a psychedelic experience. It was not. Then, all the way down in the east, there is the Samuel Beckett bridge, named after… you guessed it, Samuel Beckett. I like his writing.
I could navigate my surroundings because I had Google Maps to help me do it. But, in terms of actually feeling the familiarity in the roots of my intuition, I had none of it. Even as I was approaching the end, when I feel as if I had navigated the entirety of Dublin by foot, I still felt the same insecurity as I had in the beginning. I suppose that is the nature of all forms of travel. Even as I am able to navigate my surroundings without a map, it still seems as if there is a sharp disconnect between the experience of travelling alone and traveling with others and living in a location. I was alone, but I was also lonely.
That feeling defined most of my thoughts on my three-day trip to Dublin. It was me and the city. Of course, there were a surprising amount of American tourists, but these people are not figures of familiarity. If anything, the existence of tourists just like me beside me made me feel even more alienated because these are individuals that I supposedly have some association with, which would supposedly recall a feeling of familiarity. But what I actually felt differed significantly from what I was suppose to feel. I did not feel the camaraderie. These tourists are just as much of strangers to me as the locals of Dublin. But at least they have someone to experience the city with.
This feeling was especially pronounced when I had visited a music pub in Temple Bar. Of course, Temple Bar is a very tourist-y area. But, unlike me and a few old people here and there, everyone came with someone else. Especially the tourists. The tourists all came with someone else. Perhaps it is a friend. Perhaps it is a family member. Regardless, it was only me and my Costco backpack versus the rest of the world. Some people seem to be having fun. I have since learned to take this with a grain of salt, but it genuinely seemed like they were having fun. And, if they did not, then they left discreetly.
But then there’s me.
I have been alone for some time now, but it is only on those moments where I am completely at the mercy of the universe where I feel completely alone. This three-day trip to Dublin was an example of a time that I felt completely helpless in terms of my loneliness. There was no one that I could reach out to mitigate my feelings. As far as I know, no one that I have even a second-degree connection to was in Dublin with me. There was no one to share experience with; I could only face the experience of unfamiliarity by myself. Just me, myself, and I. Just kidding, I don’t listen to G-Eazy anymore.