Friday, March 28, 2008

Shameless Self Promotion

I just had an article published for MatadorStudy, a partner Web site of MatadorTravel. Both are sites designed for travelers who not only like to write about their experiences, but want to share the cool aspects of traveling away from tourism. Anyway, the article I wrote is an informational piece about where to study abroad in Spain. Here's the link.

Read it and let me know what you think.

To Ecuador!

In case anyone was sitting on the edge of their seat waiting to hear what I'm going to do, I've made my decision. Next September I'll be moving to Ecuador to teach English for 10 months or so. It wasn't an easy thing to do, and I feel that I'll always wonder what could have been if I'd lived in Spain. Life is about hard choices, and this was no exception.

I don't yet know where I'll be living or in what capacity I'll be doing the teaching, but I do know that over the course of the summer I'll have to take some teaching courses at a local college, as well as work to the bone to save up the money to go.

As a general rule I try not to get excited about traveling somewhere until I've arrived, but I'm actually excited when I think about living in South America. It's something totally different and new, and I'm sure the challenges I face will change me--hopefully for the better.

On another note, I've finished writing my Uruguay article for GoNOMAD and will post a link to the article as soon as it goes live.

The Lede: Immigration Debate's Intensity Claims Claims an Irreverent Voice

In an article by Mike Nizza in The Lede today, the resignation of a controversial columnist is discussed. Gustavo Arellano, who wrote for the OC Weekly, formerly authored the "!Ask a Mexican!" column. He has resigned now, however, apparently burned out from the response he got and the lack of good feedback to his video blogging.

Nizza goes on to explain that Arellano was a controversial figure because he often took on certain stereotypes and helped to spread racism and xenophobia. He was the only Latino journalist for the OC Weekly, and therefore was the only person who could answer those types of questions. He wound up getting national attention, and as a result was seen differently by many groups.

Arellano said that a big influence for him was the TV show "The Simpsons," which taught him to be hilarious and offer substance at the same time.

I too love "The Simpsons," but I don't know if I'd want to base my professional career off of the teachings of Homer. It's one thing to be edgy and try to entertain while teaching, but you have to step back and see whether or not you're actually getting the point across.

Take a look at the comedian Carlos Mencia. His whole shtick is that he's Mexican, so therefore he can poke fun at every Mexican stereotype, as well as other stereotypes of other race's. What Mencia fails to realize, however, is that he's not funny. He's just perpetuating negative images while annoying the audience. Rather than using sketch comedy to further these stereotypes, he could poke a little fun, but use the message in the end to show how ridiculous it all is. That was something that Dave Chappelle was great at.

This all circles back to Arellano in some way. If he was trying to be too funny with his audience, he probably wound up losing them and made them think he was serious. The thing you have to realize is that most of the time, an average audience is pretty dumb. It kills the joke if you have to explain it, but sometimes you need to do that so you don't lose your own credibility.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Flush This!

I think the first thing I did when I got to the hotel in Montevideo was check the toilet. I'd been thinking about it for hours, days, maybe even weeks. Would the water really go the other way? If any of you watch The Simpsons avidly, you're aware of the episode "Bart vs. Australia," which deals with the subject about the toilets and sinks running the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere. Since I'm really a 10 year old at heart sometimes, I just couldn't wait to test it out for myself.

The Coriolis Effect, as it's better known, is the direction and angle at which water flows. It's all very scientific and based off of things that I can't quite grasp, but in my investigations, I was upset to find that according to sources, it's just a coincidence. Though the angle of the Earth does matter, it could really just have to do with the design of the bowls and how much water is in there.

Well, sometimes you need to conduct a little experiment of your own. So, without further adieu, here is my own field research on the Coriolis Effect.


video

There you have it. If you can't see it clearly, the water is flushing downward to the left, or counter-clockwise. With every experiment there has to be a control, so I tried flushing many toilets while I was in Uruguay, and the same result occurred every time. So take that, Science!

