Traveling Alone / Don’t Talk to Strangers
So, I’ve got this blank sheet of paper and now I am ready to begin writing about traveling and living the dream while using any of plenty of clichés a decent traveler could use. And I may even invent a new one or two myself! I may start by exposing my ego, bragging about all those destinations I’ve been to, the food I’ve tasted, horizons I’ve felt in love with, mountains I’ve stuck in or kilometers I’ve driven per day. I may invite you for a discussion or try shocking you with kind of lame introductory phrase. But I won’t. Neither you nor I enjoy being swirled in sticky statements, so let’s just take this first encounter and see whether we’ll meet each other again.
by SIMONA LAICONAITE
“So I’ve got this blank sheet of paper – my personal abstract Big Bang that comes with a hope to trigger interest or curiosity. And this time it’s not only that empty page that’s silent: what do you do when you’ve got so many stories to tell, that you can’t figure out which one to begin with?”
Ten years of solo traveling have shown me the essence of how random our planet might be. But there is one ultimate winner of all the questions that meets and greets me nearly everywhere I travel and, of course, when I come back to tell the stories of routes and means of independent solo roaming: “But aren’t you afraid?”.
No, I am certainly not. And you shouldn’t be either.
Two-thirds of all my travel endeavors were solo (what a perfect moment to get some spotlight for my ego again, yes, please and thank you), most part of which was not done by plane, bus, train or ferry, but by driving a motorcycle or a car. Meaning, sometimes there has been more planning than traveling itself but, as my friend has put it once, - “the journey towards traveling is also a travel”.
Today I feel like owning a Ph.D. in practical disproval of nearly any myth on what it means to hit the road on one's own. With a hope for us to have a chance of chatting a little longer, I allow myself to start this conversation with a spontaneous small talk that is of a reflex-kind probably more than we think: touching upon fears and myths around the concept and image of traveling alone, which in most cases are false. None of the real situations are as fearsome as they are in our minds. But if every thought of traveling alone comes with a set of scenarios of what could go wrong, I could only recommend filtering those threatening ideas through yourself and role-play a bit, make new ideas on how you could either avoid them or wiggle out of. Or simply tell yourself straight about what and how you’d like to experience both, yourself and the expedition, during a solo travel. And then just do it. My way, if curious, is a mix of both.
What pops into your mind when talking about traveling alone? I have noticed in my discussions that, besides all the romance and Pinterest images, normally there is a dozen of antagonistic thoughts and statements: the world is SCARY, it’s too DANGEROUS and never safe alone (what if you get lost? raped?? sold???), it might even get BORING, you might feel LONELY often, you shouldn’t talk to STRANGERS, the COST becomes too high, aren’t you TOO OLD for that, don’t you feel GUILTY leaving your loved one behind and, of course, my favourite phrase: “I could NEVER do that”.
You probably know now what I am going to say next - all of the above are false. All of those anti-solo-travel myths and fears come from stories that have been read or heard, but not experienced. What I can assure you of, is that you are not going to experience those myths in hardcore reality, unless you leave your sanity safely locked at home. Which you aren’t going to do, right? Right.
Traveling alone accelerates maturity, thus it also requires at least a rough mapping of routes, trajectories, and scenarios. It is not about challenging your luck, but rather becoming friends and allies with it: if you are living a life full of travel, you should make it damn sure that that your life is as long as possible. If in doubt or uncertainty, start small - try out a short journey somewhere not too far, it doesn’t have to be extreme at all. Then take the second step, make the distance longer, let’s say - double the last one.
As for myself, I didn’t start with my longest distance, biggest challenge and most exciting journey. It all began with short distances between 1000 and 1500 kilometers that grew into ten times bigger and longer travels over ten years and I surely hope to keep up with this progressive tendency as I still have plenty of destinations to tick. Like my boyfriend would put it: “You can’t learn to deal with extreme situations while sitting on a couch. You have to face and experience them. If you want to walk the perimeter of your country by foot during winter, you gotta start with just a couple of hours of walking with weights in your neighborhood whatever the weather might be.” Thus, in order to get some skills for solo traveling, you have to actually travel alone. If there’s any doubt, go out and check it in real life.
And the world is not scary. Just like every one of us, it is thrilling to learn more about, wide to roam around, exciting to experience and, the best part, it is always different and never the same. Talk to strangers wherever you are, especially if traveling alone. After all, everyone is a stranger until efforts are made to get them to know and that is exactly how friends are made disregarding whether we travel or not. If in doubt, start slow and take all the time you need to explore persons or situations - friendships, conversations and acquaintances normally have their cultural challenges but those aren’t hard to examine, especially if you think about it before you make the first step as a solo traveler.
All the rest is basic magic - we all understand how it works, eventually.
Of course, I had my personal fears before the first independent travel. There were even some silly practical ones, for instance, will my credit card be accepted, will I be able to navigate, won’t I get a food poisoning, whether or not I will manage to put up a tent, will I be able to converse with the hotel staff, won’t my car break down, will I not get ill, will I not get lonely, especially in difficult situations. Some of those were illusory or had no substantiation, some were gone the minute after I accelerated, others were fixed up by the time next morning came and as for the rest - they might come back once I start planning my next trip.
There are fears that recur or return, but they also repeatedly vanish. Managing those traveling alone related fears takes practice, but just like in any other sphere of life, if you really want to get to know yourself in the journey, you have to do it constantly. And if there are aspects you know you can never change as some people would put it - what you can do the least is trying to enjoy them. Traveling alone is close bungee jumping - only scary when you don’t do it and especially scary if you stand on the edge for too long. But experiencing the freefall of solo traveling is addictive - it has the best that travels can offer and eliminates any detour from your personal will or plan. Even if that plan was created during the sudden or unexpected change of the route.
You know very well that adventure and travel thirst is the kind of thirst that can only grow bigger. There will always be fears, excuses, and uncertainties just before we take action, but even if traveling alone greets us with mentally, emotionally and physically uncomfortable or challenging situations, we may celebrate that our second step will be much lighter as we’ve now got all that practical knowledge from the previous step.
Travel alone. And talk to strangers more.