Today and tomorrow will be twofer posts! For awhile now I’ve been interested in taking up one of The Daily Posts’ Daily Prompt challenges. Basically everyday they post a word, and bloggers from all over the world share stories, thoughts, poetry, photography – anything that somehow relates to that word. They also do weekly challenges, called Discover Challenges, where you respond to a weekly theme. This week’s Discover Challenge theme is Shared Journeys.

This theme is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about over the past several years, and particularly this year, in more ways than one. It’s also, ironically, a theme I was already thinking about addressing in my own challenge this week. Since I have thought so much about this topic, I’ve decided to make it a 2 part post, which will make up the last 2 days of my personal challenge, discussing two areas about which I feel very strongly – travel and love, and how my own solo and shared journeys through these arenas have been vital life experiences.

Shared vs. solo journeys have been a recurring theme in my life, as over the past several years I have spent a lot of time journeying alone. Sometimes by choice, but often by necessity. To me, a solo vs. shared journey can mean any number of things, from the physical journeying of traveling, to journeying through a relationship (platonic, romantic, familial, or your relationship to yourself), to journeying through having to make a difficult decision, or a rough patch at work. Any of these things can be done alone or with others, and all are important for personal growth.

I travel all over the country for my work, on contracts ranging from 3 weeks to 9 months. On a few occasions a company has paid to fly me out for a gig, but most often it is my responsibility to get myself there. This has meant a lot of solo road trips, solo outings exploring a new city, and time spent alone by sheer virtue of being in a new city and working with a new company full of people I have just met. As I establish myself more and more within this career, I find myself returning to more and more of the same companies, and running into people in various places that I know from previous gigs (it is SUCH a small world), so that has been nice.

Because of this nomadic lifestyle, I have also been able to travel pretty extensively during my time off between gigs. Most of my adventures abroad have been at least 1 month long, and as most people I know can’t be away for that long, I have traveled alone quite a bit. As in every aspect of life, I believe balance and integration are the key to happiness. I appreciate solo journeys, of any kind, for the unique experiences they bring, and I hope to continue having solo adventures throughout the rest of my life. At the same time, I hope to incorporate more shared journeys into my life. (Already off to a good start, as I’m traveling to Iceland this year WITH A FRIEND! So excited.)

I am of the mind that both solo and shared journeys have equal value and merit. Solo journeying is, I believe, the most affective, and maybe the only true way to discover who you are, without outside influence. It can be scary, lonely, and anxiety-inducing to allow yourself that much time inside your own mind or having to make big decisions by yourself, but I believe I’m a stronger and more balanced person for having done those things. Shared journeys are equally wonderful, as you work together with others to achieve something, whether it be buying a home with your significant other, or navigating through a foreign country with your best friend. Shared journeys also teach you about yourself in a way that solo journeys cannot, and that is how you are as a partner, friend, travel companion, co-worker, etc., and how well (or not) you interact and work with others.

A story comes to mind from my most recent adventure abroad, that I believe illustrates both a solo and a shared journey, in a nice side by side comparison. Last fall, I spent 5 weeks traveling across England, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Hamburg and St. Petersburg. About half of this trip was spent traveling alone, and half spent traveling with others. That whole trip was an adventure in both solo and shared journeying, but I am thinking about one story in particular.

I happened to be traveling alone while in Ireland. I immediately fell in love with the stunning countryside, the friendliest people on Earth, and the incredible nightlife and live music scene in Dublin. My first night in Dublin, I went on a super fun pub crawl, met some cool people, and had a great time. My second night in Dublin, I decided to venture into the Temple Bar district (the main hub of Dublin nightlife), and see what the deal was.

After all of my solo traveling throughout this country for work, and abroad for fun, I believe myself to be a sort of expert in finding the perfect bar when you are out alone. I know what kind of bar to look for, how to stay safe, and when to go home. I’ve never found myself in a sketchy situation that wasn’t easy to get out of.

The trick is to find somewhere that is crowded enough that you can somewhat blend in and not stand out, but also somewhere that’s not so crowded that you can’t find yourself a nice barstool or chair on which to park yourself. The overly crowded bars will leave you cornered against the wall, feeling like an idiot, hoping the drunk college kids don’t knock into you and spill your drink everywhere (kids these days…). The bars that aren’t crowded enough will leave you feeling exposed and open to the sad, lonely, drunk weirdos who are also there alone, while the bartender is obviously awkwardly wondering if you are meeting someone, but doesn’t want to ask in case you are actually just a pretty, young woman sitting and drinking alone.

Having live music is also really helpful if you’re looking to go out alone. It gives you something to “do”, something to watch and participate in that isn’t your phone. This part was obviously not going to be a problem in Dublin, as every bar I walked into had live music. I went in to and out of a few different bars to scope them out, including the actual Temple Bar that the area is named after. I’ve become very convincing at walking into a bar like I am looking for a friend that I am meeting, while actually just scoping out if I want to stay there. Then if I decide not to stay, I walk out of the bar like I can’t find my friend and am stepping outside to use my phone to call said friend. It’s a technique developed over time.

I basically walked all the way through the Temple Bar district, and at the end of it found a bar that looked promising. Upon walking in, I saw that the first level had two bars and tables and booths where it looked as though some people were finishing a late supper. As I climbed the stairs to the second floor, I immediately had a good feeling about this place. The second level had another bar in the back, and a small stage in the center where three guys were playing some pretty awesome music along the traditional Irish vein. The stage area had a hole in the ceiling above it, as large as the stage itself, where people on the third floor could look over the railing and watch the band as well. There was one unoccupied barstool directly in front of a small bar that lined the outside of the stage area, so I quickly went and ordered a whiskey ginger (Jameson, of course) and commandeered the barstool for myself.

