Why travel solo?

August 16, 2009 at 10:57 pm | Posted in life, Planning, travel | 1 Comment

It’s one of those questions that to some people is a no-brainer and to many others is a very serious, “No really, why would you do that?” question. I fall a little into both categories, more into the former but occasionally, in those “Oh God, what am I getting myself into?” moments, into the latter. Traveling solo is scary, especially in far off foreign lands of which you know little of the language, culture, geography, etc. It’s hard to imagine having fun when you don’t have any friends or loved ones to share it with or when you will surely will be stressing constantly about figuring out the bus schedule, making it to your flight on time, ordering food and eating alone, not getting robbed, etc. But of course, everyone says what a significant experience it is – learning about yourself, growing and maturing as a person, acquiring new skills and handling responsibility, finding yourself, etc. But these are just arguments you or others make to you in the process of making that big decision to go it alone.

I have been battling with these arguments constantly as of late. Come hell or high water, I have decided already that this trip will be primarily solo. However, it is a bit tempting to succomb to a bit of group/tour travel, particularly in Peru where a) there are things like Machu Picchu which would be much nicer to do in a familiar group, and b) Lonely Planet basically struck fear in me of buses (especially overnight! The horror!) and 80% of my destinations (Pisco is incredibly dangerous and women will feel super uncomfortable, and Lima! Danger! Danger here, danger there!) My parents’ constant nagging of how it is far too dangerous and my boyfriend’s and friends’ constant expressions of concern (You’re going where? For how long? ALONE? Without anyone else?) can start to play on any sane person’s brain. Am I really going to be unsafe? Is this really a bad idea? One discussion with fellow travelers, however, always leads back to clarity. What do you need a tour for? It’s cheaper and more fun to do it yourself! You’ll meet tons of people on the road.

And so in a time like this, I am saved a bit by myself, funny enough. Reading through journal entries from old trips, I came across one in particular from the end of my two month solo journey in Southeast Asia and New Zealand. To sum up the situation, my first month was solo in SEA (horrifyingly lonely at first, then tons of fun!) and the second was “independent group travel” on the hop-on, hop-off “Magic” bus (a decision influenced by my parents – i.e. they insisted so much that they paid for the bus trip and a good majority of my hostel stays – and one that I regretted just about immediately).

28 May 2008

I really do think I’ve grown and changed a bit since starting this trip on my own. I think I truly have embraced the “Just say yes” mentality. At times, invitations, suggestions, etc. that I’d usually hesitate and agonize over whether to do or not, whether to say yes or no, go or stay, I instead just go with it. “Sure, why not?” And it’s led to good things, great experiences and memories. Instead of running scared, I push through the discomfort and prosper. I also just do what feels right. And it all worked out rather well. I’ve still felt nervous at all kinds of things, but I went ahead and did them anyway. From sandboarding to dinner invites, you can feel nervous all the same, but it’s completely up to you still if you overcome that and go for it anyways, and that’s what I’ve come to realize.

It’s hard to really think about traveling alone when you haven’t done it. Sometimes it seems like it’d be a breeze, other times it seems near impossible. In reality there are times when it’s really hard and really sucks and there are times when it’s amazing and things happen that you know would never happen if you weren’t alone. In the end, there will be moments you wish you’d had a good friend with you, but overall you’ll be glad you went for it, and you can’t help but feel that you’ve grown and changed. You faced up to the challenge and didn’t give in when it got hard.

And for me, it’s even sweeter because none of my friends have actually done this. Yes, the majority of my solo travel has been pretty easy, in NZ on the Magic Bus, but it did include some time in Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia totally on my own. And even here I’ve met tons of women who say they don’t know how I do it. But then, you meet tons of other girls (and guys) doing it alone as well. To each their own. But I definitely feel pride in having done it and want to do it again. Overall I haven’t felt that lonely. And really I think the Magic Bus has only inhibited me. I have a harder time connecting with people in a big-bus atmosphere like that. All the people I connected with the most I met off the big bus. So whenever the next time is, I’m doing it totally on my own, no backpacker bus trips.

And then it goes on to wax philosophical about other things. But it’s funny to see my then-self communicating to my now-self with that last sentence.

