Here’s where I get deep and meaningful. Thanks for being patient.
I’d like to think I’ve done a bit of traveling in my day. It’s something I really enjoy. I’ve done a bit of Western Europe, Central America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and an embarrassingly small bit of the United States. Some of these travels were done with friends, some with family, and some with a group of people that I’ve never met before. While all of these experiences carried some degree of independence, my most recent East Coast Aussie backpacking excursion was a bit more unassisted than I’m used to. I planned this trip out by myself, paid for it myself, and went entirely by myself. I moved around a bunch, as I hope you read about in the previous post, and started out as a complete stranger in each place I went. Straight up solo act.
As extreme as I’m making this sound, it’s really not that heroic of a feat. However, it was my first go at this type of travel, and to all of the awesome people I met who have been doing this for months (or even years), please just let me feel cool for the duration of this post.
In any event, I learned some things.
Solo travel is the way to go. I really wanted to give it a shot for this particular trip, and I learned very quickly that it is without a doubt the best way to travel. There are many, many reasons for this.
1. You don’t bitch about anything, to anyone.
The reason you travel is to see the world, and you wouldn’t be traveling if you didn’t truly think you had the motivation, the problem-solving skills, and the resources to do so. The friends or family with whom you may travel will believe they have the same, but all too often, you find that their view of these ideals does not line up with your own. This is problematic.
When you travel with people who are comfortable bitching at you, well, they are going to bitch at you. Unfortunately, you’ll probably retaliate by bitching yourself. You’ll yell about money, or about why you desperately want to stay or leave a certain place. None of these things are fun to talk about. Sometimes, they ruin the experience altogether.
When you travel solo, you simply don’t ever talk about these things, with anyone. You stay as long as you want to stay, you do what you want to do. You don’t have to daintily tiptoe around anyone’s feelings; the only thing standing in your way is you. When you are out to see the world, why shouldn’t it be like this?
2. You meet people.
When you are traveling with friends, you certainly do meet people as well. However, you mostly just converse with them, maybe learn a bit about them, and then get on your way.
Alone, you have no choice but to meet, learn about, befriend, and completely coexist with others. You are unequivocally obligated to interact. The entire thing is one huge odyssey of social challenge, and who doesn’t like a challenge? You go into it alone, and you aim to come out of it with a bunch of new friends. What happens in the middle is entirely up to you. The middle is the fun part, and clearly the most crucial.
When traveling by yourself, there is no one else to fall back on. You have no choice but to muster whatever charm, creativity and enthusiasm you may have, and go meet some new people. You’ll find yourself in some completely ridiculous and wildly foreign social situations, but hey, it’s all part of the journey.
3. You get to be yourself, and nothing but.
This sounds cheesy. It sort of is, but man, it’s so true.
Let me reiterate the obvious, as I sometimes do all too well, haha. You do not know anyone at the start. There is no one who knows what you were like as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult. They know nothing. The only thing that people can like you for is who you presently are. Isn’t this what we all want?
I’m going to do it again. You do not know anyone at the start. Nobody knows you.
If you want to get up and dance on a table, who’s going to laugh at you? If you want to get biblically drunk, who’s going to make fun of you? Everyone is there to rock out and make friends, and if you don’t get along with someone, I will personally guarantee that you’ll lose exactly no sleep over it.
On the other hand, when you do make friends, they like you for you. There’s no secondary attachments or obligations; you get along for all the right reasons. When you backpack, you stick to people who you have fun with, and they stick to you. Nobody has anything to worry about, and everybody is there to have the time of their life. It’s all so very basic, and very f*cking beautiful.
4. There are lows.
How could there not be? You start out alone, and inevitably, you will find yourself sitting on the beach alone or drinking at the bar, alone. It gets really boring. However, you simply seek out the hottest girl you can find, or maybe just a bunch of dudes with a bunch of beer, and come up with anything and everything to start a conversation. They are there to have a blast, and so are you. If you’re friendly, you’ll make new friends. It’s really that simple.
