When you travel, you find yourself, Alone in a different way,
More attentive now, To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching, You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart, That lies low at home:
When you travel, A new silence, Goes with you,
And if you listen, You will hear
What your heart would love to say.
~ John O’Donohue ~
I am only a few countries and few cities old when it comes to traveling alone. But as I rewind my life, those are the most fragrant memories that pop up. Even on a dull boring day when I feel low and hidden, these thoughts make me feel,”having lived” and wanting to live more for.
It’s a very apprehensive thought, to plan a solo trip for leisure. Most of us are vibrant social beings, wanting to share good sights, taste, and fun, with friends and family. Most of us attribute travel as part of bonding, sharing and enjoying the company. So if all that is taken away from a travel, what would remain?
I can assure you the experience of a journey, the one only you will be part of, the one only for you and into you.
It’s a deliciously self-indulgent process. You start your trip with a folder full of printouts and two phones and chargers. You have a personal journal where you have clearly written down your plans. Because there is no one else to consult, no one else to help. From the beginning of your journey, you live every second being alert because the moment you become abstracted, you might miss a flight or lose a baggage.
The most peaceful moments you experience are the ones at the airport waiting to board. You usually don’t have anyone to talk to, so you have moments all for yourself to think. I usually retrospect, watch people around me and sip a cappuccino. It’s fun to imagine how different a world you would be arriving to, from the one you are living in.
Most of my solo travels have been to South-East Asia. It’s delicious, affordable, friendly and has good public transport facilities. Being perpetually amused by Buddhist-philosophy, these places are transpiring, educative and ruminative for me.
I have realized that during my solo journeys, I am more available for local connections. Sometimes it’s intentional, other times it isn’t. When I am all by myself and handicapped by language, I occasionally try out those rusty language skills or strike up a conversation with a stranger. Most often you will be surprised by who you meet and also be amazed by the person who you are in company with a totally different stranger. Few of the best conversations I have had in my life has been during these solo journeys because strangers don’t get intimidated to talk when you are alone.
I loved the conversations with the young monks at a monastry in Chiang Mai, with the handsome spanish couple in hongkong over wine outside a crowded bar, with the old chinese lady and her mom who shared a table for breakfast with me at a traditional Dimsum restaurant, with the man who gave me a ride on a scooter in Pattaya, with the tuk tuk driver in Taipei who helped me get to my hotel without any fare, or with the guy who showed me a secret passage to the ocean under the castle(turned into a hotel) in Oman. Many times you don’t speak a common language, you communicate through hand gestures and smiles.
Few times, I have not been aided by GPS or internet. So I have had to carry hand maps with locals marking me the sites to visit. I feel alert and present in the world when I walk around with a map. Even though I am an ardent traveler using GPS for directions, I am glad I don’t feel like a blue arrow chasing a blue line while I use a physical map.
I feel it’s important to use public transport if its available because you feel the vibrations of the local life when you do so and most importantly it’s cheap.
It’s amazing to wake up in a strange city early morning and plan a day and embrace the surprises. I cherish all cuisines as a gift package because I know its tasteful for someone even if it might not be for me. The best part of traveling alone is that you can be unapologetically hedonistic; eat and drink whatever and whenever you want, spend as long or as little as you like in a place, sign up for super cheesy. It’s a time when the only compromises you have to make are with yourself.
For all the twinkles in the sky, there are clouds to hurdle like planning the trip, remembering the hotel room key, keeping track of addresses, hours and money and rescheduling when circumstances change. But for all the extra effort, there’s no one to disappoint if you get something wrong. You are on your vacation, forgive yourself, skip famous sights, walk through the villages, go into the ocean on a small boat and tangle your feet above water, talk to an old person, wear a local dress, write your journal, have coffee with a stranger, take a nap, order a midday ice cream.
“When you are traveling with someone else, you share each discovery, but when you are alone, you carry each experience with you like a secret, something you have to write in your heart because there’s no other way to preserve it“
~ Shauna Niequest ~