It was a perfect place to sit and drink alone. It was crowded enough that I wasn’t feeling like I was on display, but I was still able to get a front row seat where I could sit and enjoy the music. And the band was terrific. There was a guy on the drums, a guy with a guitar, and a guy with an instrument that I had actually never seen before, but looked and sounded like a smaller cousin of the bagpipes, but I believe are called uilleann pipes. I sat there for over an hour completely immersed in the music, the atmosphere, and the bar. Long gone was any anxiety or self-conscious awareness that I was alone, because I felt…… connected. Connected to the guys playing music, and connected to the other people around me also reveling in the fact that we were in Ireland, listening to Irish music, drinking Irish whiskey and beer, and communally sharing that experience with all of the strangers in the bar. I was totally at ease, and LOVING every minute of it.

Midnight rolled around, and this awesome band was finished with their set. It was clear that another band was slotted to perform next, as they quickly began their setup. My drink was basically gone and I debated whether or not I should stay and listen to some of the next band. One of the first things I noticed while they were setting up was the very cute guitar player, and that the lead singer was, like…. old. Needless to say, I was intrigued, so I stayed. This band was more of the cover variety, not traditional Irish music. And it very quickly became apparent that despite the lead singer’s age, he was badass. Cut to months later, when I was back stateside and still obsessing over Ireland / this bar / the live music, I sat down with Google to find out exactly who all of those musicians were, and found out that this old dude was kind of an Irish rock legend. Although I didn’t know that at the time, I still couldn’t get enough of these guys. They played a great variety of rock, blues, and soul. I couldn’t believe my luck in finding this place, and hearing not one, but two incredible live bands. I walked back to the hostel, glowing, and feeling incredibly fulfilled.

My third night in Dublin consisted of a Musical Pub Crawl, which was awesome. I quickly became friendly with three, loud, hilarious girls from Texas. We hung out together throughout the whole Pub Crawl, and afterwards headed back to the Temple Bar area. They were still jet lagged and didn’t stay out long, but as we parted ways we made loose plans to meet the following night at the same bar we had just left, without exchanging information (a.k.a. leaving it to the Gods).

Cut to the next night, and there is me, sitting outside of the bar the girls and I had been to the night before, hoping to by chance meet up with them again. I sat there, and sat there, and sat. Looking at people walk by, checking my phone every few minutes (as if I were expecting them to contact me, which obviously wasn’t going to happen), feeling more and more self conscious with each passing minute. I hadn’t really thought about what else I would do that night, and the longer I sat there, the less I wanted to go somewhere alone. It was a Monday night after all, and I had heard that the bars close around 11:30 during the week, so if I was going to do something I didn’t have too long to figure it out.

The whole time I had been sitting there, there had been a small group of people sitting and hanging out next to me. They sounded American, and were drinking some beers they had bought at a convenience store nearby. Just as I was about to give up and go back to my hostel, the guy next to me leaned over and offered me a beer. He was cute – very cute actually, and I soon found out Canadian, not American.

I accepted his kind offer, which turned into an offer to hang out with them that night. There were 4 of them in total – 2 girls that were flight attendants, the cute guy who was a friend of one of the girls, and then the other girls’ father. I continued to sit with them, talking and drinking. Soon we were out of the beers they’d bought, and we decided the pre-game was over and it was time to head to a bar. No one had a specific place in mind, and we talked in circles for a few minutes before I spoke up and recommended the bar I had been to a couple nights before, with the great live music. They were unfamiliar with the place, and seemed agreeable to checking it out, so we headed that way.

When we arrived, there were once again three guys up on the stage. It was not one of the bands I had seen previously, but luckily – the same cute guitar player was there playing with this band. We all got drinks and found a spot right next to the stage. They were again playing mostly covers, anything from Oasis (they love that shit in Ireland) to U2 (Irish pride!) to Incubus. They were playing the soundtrack to my adolescence, the music that shaped who I was while in middle and high school. I, as well as my new Canadian friends, knew every word to most of the songs they played, and we sang along at the top of our lungs as we danced and drank and laughed.

It was a high that had nothing to do with the Irish cider I was drinking. These are the moments in my life in which I have felt the most alive, the most connected, the most wholly my best self. These moments are my religion, the times that I revere and worship. In a place where I am listening to music, dancing with no thought as to who may be watching, in sync with the musicians putting their hearts into the music while also feeding off the energy of the crowd, and looking around me at all of the strangers who I will never know, but who at that moment were all a part of me, and I a part of them, all sharing in the perfection of that moment. And to top it off, I was there with people who, while essentially still strangers, were there as my friends. We danced together, laughed together, sang together. It was perfect, in an equally yet totally different way than my first experience at that same bar.

Two of the Canadians and I ended up following the band to their next gig late that night, at an “after hours” club that didn’t abide by the 11:30 closing time rule. I stopped caring that I had an early flight the next morning, and became a groupie for the night.

Two nights, two journeys in and of themselves, just 48 hours apart and at the same bar. One a solo journey and one a shared journey, both highlights of my 5 week trip. In one adventure, I overcame the self consciousness of being out alone, and ended up with complete fulfillment in my own company, once again affirming that being alone and being lonely do not go hand in hand. In the other, my 5 year old self overcame her own self consciousness, and I made new friends on the playground (the adult version of which is the bar). Together we shared in an experience that I’m sure will stay with us all as a testament to how connections can be made anywhere, anytime, with anyone. Humans are humans are humans, and love is love is love. Keep yourself open to what the world has to offer, and I guarantee you will find more awe, inspiration, love and peace than you could ever imagine possible.