Now that I've solved the toilet-flush problem, I suppose I should move on to other important subjects throughout the world. Maybe for my next experiment I'll head to Alaska in the winter to see if my pee freezes before it hits the ground. What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Travel in the News

Two articles in the New York Times caught my attention today. The first article is about trans-continental travel about to get a lot easier, and the second is about a policy about airline responsibilities. I think both are connected in some way. The first article talks about a restriction being lifted on flights across the Atlantic Ocean. For the last few decades only certain airlines could go to certain cities, but on March 30, that restriction will be lifted and the market will essentially be free once again.

This is good news for people who want to find other cities to arrive in, as well as shop around for lower prices. An executive with Ryanair, a cheap airline based out of Ireland, has said he is going to invest in a new airline to frequent cities like Liverpool and Baltimore. I think this is kind of funny because I've always said I'd never want to be on a Ryanair plane across the Atlantic, but I might one day find myself taking it if it only costs $15.

The other article is about New York state losing the right to fine airlines up to $1000 per passenger for not providing water, fresh air, and other amenities when the flight has been delayed up to three hours, stranding the passengers on board. I've actually had this happen to me, and it's an awful experience. I think an airline should be held accountable for at least providing fresh air and water. The fact that you aren't able to go anywhere completely leaves you stuck as a virtual prisoner.

Just yesterday my flight landed at JFK too early and customs hadn't opened up yet. We had to stay on the plane for another half hour after flying for 10 hours. All we wanted to do was get off, but we weren't even brought water or anything else to hold us over. Of course, waiting a half hour isn't nearly as bad as three hours, but if you've been on a plane long enough, nothing is going to keep you happy.

As for a worst case scenario: Being stuck on a Ryanair flight for 10 hours.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Un Techo Para Mi Pais: Uruguay


Well the trip is over now. I got back into JFK International Airport at 5:30 am and was back in Amherst by 11 am. Uruguay was awesome. I've never participated in a trip like this before. Usually my traveling is done in a selfish and vain sort of way. I go to the places that I've always heard about and wanted to visit, and it's all for my benefit. No one else gets anything out of my trip to Paris or Rome. But this time, I feel like I was really able to make a difference and do something good with my time traveling. Not only was I able to get something out of the trip, but I did it while giving back.

I traveled with ten other UMass students to Montevideo, along with 20 other students from the University of Illinois and Yale University to participate in a program though Hillel Uruguay. The program was run by Un Techo para mi Pais, a program that has volunteer work throughout South and Central America. Un Techo para mi Pais, which means A Roof for My Country, works with donations from local companies and volunteers to help build emergency houses for those in need. The houses aren't meant to be permanent, and there are other steps to help the families get into permanent housing and get on track.

Without getting into the logistics of the entire program (which I'll be doing in an article later this week for GoNOMAD.com), I just want to talk about the experience in general. This was my first time in South America, and as such, everything was new and exciting. Montevideo was a quiet city with a vibrant night life and friendly population. The people we worked with were great and fun to be around, and the people we encountered helped us all get a better appreciation of not only life in Uruguay, but of the lives we have in the United States.

Some people brought up the contrast between working with the families for 12 hours in the heat, then retiring to a nice catered dinner and a very nice hotel for the night, while the families had to stay in their shanty houses and eat their malnourished meals. It is a big contrast, and though we try to help and make their lives a little better, at the end of the day we still get to leave the slum, and they don't.

Still, I feel that every person, no matter what his or her background, has their own ideas of what is right and important. For the American students who have never had to go without meals because there was no money, we quibbled over who got first shower and who would sleep on the cot for the night. Most people wouldn't be able to handle living in the houses in 24 de enero, the barrio we worked in. Most wouldn't be able to live in the new temporary houses that we built either. But looking at the joy in the faces of Richar, Richar Jr. and the other children whose house we constructed, I realize that there is more to a house than just the walls, floor, and roof.

The new house is roughly the same size as the older one. Yet now instead of five people sharing one room to sleep, cook, and live in (which by American standards is no bigger than a garage), they'll be able to have a bit more privacy and spread out. They can now begin to work towards getting out of the ghetto and finding a more stable place to live.

