Someone I love and respect once told me that we often discover what we need when we place ourselves in a void. There are few natural voids like the desert.
It’s taken thousands of miles traveling around in a van with my boyfriend and camping in the middle of the vast southwest to come to terms with the fact that I’m an extrovert in every classical sense. As a creative soul and an innate listener who loves to observe, human beings fascinate me. Until I was surrounded by nothing but Joshua trees in the middle of an otherwise desolate landscape, it was easy to take for granted that I get my personal energy from human interaction.
On one particular evening in the Mojave Desert a few years ago, I recall looking out to the horizon to see my boyfriend standing in the vibrant, sun-soaked sky. He looked incredibly relaxed in the gaping silence of the desert, and seeing him breathe with lungs of relief called attention to my own inner discomfort with the void. It caught me off guard, but from that moment on I couldn’t ignore it.
What I didn’t know that night was that much like the roads we travel in our adventuremobile, we had already begun to navigate some uncharted territory surrounding how we travel and live together in such a small space, especially as an introvert/extrovert pair.
For a while, I chose to look at our introversion/extroversion dynamic as a challenge: two strictly opposing forces confined in a small space on trips that were meant to feel liberating. We were spending more time together than ever before, but we also felt more disconnected. Something didn’t add up.
It took months of reflection, several road trips, and a few uncomfortable moments together to come to the conclusion that in order to travel well together with someone else, you have to first travel well with yourself. That means being open to asking yourself what you need without letting the fear of the answer stop you from listening. Whether you seek isolation, community, or something in between to fuel your personal resources, don’t shy away from it. And don’t feel guilty. Instead, name it. Own it. And take responsibility for making sure you get it. Your adventure partner– be it a sibling, friend, significant other, or dog– will thank you for taking care of yourself so that you can be truly present with them.
… in order to travel well together with someone else, you have to first travel well with yourself. That means being open to asking yourself what you need without letting the fear of the answers stop you from listening.
When we get the van rolling these days, we know we will want to have shared experiences as well as solo adventures on our trips. Sometimes, solo experiences lead to shared ones. Some of my favorite moments from our time traveling have been when we get so excited about something we discovered alone that we want to share it with the other. A vista. A coffee shop. A tree. When we share these moments, they’re even more treasured than if we had found it serendipitously together for the first time. It transforms into a valued gift.
If the desert has taught me nothing else, it’s that the void is necessary in order to listen to yourself.
Sometimes, solo experiences are just that– a memory unique to our individual travels. And that speaks to our independent need to explore and create. The natural desire for new experiences is something I appreciate about myself, and about my partner. It’s something I want to stoke in both of us, not extinguish– and in order to know what we want to set our sights on next, we each need to be alone at times. If the desert has taught me nothing else, it’s that void is necessary in order to listen to yourself.
I haven’t been alone in the desert much since that evening in the Mojave. But the next time I stand there, I know I will be less afraid.
Photos by Laura Hughes unless otherwise indicated.