Furthermore, it’s very important to take solace and comfort in these lows, as they are an unavoidable part of life. My philosophy professor put it best, I think, in an eerily-coincidental e-mail I received just after returning to Melbourne. This should probably be at the end of this post so it carries maximum worth, but I’m going to share it now anyway.
“Happy traveling in the future, or perhaps we should hope for meaningful traveling: embrace the odd derailment, puncture or buckled wheel, for there is nothing better than the occasional pause on the road to nowhere and everywhere.”
Nice one, Peter Rzehorzeck.
5. There are lessons lurking in the shadows, drifting in the breeze, and floating in your beer. They might be big, they might be small.
I’m sure you’ve all heard that you “find yourself” when you travel. Your life changes forever, or something.
Personally, I don’t think this statement holds all of its intended eye-watering glory, but I do think it’s true to some extent. Like everything, traveling is a skill, and the more you do, the better you get. These improvements might hold earth-shattering personal worth, and they might not. The most important thing I can say on the matter is that you shouldn’t go out and look for these lessons. Take them as they come. Here are a few bits of knowledge I’ve managed to acquire, worded in a “speaking-to-myself” manner:
a) You can eat avocados on their own. You just peel away the skin, take out a fork, and dig in. They are cheap, healthy, and tasty.
b) Patience is an underrated skill. Some things take time and are worth waiting for.
c) Fortune favors the bold. When no one knows you, why shouldn’t you be bold? When they do, well, what’s stopping you from being bold anyway?
d) Don’t judge people. Everybody has a story. You’ll be surprised at how cool some people’s stories are.
e) Be open about yourself. You might have something obscure in common with another, or simply spark their interest.
f) You’d be surprised at how little you really need to get by. Also, trying to live as cheaply as possible is very dignifying.
g) There’s a lesson in everything. Sometimes we are too lazy to look for it. This is a human condition, so don’t feel too guilty. Maybe try a bit harder though.
h) Canned tuna is so crucial.
i) The Germans and the English really like to travel!
j) Americans don’t travel, we vacation.
Man, what a tragic reality. This is actually a personal hypothesis, but I truly think that most Americans simply view other countries as “cool,” but ultimately secondary. Many just do not see any worth in exploring outside the States, even if they have the means to do so. This is something I don’t even blame them for. It’s just the way we are brought up.
Seriously though, the world is a big place, and there are so many wicked things to see and people to meet. Try to see for yourself, if you get the chance.
k) Not that there was a doubt before, but when you travel, stay in cheap hostels with the rest of the backpackers. This is probably ~55% of the experience.l) Some people travel on some seriously thin budgets. It’s very impressive. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
There’s more, too. There’s always more.
Overall, this was one of the best experiences of my life. I had an inordinate amount of fun, and met some of the coolest people on the planet. I haven’t done shout-outs in a while, so I’m going do to a bunch. Shout-outs go to Dylan (Canada), Jen (England), Cait (Canada), Alex (England), Josh (England), Amy (Radelaide, Australia), Toby (England), Sarah (England), Steph (England), Cyrien (France), Kyle (States), Kala (England), Madeleine (Germany), Kadri (Estonia), Eddy (Ireland), Joanna (England), Johnny Goon (England), Luca (Germany), Brody (Canada), Kate (Canada), Aleena (Norway), Christina (Denmark), and last but not least Alan (Rainbow Beach, Australia).
Strangely enough, I’m going to end this post on a slightly negative note, in order to keep the endless glamour of traveling in check.
Unfortunately, there is one tragically ironic flaw in the system: you travel to meet awesome people, but when you do, you are all too often forced to leave them as quickly as you met. It’s very bittersweet. Fortunately for me, I think I know almost half of the population of England at this point, so when I make it over there, I’ll definitely have a couch to sleep on.
P.S. This post was a bit rushed. I might edit it in the future. O, and don’t be shy about commenting. I do in fact like to read comments!