24 de enero is the type of place that you'll see on TV with a missionary asking you to send money to. But there are no cameras or washed up celebrities promoting the cause, only the young Uruguayan volunteers and the groups of American students who have been coming for the last few years. I'd like to think that the thrill of seeing a new house built for them, playing with foreigners and new digital cameras, and piggy-back rides and impromptu soccer games are memories that will stay with these people for the rest of their lives. I know they'll stay with me.

That's why I went there. I didn't want to just build a house and leave. I wanted to build a house and leave an impression. I wanted the Uruguayans to see that we're all in need of a house, a handshake, or the passing of a water bottle between co-workers, even if only for two days. I'd like to think it was a success. Maybe we could have done more and built a permanent home. Maybe we could have picked up all of the trash in the barrio. But the point was never to fix their lives for them. The point was to get them started on the path to helping themselves.

Life moves much faster up in these parts, but the sun still sets at the same pace in Uruguay as it does in America. Tonight, the family gets to sleep in a new house, on a path to a permanent home away from the slums and dirt. And though to most Americans it may still seem like they've got it bad, the sun hasn't set on them yet.

Ecuador or Spain?

I've got good news and I've got bad news. The good news is that I was accepted to teach English for a year in Ecuador and in Spain. The bad news is that I was accepted to teach English for a year in Ecuador and Spain. When I applied for both programs, I was only thinking about being accepted to at least one. Now that I have two to choose from, I face the difficult decision of lining up the pro's and con's and making one of the hardest decisions that can determine the path my life continues on.

Here's the score so far: WorldTeach is the program for Ecuador and CIEE is the program for Spain. Let me do a short run down of each program.

WorldTeach
The year long program in Ecuador will cost a little under $5,000, but will include the airfare, housing, meals, and health insurance, as well as support and assistance. I will be considered a diplomat to Ecuador, and therefore will not be able to get a side job to help make some extra money. I'll also be betting a stipend of $150 a month, which could go a long way in the country with inflation. Ecuador is a poor country that could be considered by old standards "3rd World" and by new standards as a "developing country."

Though I don't know much about the country, I think it would be a good learning experience and it's something totally new and different to deal with. However, my parents would prefer I go to Spain, a country that they believe to be much safer. Living in Ecuador would not only give me a first-hand perspective on the situation, but make me an expert of sorts on this part of the world that a lot of people know nothing about, which is a valuable tool for a writer to have.

Though I won't have much money, this will also give me an opportunity to travel to some other countries. I would of course have to go to Peru and see Machu Piccu, and I'd try to travel to Colombia as well.

CIEE
The program in Spain is located in Andalucia, the province I used to live in. Though I requested to be placed in Sevilla, there is no guarantee and I won't find out until June. Living in Sevilla would be awesome, and trying out a new city would also be cool, but then I have to think that I've already had that experience, and that it's important to try something new. With that being said, there is still more to learn and experience in Spain, and it'd really help out my understanding of the Spanish lifestyle to live there for an extended period of time again.

The program costs about $2,000 and includes health insurance, help finding housing (but not in the price), and support and assistance. The airfare is separate and I'd have to pay for my own rent and food. I would get a 700 euro stipend a month, which is pretty nice considering the exchange rate, but I'd be using most of it on my rent and food. It's also expense to live in Europe, and I don't know if I'd be able to travel like I used to when I was a student in Sevilla. I know the area and would have no problem adjusting, but for some reason every time i imagine myself teaching abroad, it's in Ecuador and not Spain. With that in mind, I love Spain and want to go back, and the idea of living there again is extremely appealing.

So what am I to do? I may have bitten off more than I can chew, and I think no matter what I'm going to be disappointed at having to turn down the other offer. However, I'm also confident that no matter where I go I'll have a great experience. Now it's just a matter of mulling it over some more and hoping I can come to a decision that my entire heart and soul can be into.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Greetings From Uruguay

Here I am in my hotel room in Montevideo, Uruguay, with a rare few spare moments to get some thoughts down on paper (well, electronic paper of sorts). I came into Uruguay on Monday morning after a ten hour flight from which I got almost no sleep. I took a sleeping pill, and as a result, was a zombie. After we arrived, I wasn't able to get any rest, and we were up for a good 40 hours.