So why travel solo? What have you got to lose? If you really hate it, give yourself some time. I hated it, I gave myself some time (even when my parents offered to fly me home for a few weeks rather than contine solo) and I went on to have the time of my life (if you’re ever in Pulau Perhentian give them my regards for that). If you still hate it, find no kindred souls in hostels, guesthouses, on buses, etc., it’s rarely ever too late to sign up for some kind of tour (even if it’s just a few days to get you into the spirit and meet some people!) or some kind of organized people. Don’t give up, you just need to find the right balance. When it comes down to it, your biggest problem may be that once you go solo, you’ll never want to go back. 🙂

T-minus one month

August 11, 2009 at 11:37 pm | Posted in life, Planning, travel | Leave a comment

September 7th. That’s the day I will jump off the proverbial cliff and fly to Buenos Aires to begin my 13 week trip to South America. I bought my tickets the day before I jumped a plane to San Francisco to see my boyfriend for the last time for nearly five months. Then I jetsetted across the States to NYC for a weekend with family, and now I find myself back at home facing reality. AKA the fact that I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do in South America for more than three months.

And so the time for preparation has arrived. I’ve finally pushed myself to start my attempts at re-learning Spanish. So far I’ve listened to about a half hour of Spanish learning podcasts and spent another half hour or so perusing a “Teach Yourself Spanish” book from the library. I’m hardly approaching riveting conversationality yet, but at least I’ve taken the first step.

I’ve also been burying my nose in guidebooks. Cross-referening between Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, I’m trying to make note of what seems worthy of seeing and doing on my journey north from BA to Quito. In the end, I’m sure I will end up determining my route more by recommendations and spur of the moment decisions, but it’s nice to be informed and aware of the options. I’ve only immersed myself in Argentina and Bolivia and Already my dreams of Argentina have grown from a simple route of BA-Iguazu-Salta-adios to visions of red rock formations, dinosaur graveyards, and fertile vineyards and Bolivia has become so much more than just salt flats.

But in all honesty, I have my priorities a little jumbled. It’s good to be better versed in Spanish and the regions I’m visiting, but these are things I inevitably won’t have a real grasp on until I’m in South America. There are other things of a more pressing manner I should be worrying about.

Health

Luckily, my vaccinations are pretty much in order. Having visited Peru three years ago, yellow fever, hepatitis, etc. are all covered. Unfortunately, it seems my typhoid vaccine will be just about overdue so I should probably look into getting the thyphoid pills (they’re cheaper and last longer, not sure why I didn’t go for that option in the first place — I hate needles!) Here’s to hoping my dismal health insurance will cover them. Which brings me to part two of health: travel health insurance. World Nomads receives nothing but glowing reviews and offer reasonable prices. I will certainly go with them, it’s just a matter of getting that done!

Funds

My credit card bill is going to be a whopper this month, what with buying my SA tickets and spending a week in San Francisco, plus anything more I will spend preparing for this trip. And my bank account will be looking tragic after that. I have adjusted pretty well to the lifestyle of spending almost nothing (aka the lifestyle of living with my parents and being a hermit) so it’s going to be hard hitting having a constant flow of money out of my pockets when I’m traveling (no matter how inexpensive SA may be). I am relying heavily on some old bonds my dad gave me for graduation. Lord help me if I have any trouble accessing that money in the next few weeks!

Packing

Should be a four letter word. In general, I am a pretty good packer and can easily pack much less than many others I know. But as far as packing for backpacking, the longest I’ve had to pack for was a month and a half. Not that there’s really much difference when it comes down to durations of 6 weeks or 13 weeks. Still, I tend to get better when I’m in that mode (i.e. taking lots of little backpacking trips when I’m abroad studying or something). So I’m a bit worried, especially when I’m considering the huge variances in temperatures and environments I’ll be encountering–well below freezing temperatures in the Andes or altiplano versus scorching temperatures and humidity in other areas. I hope to list out all the things I think I need, then lay out all the things I plan to pack, figure out what I need to eliminate, and figure out what I still need to get.

Get moving!

All in all, there’s a lot that goes into preparation for a trip. In the past, my travels have always been after a study abroad experience and so have allowed for a lot of adjusting and getting to know the area beforehand. And I was usually with other people as well. This trip is overall just very different circumstances than any other travel I’ve done. Though everyone is pushing me to plan, figure everything out, and “for goodness sake join a tour!” – I feel being open and flexible is the best path for me and over-preparation will do nothing but stress me out! Here’s to hoping it all works out!

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