Challenge: Solo Travel

For many people, the first few weeks of college are a time of joy, newfound independence, and partying.

My first few weeks of college were a time of depression, sobbing, and misery.

Same with my first few weeks of studying abroad in France.

I would call my mom, crying so hard I couldn’t breathe because I didn’t like being away from home and I didn’t know how to live on my own, and she would tell me I could come home if I wanted to, that I didn’t have to stick it out if it was going to be too painful. She gave me a graceful way out and assured me I always had a place to go back to, but also let me know she and my dad would support me in whatever I decided to do.

Yeah, and thanks to them, I haven’t lived in my hometown for longer than a summer since I was 17. Nice work, Mom and Dad, you got the exact opposite of what you really wanted!

My mom now loves to say, “I wish that I hadn’t raised such independent daughters, so you would stick around and be near me all the time.” She also loves to say that I better start making some money so that when she gets really old I can support her in the style to which she hopes to become accustomed. Clearly she is barking up the wrong tree there, amiright?

That was only a little bit of a digression from my real point, which is about:

Solo Travel!

I used to love traveling by myself. It’s not hard, contrary to popular belief, to travel by yourself. It’s really very easy to eat by yourself, see movies by yourself, and all that jazz, by yourself. It’s not like giving birth or something. You just get on a plane, alone, and see some stuff without other people you know. Bring a book and your iPod. Maybe you’ll meet other people, maybe you won’t. Case closed. It’s not rocket science.

I used to actually prefer solo travel, as a matter of fact. I mean, what is not to love about it?

Solo travel allows you to:

  • Choose what you want to eat without compromise. You want pizza for dinner? You got it! You want ice cream and Kit-Kats for breakfast? No judgments! (Well, maybe your own shame after, but whatever!)
  • Stay wherever you want. If you want to blow your budget on a place that you can’t really afford, but really want to stay at anyway because you’ve spent the past week bathing out of a bucket and sleeping on a board, then you can blow your budget and only have yourself to answer to. And, yeah, you might regret the decision more than a little when you realize you can only afford to eat at 7-Eleven because all the food at the beach is really expensive, but that’s life. And you’re the one who made the decision.
  • Stay as long as you want somewhere. Let’s say, for example, your poor timing and cheapskatedness gets you to a beach on, say, Koh Phangnan in the south of Thailand. And let’s say, for to continue the example, that beach is where the infamous Full Moon Party happens, which is where tripped-out backpackers put neon paint all over themselves and drink themselves silly (although luckily, the FMP is not going on when you find yourself there). And then, let’s say, that despite the fact that this beach town is really crap, expensive, and not at all Thai, and is the complete opposite of what you really want, you stay. Because you’re lazy, and the beach is actually really beautiful and nobody is out until about 3 p.m. because they’re all 20-year-old backpackers sleeping off their hangovers. So if that were all to happen, you could hypothetically end up in that terrible beach town for several days without anybody to make you feel bad about it or to urge you to stop being so lazy. Because who wants you to stop being lazy? Terrorists, that’s who. Terrorists and Communists. And Republicans.
  • Do whatever you want, in general. Sleep until noon! Wake up at dawn! Sit your ass on the beach! Go shopping! Eat crackers in bed! Cats and dogs, living together! The world is your oyster! (Who came up with that expression, anyway? I love eating oysters, but why would I want the world to be one? Unclear. And kind of gross, to be honest.)

Yup, all pretty awesome things.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve started to enjoy traveling by myself less and less.

Solo travel sucks because:

  • Being at the beach alone is annoying. I recently spent a week at the beach and every time I wanted to frolic (frolic!) in the water, I had to leave my bag that contained my Kindle, iPod, phone, and cash. I would walk into the water, often backwards, then stare intently at my bag and everybody on the sand, ready to run out and tackle whoever tried to take my stuff. It wasn’t that much fun. And, yeah, I could have not brought so much stuff, but I was by myself on the beach for hours at a time. You can only gawk at Brazilian women changing into bikinis right in front of everybody and stare at the waves for so long, you know? Maybe you don’t know, but it’s true.
  • Going out in the evenings alone can be dangerous. Seriously. Most women know that they’re not supposed to leave drinks unattended in a bar because somebody can slip you a roofie and then you will wake up in a horror movie, raped and murdered, and that would really make your mom and dad and sister and friends mad at you. So. As a woman, you often have to be super paranoid about that kind of stuff. I never drink a lot when I’m traveling by myself, and I rarely stay out late. That’s something that’s changed as I’ve gotten older, though.
  • Figuring out how to take pictures of yourself gets old. Scenario 1:  Hold your arm out really far from your face and try to take a picture of yourself. Realize that you cut your head off. Try again. Be shocked at how awful you look when you get a camera that close to your face. Give up. Scenario 2:  Spend 5 minutes figuring out where your camera won’t fall over if you set it up without a tripod. Figure out the timer. Take a picture of yourself with the timer. That picture is stupid. Adjust the camera so you’re actually in the picture. Set the timer. Take a picture. That picture is stupid. Give up on having a picture of yourself. Scenario 3: Ask somebody to take a picture of you. Do that once a day because who wants to ask strangers to take pictures of you all the time? (Terrorists!) Scenario 4: Give up on getting pictures of yourself and take only pictures of scenery.

See that person waaaaay out there? That's me. Self photography: BOO

  • It gets lonely. I’m sorry, but it does, especially as I’ve gotten older. I don’t like to stay in hostels anymore because I now prefer not to share a bathroom or sleep in a dorm. When I was younger and staying in hostels, I could always find somebody to hang out with. It was fantastic! But now I like mid-range hotels, and mid-range hotels offer fewer opportunities to meet people, I’ve found. Luckily, I can keep myself occupied and I think I’m pretty good company, but I’m still by myself the whoooooole time. Anybody gets boring after a lot of time, ya’ know?

The truth is, I’ll probably always travel by myself sometimes. I learned a long time ago that there was no point in waiting around for somebody to have vacation at the same time as me, or for somebody to want to go to the same place as me. Am I going to skip ever seeing Guatemala because nobody else wants to go? That’s just crazy talk.

Final Score:

Solo Travel: 0   Megan: 1

I’ve been doing it for so long now it’s really not much of a challenge at all.

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29 Comments

Filed under Living Abroad, Trips

29 responses to “Challenge: Solo Travel

  1. This post made me literally laugh-out-loud – I can identify with the guilty meal habits haha! And the spending money on what you want. I had to take a bus from southern Turkey to Istanbul, stay the night sleeping in the airport and then fly to Manchester the next day. Conscientious me said so.

    Then I thought, no, that’s stupid. I’ll blow my last bit of budget taking an 8 minute flight, not a 15 hour bus, and I shall stay in the 5* Airport Hotel, not the airport itself. And I shall get a SUITE. For myself.

    Loneliness sucks though….thank god for the internet!

  2. What a great post! I’ve done two big trips by myself on two different continents, and it’s so true everything you say about solo travel, especially watching your stuff at the beach and being able to do whatever you want!

    Ps. saw some “general tao chicken” flavored chips today at the Montreal supermarket, and I instantly thought of you!

    • Yeah, it’s good AND bad, right?

      I’ve tried General’s Tso’s chips before at home. They’re good. And thanks for thinking of me…that’s sweet! Hope home is treating you well! :)

  3. I have the same feeling…while I adore to travel alone for the reasons you mentioned, sometimes it sucks – I remember being in San Francisco walking the Golden Gate Bridge in a complete fog, and there was no one to turn to, to say “this is sooooooo cool, right?”…that is the part that sucks the most for me in alone travel – no one to share the experience with

  4. As a lass who’s spent a lifetime traveling solo, I can only say that – yes, on rare occasions (like… witnessing a total solar eclipse at noon on a sunshiny Costa Rican beach) I wish I’d had some close chum to share the magical moments with. But… “rare” and “occasional” “moments” are the operative words here for me.

    Far more often (99%?) it’s your “Do whatever you want, in general” plus point that majorly outweighs the rare occasions that it might be nice to have someone there to hold the camera.

    What can I say? I’m utterly spoiled rotten! And completely useless when it comes to the dreaded “C” word (Compromise!) ;)

    But seriously, yes a rare downside to solo, but more often – solo opens you up to the locals and I’ve had some purely amazing experiences precisely BECAUSE I was solo.

    • It’s so true–I’ve found that it’s often easier to meet people when you’re solo. But at the same time, I feel I have to be more cautious.

      Compromise? Nooooo!

      Just kidding, actually. I think I’m more apt to compromise the older I get!