A big disappointment came when we got to Argentina. Our flight was delayed in New York, and as a result, we literally had just enough time in Buenos Aires to disembark and get on our next flight. I thought we'd have at least an hour in the airport, and was let down to only have my first experience in Argentina last ten minutes.

Getting into Uruguay, the late summer heat hit as soon as we left the airport. The woman at customs stamped an already full page, and I felt robbed. No biggie though. When we went outside all I cared about was speaking some Spanish and getting to see some of the city.

There will be more--much more information to come on my experiences in Uruguay, but this is just an introduction to the week that has already been amazing. I couldn't describe it in one post. It has to be a series. I will say that there are little joys you can get from traveling like seeing the toilet flush the other way for the first time. The myth was actually a fact. Bart Simpson, this one's for you.

We've finished building the houses, we've painted walls at a youth center, and we spent some time with the elderly. We even got to go to a famous beach for a few hours. But most importantly, we're learning and sharing--not only our energy for construction, but our enthusiasm for the sharing of ideas and cultures. The Spanish language has a word for that--Discutir. There really isn't an equivalent for it in English, which is sort of a shame.

I probably won't get another chance to do another blog, and will just have to wait to get all caught up when I get back, so look for some more blogs, pictures, videos, and much more of what I've been up to down here in South America.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

On the Road Again

Tomorrow I'll be leaving for Uruguay, and all I have to do between then and now is sit around and think about it. This will be my first time in South America, and I'm very excited. I've wanted to visit Argentina for as long as I can remember, and I've been thinking about getting a job in Buenos Aires for the last year. Of course, I'll be going to Uruguay, which is close, but oh so far from Argentina. We have a lay over in Buenos Aires for only an hour or so each way, so I'll have to soak in those couple of hours at the airport to get my Argentina experience.

My mom is from Argentina, and I've wanted to see the country firsthand so badly, and now that I'll be so close, it's almost ironic how I won't even be able to leave the airport. But I can't be too upset because I'm going to be having a good week anyway. For spring break, me and nine other volunteers from UMass will be participating in an Alternative Spring Break in Montevideo, the capital. We'll be building houses and working with the community for a few days, as well as seeing a little of the country.

Students from the University of Illinois and Yale University will also be participating, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun not only to be in a different country, but to be helping out and getting to know some of the people. This is going to be my first trip since January, when I came back from Israel, and I'm looking forward to getting the travel bug again. Of course, the last thing I'm looking forward to is a 12-hour red eye.

I still find something amazing about getting on a plane and a few hours later being in a totally different part of the world with a different culture and language. Everything is within reach these days. While I'm in Uruguay I'm going to try to do some writing and post blogs if I'm able to get the Internet. It's no guarantee, but check in, and I might have some cool things to share. If not, I'll be back in a week and I'll have some good things to write. Hasta luego.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Watch Out For the Skittles Police


This is in no way travel related, but it was so ridiculous I just had to comment on it. This article is from WBZTV.com is about an 8th grade student who was suspended for buying Skittles from another classmate. Apparently the New Haven, Connecticut school has some insane rule that forbids candy from the property as well as the exchange of money from one student to another,

Really? Is this something we as Americans need to be worried about?

The article mentions that the student, Michael Sheridan, was not only an honor student, but he was the class vice president as well. Now, he's been suspended for 3 days (though it was reduced to 1 day), he's forbidden from attending an honors student dinner, and has been stripped of his title as class vice president.

All over some candy. I can see the school not wanting to promote the sale of candy. That's fine. If they'd rather sell fruit and other healthy options, more power to them. But the degree of punishment handed down for buying one bag of Skittles is an outrage. If Sheridan chooses to eat candy rather than fruit, that's his choice. The school has no right to tell him what he can and can't eat.

As for the breaking of the rules, I understand that much. I too have been to middle school, and I find it hard to believe that the student, especially a class vice president, wouldn't know that he can't be eating candy in class. However, there is something to be said about the old saying, "A bad law deserves to be broken."

