Monday, July 8, 2013

Traveling solo

I was at a party yesterday and got to talking to a lovely young lady. She was 21, and as we talked she mentioned feeling very uncomfortable about traveling solo. She told me a story about having once gone to St. Petersburg as part of an 8-week intensive language course and feeling lonely and homesick the entire time because she just didn't know how to go about meeting people to spend time with while traveling. The whole trip was miserable for her and she wished she had known how to have a good time there by herself.

Since all of my trips have been solo, I thought about what it is that a) makes me enjoy traveling solo and b) what someone could do to perhaps make it easier for them to do something similar. I'm pretty sure this is a topic I've brought up before, but it is worth revisiting, I think.

I'd love it if people chimed in with their opinions here as well. *Smiles* Just remember, these are my opinions based on my experiences and I am an extrovert who truly loves being around people. So I totally understand that in some cases what one person can do or would enjoy another person very strongly cannot or would not.

Why do I enjoy traveling solo?

I have a whole lot more reasons, but I thought for this I'd just cover the big three...

1. Freedom. Freedom to sleep at your own schedule, do activities at your own schedule, go where YOU want to go, and adjust things with no notice at all. Focus on your interests, and your desires. Traveling solo allows you to be selfish. *Smiles* 

2. Random social. In my experiences I have had more opportunities to meet really cool new people when alone than when with a friend or group. Because when alone, I find myself a) more eager to interact with other human beings, and b) better able to just slip into conversation with a total stranger (or strangers) and then let my first point take over with regards to plans.

3. Time to just be in my own head. This is hugely important to me. Because despite being an extrovert, I am also bipolar and I require time to just let go and be in my own head without anyone around to pull me away from what I'm doing. You don't have to be bipolar to need this. It's actually pretty common, from what I have heard from friends. And traveling or doing something solo, I have found, can often be the perfect way to let go of things and just BE in the moment.

Advice for traveling solo:

1. Learn to really enjoy your own company. Eat out at restaurants by yourself. Go to a movie by yourself. If extrovert me is in charge of my brain I watch the people around me when out and about by myself. I eavesdrop on conversations at the table next to me or the people standing in front of me in line. If I need quiet brain time I read or I write in my journal or sketch. 

2. Talk to the staff at your hotel (or guest house, or hostel). They are there to help you and are often very eager and able to do so. If, for instance, you're feeling homesick or lonely and need to be around other people who might understand how you're feeling, ask the hotel for suggestions on where the tourists tend to enjoy congregating. Because yeah, sometimes you just need that break from what you're doing and need a small taste of the familiar. Or find a Starbucks. *Laughs* 

3. Develop a routine, if you're going to be somewhere for more than a day or two. There a cafĂ© near where you're staying? Stop in every morning on your way to your day's activities. Say hello to the people working there and if they aren't swamped maybe strike up a brief conversation. Smile at other patrons. Make yourself memorable somehow.  

4. Smile. Smiling goes a very long way to not only tricking yourself into feeling better if you're not, but also into opening yourself up to others. Say hello with a smile and you'll often get a smile back in return.  

5. Don't be afraid to or feel embarrassed about talking to strangers. Seriously. Many of my favorite travel memories came about because I opened my mouth and started talking to someone new.

6. Do pay attention to body language, though. If the people at the table next to you are sitting back in their chairs, arms gesticulating wildly, and smiling at or laughing with each other... there is a high likelihood that you interrupting their conversation with a comment based on something you heard them just say is going to be accepted and you might even be welcomed to join in on more of the conversation. If they are leaning in, talking quietly or intently, and not glancing around the room... best to leave them be. 

7. The same goes if you are out walking around and need to ask a stranger for help. Don't stop the person with small children he or she is trying to keep an eye on or the person waiting impatiently at a traffic light or moving briskly down the sidewalk unless it really is an emergency and you need to ask the first person you see. Look around you. See someone waiting for a bus? Or perhaps someone who has stepped outside to smoke a cigarette? Or duck into a nearby hotel or bank. They are good options. And if you are in a country where English is not readily spoken, keep in mind that younger people worldwide are often taught English in school so they might be more able to communicate with you if you don't speak the native language very well (or at all). But always keep in mind my next point!

8. Learn at least some of the native language. For very basic stuff I've found that when I'm traveling solo (hell, this is good advice for travel in general, solo or not!) being able to say hello in the native language often gets a very positive response and helps me feel not quite so alone. As does being able to say thank you. Learning the numbers helps when shopping, or needing to take busses or trains. I also like to learn how to tell someone I think their country or city is very beautiful. If you have allergies (like I do!), definitely learn how to say ALLERGY and either learn the local words for them or get them written down for you so you can show the paper to someone to help them understand! That's hugely important.

9. Definitely have a way to communicate with friends and family back home. Because yes, you will get lonely at times and homesick and sometimes the only way to feel better is to talk to the folks back home.

10. Allow yourself to feel your emotions. It is okay to get sad, or lonely, or frustrated. Just as it is okay to feel exhilarated and freeing that you're off on this adventure on your own having the time of your life. You don't need to feel angry or guilty for feeling any of those things.

11. Lastly... figure out what YOU like. What YOU are interested in. Not what the guide books or your friends tell you you should do, but what you actually want to do or see. And do them. There is nobody there to tell you you need to do anything else. Enjoy yourself. And you'll enjoy your trip.

1 comment:

  1. I travel alone a lot, too, and all of what you say is true...although I'm a lot less inclined to talk to strangers than you are.