Three years ago, I spent a week each in Ireland and Poland. Travelling went smoothly except my luggage came a day late in both places, and I had a complicated itinerary and by the end of the trip, I had let anxiety get the best of me. I couldn’t relax and enjoy the journey because I felt so alone and unable to cope with the uncertainties that come with travelling solo.
I came home and cried to my mentor that I’m so done with travelling alone. She heard my story and said, “I’m sorry. That’s hard. But you’ll travel again.” She said it gently and confidently, but I wasn’t sure I could believe her.
She was right, of course.
Last month, I travelled alone in Europe for three weeks. Alone, as in alone in the airports, trains, and bus, as I went from place to place to see friends and family. I got to see lots of favorite places and lots of favorite people. I wasn’t a tourist so much as I was connecting with people in their spaces and it was a rich, intense, beautiful vacation.
However, I cried a lot in airports—something I’ve never done in all my travels. I’d always internalized the stress of travelling, or gotten angry or anxious, but this time, the distress came dripping out in tears.
In Cologne I hugged my terminally ill friend goodbye and we said to each other, “I’ll see you in a better place!” but I didn’t cry then. The next morning at the check-in desk, the agent said the flight to Dublin is cancelled. I messaged my family to ask them to pray about it then burst into tears. Later, after an agent rerouted and rescheduled my itinerary and I found a lovely coffee and pastry to drown my sorrows, I still cried.
I cried into my coffee in Dublin airport, reading the Sermon on the Mount with big feelings. When I got to Copenhagen and ran a mile to my gate and found it closed, I cried. When I got to Warsaw, my luggage didn’t come, but I didn’t cry then because I was glad to finally be there. I did ask myself why I go to the bother of travelling when it brings this much upheaval but when I saw my friend who’d come to meet me, I remembered why I travel. The luggage came 36 hours later.
On my last layover, headed back to the US, in London Heathrow, I made myself buy something sustaining to eat, and as I ate a falafel and hummus bowl, I got the message that my youngest sister had just lost her baby. I’d been with her two weeks before, and when I’d hugged her goodbye, I’d said, “I’ll hold your baby at Christmas!” The pregnancy was 15 weeks along, but the scan that day showed no heartbeat. So I cried in an airport again. Alone, far away from anyone I know, and so, so sad.
It’s a weird, alien feeling to be surrounded with hundreds of people and be crying alone.
However, on this trip, for whatever reason, I enjoyed and interacted with fellow travelers and crew like never before. I saw so much beautiful humanity in people, laughed, surmised, discussed which lines moved the fastest, watched their luggage. Laughing with strangers is magical!
But bigger than the tears and human connections, two concepts grounded me and kept me from the anxiety and anger I’d felt three years ago. These ideas colored my trip more than the tears and distress.
The Lord watches over the alien. I’d found this verse in Psalm 146:9 and read it on behalf of all the refugees in the world. But I decided to claim it for myself on this trip. I wasn’t a refugee, but I was a lone stranger in foreign places and I needed to know God was watching out for me. And He did. In all the cancellations and delays and reroutes and tears, I knew His eye was on me and it was going to be ok. I felt a deep peace that went way beyond positive thinking.
I understood that I was experiencing privileged loneliness. Often in those three weeks, I heard myself say, “Oh this is so good again. I miss this so much.” It was wonderful to be in Europe and I reveled in it. I felt overwhelmed with the goodness surrounding me and felt small and undeserving of experiencing so much richness. All I could say was “Thank you thank you thank you, God.” So I was very lonely in spots, but it was a privileged loneliness, and a place to feel deep gratitude. The goodness around me was immense, outrageous privilege handed to me without even having asked for it.
Strange how that works. The deepest voids are the places where God’s goodness splashes all over.
23 thoughts on “Travel Tears”
“The deepest voids are the places where God’s goodness splashes all over.” Thank for these words. I am on a journey of discovering the excruciating hard and deeply imbedded beauty of this paradox. It hurts. A lot. To learn this. But I’m discovering that it is with the pain. Thank you for sharing!🤍
I’m sorry about your hard journey, Mary. I don’t say those words glibly, and grief has seasons where the imbedded beauty is hard to see, and that’s ok. When we rush to look for the light, we miss lessons we can learn in the dark.
I’ve traveled alone many times, and have experienced the joys and sorrows of it. How thankful I am that God is always watching out for us!
I’ve traveled alone a lot too and have experienced the joys and sorrows of it. How thankful I am that God is always watching out for us!
Oh Anita! You have such a beautiful way of writing and showing us the so sad/ glad parts of your heart & travels. May you have a “new” awareness of God’s sweet presence today!
Thank you for your kind words, Ina!
Rich words!! Isn’t it amazing how joy and sadness can both be in our lives? I’ve thought about that quite a bit and I know you have too. Thanks for writing about your trip. Such a privilege to travel, but alone can be hard…
Ohhh this is beautiful, Anita! Thank you for letting us see.
Your last words, The deepest voids are the places where God’s goodness splashes all over!
So beautiful. So true.
My mind went to the hymn “The Love of God” and specifically the third verse . . .
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
Blessings to you today . . .
Thanks for reminding me of those lovely lines, Naomi!
I’m so sorry about the death of your “nibling”. May God’s comfort and grace surround your whole family, in this another loss for the grieving parents and the rest of you. Linda Rose
Thank you for your care, Linda Rose.
You are a brave woman, and a good example for me. Thank you for living well! 💛
Thanks, friend. We should talk sometime soon!
It’s so good to hear that there are others who cry in airports. I too traveled in Europe last month, though not alone. The uncertainty and strangeness of new places is overwhelming at times.
Thank you for reminding me about privileged loneliness. You are so right.
I can identify with your feelings! And I, too, am learning that God is with us in our journey, the hard & the good. Marj
Hugs, Anita! Thanks for sharing.
I’m always encouraged when I read your blog posts. Sometimes we single ladies just feel really alone.I’m learning to run to God in the moments when I feel so alone.The lonely feelings don’t necessarily go away but somehow there is that feeling of being cared for.I’m sorry to hear about your sister’s baby.May God bring comfort to you and your sister.
I shed a few tears with you, friend. I remember the years of solo travel. ❤
On a brighter note, I wish I could traipse over Europe with you some day!
Oh, friend. My housemates have returned home and I ‘m in my beloved Israel frequently seeing dear friends and yet so lonely. I’m sorry and joyful that you understand.
Yes. You get it. I’m sad and glad for you too, my friend!