Travel Thoughts

When It Sucks To Travel Alone

When it sucks to travel alone

Travelling solo has many benefits, absolutely! Yet, I am not going to sugar coat it – sometimes as a solitary traveller, the experience can be confronting, challenging, frightening, overwhelming and lonely. Although hopefully these moments will be rare, if you’re planning to travel solo, just be prepared that in reality, there might be times when it sucks to travel alone!

There’s a big plus side to solo travel: insightful, inspiring and fulfilling journeys filled with abundant new friends and experiences to last a lifetime.

I’m a big advocate and undertaker of solo travel – the increased flexibility being able to stay wherever you wish, being able to do, see and eat whatever you want, when you want, with no compromises needed. Also, there is the greater opportunity to meet more people, both locals and other travellers. As an unaccompanied traveller, you’re more inclined to open yourself up to others, when there’s no one else to talk to. Although, this has driven me to talking to myself from time to time, probably more often than I would like to admit!

Despite the virtues of solo travel, on occasion, situations arise which can be a test on the nerves when you have no one to rely on except yourself. Misfortunate travel moments come up along the way but these few trying situations remind you of your ability of resilience and decision-making capabilities. Solo travel makes you a resourceful int overcoming challenges can make you a stronger, more independent, confident, resourceful person.

However, inevitably there are still are times when…

When It Sucks To Travel Alone

Getting Sick Or Suffering An Injury

Being unwell, falling ill with food poisoning, getting an infection, or having an accident is not fun at the best of times. Even, if I’m at home with family or friends. When it happens in a foreign country, being alone, especially if I don’t speak the language, it is NOT a fun experience. Suddenly I’m back to feeling like a child, having a ‘poor me’ moment. All I want to do is cry for my mum, even as a grown adult, and sometimes I do! OK, it might not be such a major cut and perhaps I don’t really need to go to hospital, but who is going to put the band-aid on for me? I find myself singing the anthem from Bridget Jones Diary, ‘All By Myself’, whilst sniffing into tissues. But then Annie comes through, and I hear ‘The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.’

Needing To Make Decisions

I am notoriously slow and ponderous when making choices. Ordering food in a restaurant can send my friends’ eyes rolling. It just, takes, forever. So when it comes to more important courses of action, like whether it is a better idea to take the bus or the train to Niagara Falls from Toronto, or whether to pre-book a guide or just ‘wing it’ at the entrance of Machu Picchu, I can crave a second opinion, someone with whom to deliberate. I like bouncing off ideas and sometimes need someone to speed up the process and take control. However when I don’t have that input, I am forced to come to a conclusion without consultation. Over time, this ‘seems’ to improve my ability to make judgements. At least on my own, no one cares how long it takes for me to decide what to eat or no one will be silently irritated with me if I accidentally book “the slow boat to China.”

Feeling Threatened

Enduring catcalls, long unwanted stares, being followed, being alone in a taxi in Medellin when the driver starts playing S&M porno in my eyesight, being in a taxi in Santiago, Chile and having the doors locked on me if I don’t pay double the price, another taxi in Santa Marta suggesting we ‘should get it on’ by using his fingers to illustrate, having a taxi in Palmonino stop hus vehicle on a remote back road to demand his price is charged. Being robbed on a Thai bus and having my breasts grabbed in India would have to constitute as being some of most threatening situations I have faced alone. Yes, I have had some frightening moments on my travels and some of these incidents might not have happened if I was with someone else. But the outcome was, that I discovered I was a bit tougher than I thought. I slapped the Indian teenager across the face, yelling, exposing him to the street. I stuck up to the Thai thief and demanded my money belt back. I’ve walked confidently and strongly past unwelcome advances and ogling and I got out the taxi OK. The world is mostly a nice place, but when it’s not, and I am by myself, I only have one option – and that is to “man up.” And I mean this, in the nicest feminist way.

Being Forever Attached To Luggage

I’m not always a light packer. From time to time, I can travel with too much. But no matter the weight or amount of items I’m travelling with, there are times where it would be helpful to be able to leave my luggage with a travel friend. To be set free, to dart in and out of glamorous places, like bathroom facilities. Getting into a toilet cubicle with luggage at an airport, often feels like a feat of patience and endurance. Or after I have sat in a chair and put my bags down in the departures lounge and realise I have forgotten to get a bottle of water. I know I want to go and get it, but it means gathering everything up again. In Rio de Janeiro, when I wanted to swim in the ocean but knew I couldn’t leave my belongings unattended, I coveted to have a travelling companion. Oh what a relief it is, when there is someone to safeguard my things.

