Sunday, 17 July 2011
at 10:17 am by anthea
I'm about to leave the country for a few weeks, and once again I'll be traveling solo. This is something people never seem to react entirely well to; either they don't understand why I would want to go on my own, or they want reassurance about my safety. I get comments like "you're going on a tour, right?" or "are you staying with friends?" (in this particular case I am staying with friends and family for some parts of the trip, but a lot will be on my own. Then they start to tell me about personal alarms that go off when your door is opened (I'm sure that would go down well in a dorm room). If they find out that I often sleep in airports or on trains, I get worried looks. If they find out I usually travel with hand luggage only, they look at me like I'm from another planet.
I've been traveling alone since I was eighteen, for anything from a weekend to close to a year. Even before that, though I was technically with family, I spent large chunks of my teenage years exploring European cities by myself. I learned to navigate trains in languages I didn't speak with relative ease. I spoke to strangers all the time, and though I had a couple of unnerving experiences, I don't regret it at all. In a lot of places you can get a public transport day pass from (say) 9:30am; I'm an early riser so often I'd just walk for hours until it was time. I worked out where to get cheap food and shoes (I'll be in Berlin in a week and I'm already wondering if the noodle place in the Alexanderplatz is still there).
It's not that I don't like traveling with other people; I've had some fantastic journeys with my partner and with friends and wouldn't want to give up one for the other. And it's not that solo travel doesn't have its downsides; even though you talk to heaps of people, you sometimes want someone who knows you. And someone to keep an eye on the bags in the airport or the laundry. But somehow I always come back to traveling by myself.
Flicking through a guidebook recently, I read a caution to not let safety precautions you take at home lapse just because you're on holiday. In some circumstances this is probably fair warning, but for women who are expected to be continually afraid, doing so is a relief. I'm not sure why my fear levels drop when I travel, but though they tend to be high before I go, once the journey's started they're lower than they ever are at home.
But there's far more to it than that. When I travel alone, it's a chance to follow what I feel like doing, without having to discuss it at length or (and I know this sounds horribly selfish) take other people into account. It's also an opportunity to dive in at the deep end and push myself; if I'm not going to eat or sleep unless I take a chance at embarrassing myself by sleeping in French, I'll take the chance. This isn't what I want for my life, on balance, but for what is now the trip or two a year that it happens, it's very important.