All this school has done is punished an otherwise good student (who never had a disciplinary record), given themselves a bad reputation of an authoritarian administration, and shown this young student prematurely how nonsensical rules and authority figures can sometimes be. He should have figured that out in high school.

So to you, Michael Sheridan, I say keep eating that candy. Don't let the principal tell you what you can and can't eat. It's your body and your health. A rule as intrusive as that is designed to fail.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Lede: Magazine Regrets Printing Prince Harry's Whereabouts

In a post today by Mike Nizza, The Lede talks about the magazine which released the information on Prince Harry's whereabouts, which put his unit at risk and ultimately forced him to be sent back to England early. New Idea, the Australian magazine that leaked the story, now says that they are sorry for doing so and it was a lack of judgment. Of course, the story didn't really explode until The Drudge Report posted the story.

This is an important case for journalists. Though not all journalists throughout the world had to agree with or follow the black out on this news like in England, you have to wonder about the responsibility of a journalist. By printing Prince Harry's whereabouts, they not only put his and his comrades' lives in danger, but they walk a fine line of reporting for the sake of finding the truth, and merely just to get the story out.

Obviously, it's always important to try to get your story out first, but if there is a universal agreement to not report something in the interest of safety, I feel like it's important to follow that. Prince Harry has said that he liked being in Afghanistan and that for the first time he felt like a regular person. Though he covered up his face to not be identified, he still fit in and looked like any other soldier.

Now, as a result, he's going to have his royal status once again thrown in his face and taken out of the battle back to England where he will no doubt be coddled again. I can't speak for him, but it sounds like he really just wanted to be a regular guy and have no special treatment. You can't help what family you're born into, and for Prince Harry, it seems unfair that his dream job should be cut short because of a journalist who just couldn't sit on a story.

Journalists are out there to find the truth and give justice to the public, so they should also consider if what they're doing is just and right. Did the story alert anyone to sudden danger? Did they create a social and cultural uprising? Was anything truly won by reporting on his location?

The Lede: Seven More Sins, Thanks to Vatican

In a post by Mike Nizza on The Lede today, Nizza discussed that the Vatican has now added 7 new sins, in addition to the other 7 sins and the 10 Commandments. The new sins include birth control, stem cell research, drug abuse, polluting the environment, contributing to a divide between the rich and poor, excessive wealth, and creating poverty.

While some of these new sins might seem like common sense, mainly the ones about the environment and poverty, the others just seem like the Vatican trying to reach into a modern and global demographic. It's hard to relate to Biblical stories about sacrifices and burning bushes, so it seems like the Church is trying to bring back the followers with things they can relate to.

Personally, I feel like the Church has their original sins, and they should stick to them. Why not add nuclear war to the list while they're at it? Or how about identity theft? When I heard that the Vatican had a new ruling a couple of years back on driving, I knew they were reaching beyond their limits. But this new list just seems like they're really stretched thin. Kind of like when a TV show will pull out a random celebrity guest in the hopes that it draws interest, but you can just tell they don't fit in and it doesn't make sense.

Home Sweet Home

This weekend I went home to see my parents and get some things before spring break. Home is a brown and white house with two garage doors in a quiet neighborhood of Sharon, Massachusetts. It was nice to go back for a while, do some laundry, and have a good meal. But do I really live there anymore? Sure, I have all of my important mail sent there, and during every school break I head back there, but at what point does it stop being "my house" and become "my parents house?"

The idea of "home" is different to a lot of people. For some, it's a material place that they can touch, smell, and even taste, if they feel so inclined (just don't eat the lead paint). A place that you can go to and claim as your own. Where no one can touch you. For others, it's a place that you feel most comfortable. It could be on a friends couch or even on the road. As the saying goes, "home is wherever you make it."

I wonder if I've lost that feeling. I still like going back to Sharon--for a while anyway. All of my old friends are from there, and there's the sense of childhood and simpler times in that neighborhood. I've lived on and off in Amherst now for close to four years, and almost every time I come back to Sharon, I feel more removed than the last time. Every time I travel somewhere else, I feel as if I'm farther away from the childhood and growing up in Sharon.