Encountering Language Difficulties

Body language and a few words go a long way in any language. Most of the time, trying to convey information when you don’t speak the local language, can be quite amusing, it becomes theatrical. Exchanges often develop into fleeting friendships with people, even if both parties have little idea of what each other is saying. But you only need to buy a banana so it doesn’t really matter too much. However when the language barrier presents itself, with misunderstandings occurring, it can be a really frustrating experience. Especially when it comes to important issues, such as catching complicated transport, needing to recharge your phone when no one in the shop speaks English or trying to book a doctor’s appointment over the phone in a foreign language. Having another brain to work out another way to say something to get the point across or for someone else to communicate for you, can make all the difference.

Getting Bad News From Home

Fortunately I have never received really, really bad news whilst travelling. Touch wood. I can only imagine it must be the toughest of situations to be somewhere in the world and hear tragic news, such as the loss of a loved one and not have someone close to lean on. My heart goes out to anyone who has been there. My only experience of bad news was to hear that the company I loved working for the previous five years, with people I loved working with, was going to close. I was on my own in Melbourne when I was told the news. Walking the streets, crying and sad, I was thinking where is there someone who cares, to give me a hug?

Encountering A Big Cultural Divide

I’ve mastered ‘dining for one’, mostly. In cosmopolitan cities, no one bats an eyelid when I’m sitting eating by myself. In stark contrast, in remote parts of the world, I’ve had everyone in the restaurant looking at me and watching my every move. Attempting to break the ice with a shy smile, I try not to get too preoccupied with the three hundred unwavering eyeballs on me. Travelling solo in some countries with a big cultural divide does enlighten me with questions such as, “Do you have no husband, no family, no friends? Why are you alone? Does no one love you?” The concept of a woman travelling without a companion is completely out of this world for some cultures. It can make you an interesting subject for their conjectures. Independent women travelling alone may sometimes get exhausted by the questions, which is why on occasion it just helps to make things up, like I’m meeting my boyfriend or friend, just to make the analysis a little easier and less intense.

Having A Victory, Big or Small

I’m talking about when I rise to the challenge of something, like climbing up a mountain in pouring rain, figuring out how the light switches and taps work in a foreign country, fixing something which is broken, trying to find the water main when the tap in your bathroom comes off and starts flooding your apartment, finally getting the lock to my luggage undone after two hours of trying to remember the code, or arriving in a new city in the middle of the night and spending fifteen minutes on a dark empty street fiddling with locks to get the door open to the AirBNB flat, worrying you might need to find somewhere else to stay. It is the ego, but when you have these small wins alone, I’d like to be able to turn around to someone and say, “Hey, I did it! That’s pretty cool, don’t you think?” However, aside from climbing mountains, I might not have figured out some of these problems myself, if I’d had a fellow traveller there who had stepped into help. Yet, sometimes it does feel like a lifesaver when someone else takes a turn trying to work out the issue, while I can take a big-deep-breath.

Travel Plans Going Pear-Shaped

It’s fun getting lost when travelling sometimes. Venice would not be Venice if I hadn’t been down a rabbit warren analysing the map for what seemed like half an hour trying to get back to where I had been earlier in the day. But when really lost, it’s comforting knowing that a travelling companion can also consult the map and hopefully have a better idea about which direction you’re meant to be going in. Look, let’s be honest, these days with Wi-Fi or Cellular on a smartphone, it’s quite hard to get lost. Technology has taken away the edge of the old days, when you actually had no idea whatsoever where you were. Today, travelling partners come in handy for sharing data usage when using google maps and making sure the dot is going in the right direction! Aggravating travel situations such as missing key transport, like a plane, train or bus which eventuates in waiting out another few hours is a time when it sucks to travel alone. Then, you wish you were with a good friend to talk with, or more likely, whinge together about missing your connection.

Seeing Something Mind-Blowing

Ultimately this is why we all travel isn’t it? To experience fascinating, enchanting, enlightening, beautiful, interesting places, and people. When I discovered the view from the top of the Arc De Triomphe in Paris, or from Hyuana Picchu in Peru, was eating the most delectable meal in Perugia, or lounging in the coolest, happening Hvar beach bar in Croatia surrounded by groups of people having a great time, I have thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great to be with someone close to me right now? To be hanging out with a dear friend, where we could share the reference point, appreciate it together and reminisce years later about it.

“Happiness is only real when shared” (Into the Wild)

But the reality is, at some of these awe-inspiring highs of my travels, there was no one I knew to share it with. So my only alternative was to turn to the stranger next to me, male or female, young or old, from anywhere on earth, as long as they had a friendly face and ask;

“It’s pretty awesome isn’t it?”

Looking out at the view, or getting to the top of the hill, I’ve come to realise the experience can still be shared. It might just be with someone you have never met before. No matter where you go, you will always find people to connect with. You might strike up a friendship with some and keep in touch, others you may never see again, just momentary friends which make you feel better, when you’re having one of those days when it sucks to travel alone.

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