Sunday, 17 July 2011

Traveling Solo

Photo of a woman wheeling a small suitcase
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.


Cactus Kate said...

True. The same people who are too scared to travel alone however are the sorts who wont wait for you in a bar because they feel self conscious.

Bad things happen to people everyday, even in their own home. Travel, while increasing the odds, need not be a scarey thing.

If you travel with the right people it can be a hell of alot of fun, but get the wrong people and it is an unmitigated disaster!

Marianne said...

I've always traveled alone, started with a solo trip across Europe when I was 17 years old. I've backpacked solo through Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

I've always been surprised that more women don't travel alone, a single woman is much more likely to be invited to join groups of local women - so traveling solo in Syria I was invited to spend a day learning to dance with an extended family of Syrian women after one of the sisters spotted me in the street.

I've had SO many experiences like that, experiences which couldn't have happened if I had been with a man.

Mind you - I've travelled a lot with one other woman and we've also been welcomed into circles of women all over the world.

Bad things can happen anywhere - when I travel into places where the culture and language are unfamiliar I take advice from local women (not men - who tend to think it is dangerous for me to travel alone) and I make a point of learning the language as quickly as I can.

There are SO many delights to traveling solo - it's a pity so many people miss out because of scare-mongering.

katy said...

In the time I have been with my husband I have done quite a bit of travelling by myself or with other friends and he has done a bit on his own too, for work, holidays and visiting family abroad. In fact, I think we have probably only taken 3 overseas trips together in 8 years though we have both go abroad for a holiday at least once every year, usually more. Going away for a holiday without my husband seems to blow the minds of some people here the ultimate being when I go to Japan without him and when he "let me" go to Syria and Lebanon last year, however, non-partnered travelling seems more common among our Asian friends.

Anonymous said...

I love travelling alone. I have had similar reactions from some people but I really don't care what they think. It is what has made me super ambitious and self reliant. I've really grown as a person through doing so much solo travelling and I've met a lot of great people along the way.

Hope you have fun one your trip :-)