It's not necessarily a tangible thing, but I can feel it. I walk around my house and all of the stuff on the walls feels somewhat different. Renovations here and there have changed my house enough so that it's hardly the place it was when I was a kid. Either way, it's still nice to come back to a place that seems somewhat familiar. Especially after traveling for a long time or being away at school.

At this time next week I'll be on a 747 headed to South America. I'll be heading to Uruguay to do some volunteer work in the capital, Montevideo. This will be my first trip to South America, and I'm very excited. We have a lay over in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but only for an hour or so, unfortunately. I'd love to actually get to spend some time there, but there just isn't any time. Keep checking the blog, because I'm going to try to post some entries while I'm down there. Hopefully there will be a working computer in the hotel. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

All iPods Go To Heaven

http://direct.tesco.com/pi/Product/8/100-9568F.jpg
I suppose this is a sort of obituary for my iPod. Last week my iPod was stolen, and needless to say, I feel a loss that can best be described in the first few primal responses that come to mind. Shock, anger, frustration, sadness, and numbness are the emotions that came to me after I realized my iPod was gone. It's more than just the monetary value of the iPod that mattered to me. It was actually pretty old--I bought it over three years ago and it was on its way out--but the sentimental value that bugs me the most.

There's hardly ever justification for theft, and when you break into someone's room and take what isn't yours, you really take more than just the object. You take a little bit of the person's trust in other people. You take a little bit of the person's soul that was put into that object, if that object truly touched them enough.

As I've alluded in some other posts, music is incredibly important to me. It gets me through a lot of times, be they good, bad, or just a fleeting moment. Over the years I've done some intense traveling, and the iPod was always there with me. Through hours of long bus rides, layovers and delays, and killing time in the car, it gave me what a lot of people wish they could have. It gave my life a soundtrack. I'll always have a character theme with certain parts of the world now because of my iPod.

I suppose it just seems like I've grown attached to a material thing, and that would be a just assessment, but I think it goes deeper than that. I think what was truly stolen was my old travel buddy, the old faithful that would always cheer me up just when I needed it, or lull me to sleep in an uncomfortable part of the world. I think it was the idea of having a piece of my travels taken away, because no matter where I was in the world, I had that music player with me, keeping me entertained.

I tend to personify my things sometimes in an attempt to feel some connection with what I've done. Sometimes I'll joke that I trust my old backpack more than a person because that pack held up under intense traveling, and that person hasn't proven themselves in the same situations yet. "This jacket's been with me all over the world, so be careful with it."

When I traveled to Lisbon I was by myself for the first time, and to comfort my loneliness and insecurity of being alone, I turned to my MP3 player. It stood by me the whole time. Later, when I was traveling alone for two weeks and on other trips, it kept me company on the trains, in the parks, and while reading on long airplane rides across the oceans. I believe that you can bring out a different aspect of traveling with the addition of music, and with the music gone, a part of that experience is also gone.

Of course, I still have the music saved on my computer--the only place I can access it from now. And someday I'll be able to buy another iPod and have those good times on the road with my music again. But for now, I can't afford a new one, and I'm just going to have to learn to travel with the roar of the jet engine and the snores of my roommates. Luckily, I usually have a song in my head anyway. But maybe this is a good thing too. Maybe I'll pay more attention to the local music, or to the local noises. I've always listened for them, but now I can completely focus on them, rather than the song in my head that I just heard.

I guess in the end it just comes down to me missing my old friend, my own personal soundtrack, ready to follow me around, spotting on and off and the lightest touch. A material thing from the outside-yes-but a real thing from the inside. And someday when I have that music with me once again, I can relive the old days, and make some new imprints on my musical memory. A new friend with an old face.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Lede: Settling Very Old Scores in South Korea

In a February 29 post from The Lede, Patrick J. Lyons writes about the South Korean government redistributing land because of collaboration with the Japanese between 1910 and 1945. The Lede poses the question of when has enough time passed that it becomes unfair to punish the descendants of the people who committed the acts?

It's an interesting thing to take into account. At the end of the post, Lyons talks about the land redistribution after the American Revolution and how the Loyalists lost their land but dealt with it well before the 1840s. Comparatively, as much time has gone by now in South Korea and the descendants are just now being punished.

