The magic of traveling alone


Although my recent jet-setting has not been by choice, I have been #blessed with the opportunity to travel to more places in the past five weeks than I have in my entire twenty-five years of existence. In a last-ditch effort to prove themselves worthy of a job after graduation, medical students in their final year interview across the country to try and land one of relatively few residency positions in their specialty of choice. I began this journey just three days after my wedding, trying to impress docs in over a dozen places from the blistering heat of Florida to the blustery chill of Salt Lake City. I could have easily flown in the night before each interview and flown out immediately afterwards, but I purposely planned to spend at least one full day in each new city exploring parts unknown – alone. Well hot damn if that wasn’t one of the best decisions I’d ever made.

Little Miss INFJ here knew she’d need some hardcore recharge time between interview days, during which roughly seven hours are spent with 10-20 mostly-Type-A applicants. What I didn’t realize, however, is how much I’d learn about myself from recharging in an unfamiliar place. This cross-country therapy session continues to instill in me a new confidence and sense of purpose, to redefine my values and priorities, to encourage self-reliance, to develop my strengths, and to expose further weaknesses (as well as to provide opportunities to improve on them). The best part? I didn’t actively set out to accomplish any of that. I just wanted to see new towns, meet new people, try some new beers, cross a few things off my bucket list. The rest just, well, happened. Granted, there is probably some sense of reflection and a degree of openness to these sorts of lessons that one should have so that they don’t just fly right past. But if you’re reading this blog, I’m certain you’re already there.

Like most professions, the path to a career in medicine requires a significant amount of preparation and planning in order to be successful, and while on this path, I realized that I don’t want any other part of my life to involve that level of forecasting and organization. Incorporating that principle over the past few years has proved to be challenging, but I have integrated it in doses – from larger feats such as the “Hey, I just bought tickets to Boston and we leave tomorrow night” trip and the “Let’s drive to middle-of-nowhere North Carolina this weekend and I guess sleep in the car to see this band?” trip to smaller spontaneities like extreme-last-minute “come over whenever” dinner parties. That’s part of the reason why I think this whole process was so rejuvenating – I barely planned anything in advance besides my plane ticket for one passenger and my hotel room for one guest. And it was magical.

I drove through a massive cemetery in Richmond and realized that death doesn’t scare me anymore, and then I drove through it a second time analyzing the reasons behind that realization. I thought I’d plan my day in Denver only to reconfirm the aforementioned preference towards spontaneity by scratching everything I thought I’d do, driving two hours through winding mountain roads to Rocky Mountain National Park, having a legitimate (freezing cold) spiritual experience, and getting a real-life science lesson on how alcohol affects you differently at higher altitudes. I ditched the GPS in beautiful Asheville, made several wrong turns, and miraculously stumbled upon Sierra Nevada’s new brewery. Having no traveling partner with whom to converse on flights, I chatted up the gentleman next to me on the way to Lexington and deemed him the most positive and happiest man I’d ever met, and then learned that he was flying home to see his dying father, has stage IV kidney disease, and is a trucker who spends months on the road away from his wife and six kids. Lessons abound on that flight. I downloaded a bunch of podcasts for my separate drives to and through North Carolina and South Carolina, only to find myself inside my own mind for hours while the radio scanned in the background. The family I met at the beginning of my hike in Greenville suggested I follow the blue trail since there would be more people around, so I followed the red trail and got a huge waterfall all to myself. I walked into breweries and confidently took a seat at the bar. I parked my car downtown when I was hungry and strolled until I found a restaurant that seemed cool. Table for one, please.

What I learned about myself on these trips is different from what you will learn when you inevitably finish reading this post and immediately book yourself a roundtrip ticket to enlightenment, and thus it would be of little value to divulge the details. There were plenty of times when I wished I had somebody with whom to share my experiences, and someday I’ll take Stephen (my husband) to Rainbow Falls so he can smell the trees and walk between the boulders and feel the slight rubbery give of the earth, and I’ll love that hike with him all the same. But I’ll do it with the memory of that time when there was only me, because a relationship with yourself is deserving of the same time and effort as your relationships with others. So let this be your “interview offer” to set sail, take flight, or take the wheel, and to explore that big world that exists inside of you.


Angela and Juan have been ride-or-dies for over twenty years. Read more about her here.


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