  5. Jess

    As a person who has to spend most of her day alone (with her thoughts, traveling only in her thoughts…), I can relate to this in the sense that I know what it’s like to want to share things with people and have it pull at you a bit when you can’t. And then, theoretically, start talking to your puppy in long, compound-sentence-filled paragraphs that James Joyce would yawn at even. Theoretically.

  6. I think you’re brave to travel solo with such aplomb.

    As for your skill at self-portraiture…did I mention that I thought you were brave? [joking! I liked your picture at the temple ruins, except you were a bit blurry. Uh, I mean YOUR PHOTO was indistinct; you yourself are, of course, razor sharp.]

  7. Oh, god, yes! I think we may even have the same mother… and all that stuff about solo travel? Check! Check! And check! Now I don’t have to write this post. Thanks!

  8. I hear ya, sister. I like to eat Kit-Kats for breakfast and spend money I don’t have on amazing hotel rooms as much as the next girl, but awesome photos of me are not just going to take themselves. One of the reasons why I’m not traveling much this summer (besides the fact that I’m poor… and trying to get work done… and poor) is that I just don’t feel like going on my own. I’m tired of making travel decisions; I want someone to start making some travel decisions for me (except what we’re eating for breakfast… I always want to make that decision myself). I have a friend coming to visit this week, and we’re doing some traveling together so I’m pretty excited about that… except for the fact that she keeps on saying “I’ll let the local (that would be ME) decide”. Umm, doesn’t she know all the deciding stuff is HER job?

    • I am the same way. I’ll travel alone because it’s sometimes my only option, but I really now prefer to have people with me. I am okay-ish with being in charge because that way I still get to do whatever I want, but at times it’s nice for somebody else to arrange plane tickets, hotels, meals, etc. Have fun with your friend!

  9. Easy solution for self-portrait problem: GorillaPod (by Joby). I friggin’ love the thing, and used it for self-portraits and for video blogging my solo trip to NZ and AUS:

    Watsons Bay bunker with Mario jump

    Best $20 I spent before the trip.

  10. I love this post! It’s like you’ve written down all my thoughts about solo travel (except for when you said that people should eat ice cream w/ kit kats for breakfast when everyone knows that the ideal breakfast is actually a rootbeer float).

    The bit about self-photos made me laugh. I’m always like “UGH! Who looks good with a camera shoved in her face?” But lately I got a gorillapod. Life-changing, sister. That’s all I can say about it.

    • Dang, second time I’ve heard of this GorillaPod thing. I might just have to invest!

      Rootbeer float for breakfast? That sounds amAzing!

  11. I feel you on the whole private room thing…sometimes I got totally fed up with the dorm situation but when I had a solo room I realised how lonely it is when you can’t ‘download’ to someone else about your day etc.
    And I did exactly the same thing as you on the beach – I couldn’t enjoy my swims because I was constantly looking out for my stuff haha. There are definitely ups and downs to going solo on the road =D

    • Oh no, I’d rather not have anybody to talk to than be in a dorm at this point in my life. No contest. But it *is* nice to be able to talk to somebody when you need to!

  12. I definitely don’t think you’re alone in this thinking, hun. From all the travel blogs I’ve read, people seem to say the same thing: The independence is awesome but you can only have so many pictures of you with your arm stuck out. And there’s no-one to share the scenery with.

    For the record though, hun, you’re awesome whether you travel alone or not. How can you not have people wanting to travel alongside you, seriously? You’re so funny and entertaining. You’d make an awesome travel companion. :D Ha!

  13. Ive been travelling alone for most of my trips everywhere. Im my own best company, largely because I can have multiple personalities when alone. They like to argue a lot though.

    I dont really take pictures of things. My mind is reasonably clear (now that i dont drink as much) so my memories are a lot less hazy. Plus, my family have stopped asking to see pictures when i felt that i needed to explain that it would take me hours to filter out the photos that they could and couldnt see on my many, many trips.

    And this hypothetical person doing these hypothetical things (beaches, sleeping on boards, etc) sounds like a hypothetical person I met once. She told me similar things. Maybe we know this person, eh? *cough*

    ;)

    -Rick

    • Ah, I love to take photos, but more importantly, if I didn’t, my father would disown me.

      It is possible we know the same hypothetical person! *coughcough*

  14. Funny post !
    But am i the only one who never takes a picture of himself ? (and i usually travel alone)
    I don’t need the pic to prove that i’ve been there ;)

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