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.

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