My first solo trip was in 1998. I was working as a data entry clerk and decided to throw caution to the wind and backpack through Scotland for two weeks. My family thought I was completely insane. I was over-the-moon happy. I bought a Rough Guide’s Scotland book, purchased a Scottish rail pass and a youth hostel card. Other than that I had no plans. All I knew was that I was going to Scotland alone for two weeks.
I still remember that trip. I remember what it was like to hike up to the castle in Culrain where I was going to sleep. I remember jumping onto the railroad tracks and chasing the train because it forgot to stop. I remember laying on the grass near Waverly station in Edinburgh on a Sunday afternoon listening to bagpipes and staring at Edinburgh Castle off in the distance. And I remember reading the wrong train schedule and spending an entire day on the train, only to end up back in Edinburgh that night.
Ever since that trip to Scotland I have travelled alone. It wasn’t something I had set out to do on purpose. When I was younger I would have loved to travel with friends, but they all had other priorities.
Travelling alone has its benefits. I’m usually more open, which makes it easier to interact with locals. I can get up at the crack of dawn and wander the quiet streets of a new city/village without having to drag someone along with me. I can be utterly lazy and stay inside all day long if I need a rest day. It’s complete freedom. Empowering even.
And sometimes it’s also my own personal prison.
The more I travel alone, the more introverted I become. I have to force myself to stay in hostels so I can interact with other travellers from time to time. And when events roll around, I have these big internal debates about whether or not I should go. Why? I’m shy. I’m that girl who quietly sits at the back of a room and watches everyone else. I’ve been that girl since I was around 12 years old. As a teenager my friends thought I was doing it for attention. I can even remember some awkward chats about that. That was never the reason though. I am just that shy. Sure, if you know me, you’d say I was crazy, but it’s true. Things like small talk are difficult for me unless I feel a connection with the person I’m speaking to. Otherwise I stand there feeling like a moron because I have absolutely nothing to say.
There are days when I wish I had someone to travel with. Days when I’m tired of making ALL of the decisions and doing ALL of the work myself. I dream of having someone take charge and being able to sit back, relax, and just tag along. Oh, how sweet that could be (with the right travel partner of course). I could actually have a discussion with another human, rather than talking out loud to the walls and having the people around me wonder if there is a mental institute offering a reward for my safe return.
I usually don’t realise how bad my isolation is until I meet someone and morph into some kind of deranged speed talker. Which is exactly what happened when I met Suzanne Barbezat in Oaxaca. It was sad. Like really, really sad. After having lunch with Suzanne I saw her the following day at a tamale cooking class, which is when my brain overloaded and switch my mouth into overdrive. Poor Suzanne was bombarded with random non-stop chatter because she was the first foreigner (and Canadian, and travel writer) I had conversed (and connected) with in several days. My verbal diarrhoea was so bad that I started apologising, and then continued to speak non-stop. (Wow, kind of like this whole paragraph. OMG!) And it continued liked every single time I saw her! I’m not even kidding. Ask her, she’ll tell you.
Isolation can be a good thing, in small doses. Too much isolation can be dangerous; especially when you’ve created imaginary friends with complete back stories!
I know, I should write them all down on paper or something. But then y’all would know the extent of my insanity and I’m not sure that would be a good thing. You know?
As much as the downs get me, well, down, there are far more ups. The trick is to remind me exactly what those ups are!
“The way I look at a solo project is, I create what I want with whoever I want.” – Sebastian Bach
As a solo traveller, I make all the rules. I choose where to go, for how long, what I do or don’t do. I have control over most of my decision making.
When I travel solo I find myself being more adventurous and daring. I do things that others don’t think I’m capable of (mostly due to my Scottish/Irish/English stubbornness). I come up with completely insane travel ideas and then email friends to tell them how awesome it is that I am completely off my rocker, and OMG you wish YOU had thought of this rad idea, right?! If I won $50,000 tomorrow I could say “See ya! I’m off to live in a hut in Bora Bora!!”, because I have nobody to answer to. I can literally log off right now and board a plane to anywhere in the world (as long as I had the money to buy the plane ticket, and had the required visa…).
Solo travel is a balancing act, and as with almost everything in life, too much of a good thing can be dangerous. I love being open to new cultures and experiences, but I would also love a chance to share those experiences with someone else (let’s not even attempt to talk about travel, and dating).
While solo travel is not a cake walk, I think it’s something everyone should try at least once in their life. Test yourself. See what your limits are. Learn how to balance your isolation, and make it work for you. And know that it’s totally okay to spend a day in bed and be bummed from time to time. I mean, nobody can be 100% happy 24/7, right?! Everyone has their down days. The trick is to let the happy ones outweigh the downers (Days, people. Not pills.).