6 Things I Learnt By Travelling Solo
Journeys that changed my life
Travelling alone to an unknown destination can be a daunting task for many. The most common concerns that one might have are — What if I get mugged? Or get scammed? These are still gender-neutral fears. As a female traveller, the biggest fear you might have could be getting assaulted sexually; which could be more detrimental in nature than getting mugged.
I would admit, that as a guy things are a little easier while backpacking alone compared to what a female traveller would have to face. I have been on three solo trips till now, and I can guarantee you that you can get life-changing experiences when you cruise through the uncharted territories. It comes with learnings that will broaden your perspective, break myths along with overcoming of fears.
What started as an escape from mundane life became a portal for me to discover myself as a sentient being. I am writing this post to share with you all, the things I have experienced and learned while travelling alone.
People are awesome
I can still vividly remember the entire episode. It was a chilly night. I had lost my way in a lane while roaming around in Shiraz. The internet had given up, and I was couldn’t understand anything written in squiggly lines. I came across a guy who had shut his office and was about to leave for home. When I asked him if he could help me find my hostel, he tried his best to explain with his broken English but all in vain. I thanked him for his efforts and was about to leave. But he stopped me. He opened his office that was on the ground level of an old building. He fetched a pen and paper to draw a small map to explain. I used that paper map to navigate my way to the hostel. Such small gestures make you reinstate your faith in humankind. Most people would try to help you when you are in a difficult situation.
You meet people in a different setting or an environment. It could be the fellow travellers you meet in a hostel or a kind local who helps you out to navigate the tiny lanes where google maps fail. It’s not like a scheduled meeting; it’s is a random encounter that leads to sharing stories and unique experiences. This is one of the most fascinating aspects of solo backpacking — meeting new people.
Sense of responsibility
In our day to day life, we are dependent on several people around us, and we don’t even realise it. Friends, family or office colleagues, it could be anyone. But when you hit the road with a backpack, all the decisions you make are yours, and the worst or the best part is that there is no one you can blame. When you are in such a situation, you tend to look out for yourself. You learn to dodge any mishap because of your heightened sense of awareness.
You are responsible for yourself no matter what happens. There’s no one to wake you up if you miss the alarm. There is no one to remind you about your next bus, train or flight. From choosing the destination, mode of transport, restaurants, stay, etcetera; all the choices have to be made by none other than you.
If you go out late at night in an unknown city, you are responsible for your safety (unless you can afford to hire a private guard). But that doesn’t mean you should impose a curfew on yourself every night. You are on a vacation, so let yourself loose. Just make sure you have a little less alcohol or keep an eye on your belongings when performing wild moves in a pub(A fanny pack might help). You might find a company in your fellow travellers, but they are not responsible for you or your stuff.
Do not need an itinerary
You don’t have to visit every darn museum in the city or go to every historical site. Even a simple stroll down the lane or taking a random subway to an unknown station in the city can become worthwhile.
It’s not like going to the office that you need to be on time that people will judge you for being late consecutively. There’s no schedule when you are on vacation. It’s a choice and not a compulsion. You can spend your entire afternoon at a nearby cafe sipping a hot cup of Cappucino (I do add sugar when I am on vacation) and listening to songs. I have skipped multiple must-visit places, and that did not make my travelling experience any less memorable.
“Not all those who wander are lost.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien
I have found myself in a metro, ferry, roaming around in unknown vicinities or talking to a stranger in a McDonalds that is in a completely non-touristy neighbourhood. I don’t remember the site visits as much as I remember such experiences.
Expect the unexpected
It was my first solo trip. I had once booked a hostel that was somewhere in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of a hill station. Even the closest shop was a kilometre walk. The hostel walls seemed to newly paint as they had opened for travellers just a few months ago. It was an enormous property that had space to accommodate more than fifty travellers. It was raining cats and dogs so I thought I had ruined my vacation as it wouldn’t be possible for me to venture out. Another fellow traveller was sitting calmly, reading a book and sipping a cup of tea. Somehow, he could notice my anxiety as I was walking to and fro in the passage. We struck a conversation and I asked him if he was afraid about the fact that the untimely rain might affect his vacation. I was amused by this answer. He said that I have travelled alone to multiple destinations and realised that sometimes we have no control over things around us. He said that if the rain doesn’t stop for the next three days, he could spend his time reading a book, sitting in the same spot.
Now, things don’t always go according to the plan when you are travelling. How in the world are you going to control the weather? Trust me, sometimes even the occurrence of an unplanned incidence becomes the highlight of the trip. I have been stuck in a country amidst protests, followed by an internet lockdown. Yet, that has been the most unforgettable (in a good way) experience of my life.
Well, just FYI the next day it stopped raining. I went out for a short trek to sip a cup of tea over a hilltop cafe with some fellow hostel mates.
The media always highlights the extremes. Why wouldn’t they? That’s how they generate their revenue. Why would they be interested to show the mundane life in a remote town of a small country?
I believe that no matter where you go across the globe, people are the same. We all want the basic stuff in life. We all want a stable environment, a house, an avenue to earn decent money; so that we can live our life comfortably. No one is born as a bloodhound.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” ~ Mark Twain
We create myths about certain places based on stories that have been passed on the internet or TV. Not all of the middle east is unstable, throwing rockets at each other all the time. Not all of Africa is corrupt, and not all of South Asia is full of scam artists. Not all of North America is racist, and not all of South America is one big drug cartel. If you focus on the extremes, you will never be able to leave your house. Travelling to different places across the globe will let go of all the biases and mental walls that have been erected over years of misinformation.
Breaking the comfort zone
Who doesn’t want to be in a safe space of being in the company of friends and family? How much would you know yourself unless you spend time around yourself? There are moments during your journey when you are the only one around you. These are moments when you discover who you are or what you yearn for. How many times have you done something because everyone else was doing it? Maybe many of your choices were influenced by the people around you. Maybe, you were never a tea person, you were always a coffee person, but you never knew.
“Great things never came from comfort zones.”
You will never understand the thrill behind taking a backpack(which is your only constant) and hitting the road less travelled, till you take it. We are so used to the surroundings to the extent of getting rattled when life throws something new. Apart from that, we have people around us who keep building the wall of comfort, brick by brick, creating a castle of fear. If we keep listening to everyone around us, we will stop growing as humans. We will never realise our complete potential. The idea is not to globe-trot for your life, but to do one thing that puts us out of the comfort zone; to take that leap of faith that will make you a little more fearless.
When I took the plunge
As an introvert, travelling solo has made me dive out of my comfort zone. I have learned to let go of things that are beyond my control instead of pondering over them. Not all the things you plan will go according to the plan. As we can’t change the things that are beyond our control, we can only learn to live and deal with them.
It is not a sense of achievement when you pull off a travel plan all by yourself. It is the experience that counts. Also, I have always believed that there are no bad experiences if you come out alive. It’s the self-discovery through those experiences that counts.
I was always sceptical of travelling alone. I was 27, and there was this one place in the Himalayas I had been planning to visit but never worked out. But I decided to take a plunge anyway, and it all worked out fine. It’s like cycling. You can’t learn to ride till you push the pedal. But once you set the bike in motion, only then you can learn to balance the bicycle.
Originally published at http://puckfositivity.wordpress.com on May 17, 2021.