Friday, August 23, 2013

On travelling alone: the pros and cons

Throughout the duration of my studies, the people in my group often commented on my zest for travel, whether I had a travel buddy or not, simply because once I got the idea in my mind of where my next destination should lie, there was very little else stopping me.And while most of the other international students were content with a trip or two, here and there, wherever their friends were willing to travel, I needed to squeeze in as much as I could, knowing that it will all be over sooner than I can imagine. Thus, in a span of 2.5 years I've visited,and some more than once: Spain, Italy, France, Denmark,Switzerland, many parts of Germany, Croatia, Czech republic, Morocco, Greece, as well as the islands of Tenerife, Ibiza, Skiathos; I've volunteered in music festivals without speaking the language, I've stumbled upon free concerts and art exhibitions, met wonderful people all over, some of whom have left lasting impressions...and the list goes on. So, for those of you who are reluctant to travel the world, unless accompanied by a partner/friend, etc- here is my list of "pros" and "cons" regarding solo travelling.

The "pro's":
Well, these are pretty obvious: you're on your own schedule, free to change your mind or adjust your plans at any time. Not only does this give you a tremendous flexibility, but it also increases the probability or meeting people anywhere you go-perhaps other solo travelers, or locals who feel like striking up a conversation while sitting next to you on a park bench. I'll never forget the sweet old man in a Copenhagen park, who, apologizing for his "very bad English" went on to tell me his life story without missing a beat. Or the generous stranger who bought me a train ticket back to the airport after I'd figured out I don't have enough local currency. The thing is, people are kind and open to tourists intrigued by their culture, because at the end of the day we all want to feel proud of where we're living, so by showing interest in local history, traditions, culture, by striving to understand how people live in a given region, makes you more relateable than simply being another "american tourist" (as canadians are most often lumped together with americans, unless you're willing to make a fuss about it and explain the difference to each and every one).

The "con's":

Well, we're all human and sometimes we just want someone to share a moment with. Whether you've stumbled upon a gorgeous view, or a neat marketplace, it can have an even greater memory-making potential once you've shared it with a fellow traveler. Needless to say, mealtime is a little daunting. You can hide there all you want with your guidebook and notes at a corner table, but most people in our society view meal time as a social occasion, thus making you stand out like a sore thumb. I have to say, my opinion differs on that-yes, I prefer a take out when traveling alone, with a possibility of going to a nearby park and enjoying the views and the outdoors. It can also be enjoyable to sit there with a cup of coffee and people watch. However, in some societies it just won't do: in Morocco, for example, a single woman on the streets is basically a "working girl", or so the locals see it,-so, just to make it easier on yourself, I'd advise against it. Same goes for Egypt. Other places, like northern Italy and Switzerland, I was ecstatic to be alone, as there's just too much to see and do to waste your time on group travel.

Of course, it all depends on where you go and with what intentions. If you're looking to meet people along the way and spend a day or two exploring a new place together, hostels are great for that. If you prefer the introverted route, taking photos and blogging about your travels can make you feel like you are sharing these experiences regardless of whether or not you travel solo.I often catch myself walking around thinking how I will write about my day or a particular experience on the road later on. In a way, I find that this internal dialogue keeps you connected to your outside world, with your senses concentrating on perceiving every exotic and foreign detail: someone's conversation nearby, a bird's cry, a new smell, a friendly smile from a stranger, a unique piece of art- a sense of envelopment arises, envelopment in something new, different, strange, scary and yet exciting at the same time-life, at its fullest, on the road.

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