Another thing to think about is the issue of reparations to African American descendants of slaves. You could ask the same question of how much time has passed that it no longer becomes the problem of the state or the individual. I think that in the case of South Korea, it seems a bit unfair to be taking away the land now, unless the landowners somehow are directly related to the suffering that was caused by their collaboration.

Today, we have friendly relations with Japan and Germany, even though horrible atrocities occurred during World War II. We don't punish the children and grandchildren of Nazis or Japanese guards at Nanking or Cabanatuan. I don't think the children should be held accountable for the actions of their parents. With that being said, something should be done to help those families that suffered and still do suffer as a result of the treatment during the occupation. Perhaps those families can be given jobs on the land or have a stake in the ownership.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

On Traveling Alone


Traveling in groups can be a great way to see a new place. Not only do you have the security of being with guides and other people your age, but you can have people to eat and drink with, as well as pass the time with. If you're traveling with one or two other people, you tend to rely on those people for support, both emotionally and physically. When you travel on your own, however, it's a totally different experience that you could either love or hate.

Like with anything you do, there will be advantages and disadvantages. One of the best aspects of traveling alone is that you can do whatever you want and not have to worry about other people complaining or slowing you down. If you want to wake up early or sleep in, there's no one else to take into consideration. You really have complete freedom while traveling alone, and it allows you to take your time and enjoy the place you're traveling in. A lot of times while traveling in a group, you get herded from one spot to the next without being able to soak it all in. When you're by yourself and don't have anywhere special to be, you can sit and enjoy the place you're in.

Being alone allows you to meet more people, at hostels, for instance. Often times, people who travel alone will stick together and hang out. Though you don't have to do the same thing the other guy is, a lot of times you find that you're both going to the same place anyway. It's nice to buddy up, and if you find that the person is getting on your nerves, you don't have to hang out with them anymore.

Traveling alone can give you a totally different perspective on a place. You can get a really insightful trip, rather than the superficial kind you sometimes get with a group trip. If you like to write, you can just sit at a cafe or in a park and watch the locals. You can get a chance to do some thinking without anyone else bothering you.

Not everything about traveling alone is perfect though. The worst thing that can happen is loneliness. One of the best parts of traveling is sharing the experience with someone else, and if you're all alone, you have no one to discuss the beauty of the mountains or the culture with. You eat and drink alone, and you have no one to look out for your safety and well being. Maybe this was just my own problem, but when I traveled alone and saw groups of friends laughing and having a good time, I'd be jealous. I'd want to share in that good time with my own friends. You can't just go out drinking in a foreign city by yourself.

Another problem is your safety. Anytime you travel alone you can be a target for thieves or swindlers. One of the most stressful times is when you have a huge backpack on with another smaller bag on your stomach, riding the subway in a city where you don't speak the language. All someone has to do is tip you over and you're screwed.

There's also the issue of "If we're screwed, at least we're screwed together." When you're traveling with friends you have the little reassurance in the back of your head that if anything should come up, at least you're all together and can work together to figure it out. If you missed your train or plane and have to spend the night in the station or airport, you can laugh it off and hang out with your friends. You can even take shifts watching the luggage. But when you're by yourself, you're truly alone, especially when you don't speak the language. I've had to spend a few nights in airports clutching my bags, and it's an awful sleepless night if it happens.

If you travel to a city without a clear list of things to see and do, but wanted to go there to experience it, you could find yourself very bored. Sometimes the best part of traveling is the experiences you have with the people there. I traveled to Lisbon alone for two days because I wanted to see the city, but I didn't really know any specific sights or things to do other than a few things I'd heard. So when I got there I found myself thinking, "Now what?" I wandered around aimlessly for two afternoons just killing time. It could have been a great trip with just one other person to talk to and experience it with, but instead I was counting down until I left.

With all that being said, you can truly learn a lot about yourself just from traveling alone for a few days. You realize how careful you have to be and how to look out for yourself. You can look inside yourself and see what kind of person you are, and whether or not you would be better suited to travel alone or with others. But no matter what you come to realize, at least you know that you've done it and can do it again.