(Part I of a two-part series – please make sure you read both parts lest you leave thinking I’m an anti-social, human-hating being that should be banished to Mars. Part II is here)
“Why does every restaurant we go to have to have a four star review or more? Where’s your sense of adventure? Ok so might end up in a place with rubbish food but so what – we’re here to explore!“
These are the words I found myself “saying” to one of my closest friends on our recent trip away as I became increasingly frustrated by his obsession with apps like Yelp and Google’s restaurant reviews. Each outing required careful choreography and preparation with a highly rated restaurant as the finishing point. By day four, my patience was wearing thin*.
Despite ending up in some pretty damn great food spots, there’s no getting around it – travelling tests relationships. Whether you are friends, lovers or life partners, travelling has a way of showing you the best (and worst) of your companion. Spending a substantial part of each day in each others’ company, everything suddenly comes under the microscope and you’re forced to confront all the behaviours that in small doses are perfectly harmless but in high doses can prove fatal.
It’s not just the niggling behavioural tics that get me, I find travelling with other people to be incredibly inhibitive. There’s no motivation to go and mix in the local restaurant or to strike up conversation with the stranger sat next to you. Why? Because you’ll be too busy having dinner with your friend and laughing about something to think about chatting to the locals and that friend will be sat next to you on the bus home so you’ll never meet that stranger anyway.
Maybe it’s just me but I find that I’m more lazy when I’m travelling with friends. It’s a tricky one to explain – I normally have a very efficient way of travelling (*Cuba being the exception) but this goes out the window when I’m travelling with someone else. Sure, I’ve got some ideas of the things I’d like to do but whether they happen or not, well I’m not that fussed.
I charm myself with the idea that this is because I prioritise my relationship with that person over my desire to visit/try/eat the [insert cool thing here].
Honestly speaking it’s probably because somewhere in the back of my mind I’m consoling myself with the fact that I’ll probably go back there again alone at a later date so it doesn’t really matter… #HonestyIsTheBestPolicy.
Rather than focusing purely on the negative things that can come from travelling with others, it’s important to consider the amazing bonuses of learning to travel alone. It’s a thoroughly exhilarating, intensely personal experience and while I’m not a fan of the “the only way to find yourself is on a beach in the Caribbean” camp (although I’m sure that can help), in my opinion travel is an incredible opportunity to learn about you and the world you inhabit and it’s a journey oft best made alone.
#1 YOU LEARN TO GET SHIT DONE – and I don’t swear lightly.
From filling in seemingly never ending pages of visa paperwork to spending the night in a bathroom suffering the worst case of food poisoning imaginable, travelling alone teaches you to rely on yourself and yourself alone. You download maps, change currency and learn key phrases in advance, you pack properly and restrain yourself from buying another Starbucks cup because you’ve got that to carry that damn thing around for the next 3 months – or if you’re like me, you buy it anyway with the excuse of building a workout into your travel, am I right?
#2 EMBRACE POSITIVE THINKING
Negativity is really negative. Funny that.
Whinging counts for nothing when you’re out on the road alone. The hotel has bed bugs and local food does not agree with you. Assuming you’ve already exhausted all your obvious options, you’ll come to the final conclusion that while it’s pretty rubbish, you have two remaining options; you can spend the next few days pitying yourself and wondering how you came to be in such a dismal situation or you can console yourself with the fact that while it is pretty dismal, you’ll have stories galore for when you get home.
It’s true, travelling alone in a foreign country is the best time to let your hair down, relax those boundaries a little and have some fun away from the prying eyes of family and friends – but mostly family. For me, the best example of this -contrary to whatever you may be thinking- was dyeing my hair blonde. I knew my Mum would kill me if I did it at home but even she couldn’t stop me when I was in a hair salon 5000 miles away in the middle of central China. So when the guy in the hairdresser offered to do it for free, I figured why not!
Now experimentation means different things to different people and before you write me off as boring for limiting my ‘experimentation’ to dyeing my hair blonde, please note that my Granny reads this blog. If in doubt as to whether to do something or not, here’s some great advice from one of the wisest people I know (my Dad):
“pause and let someone else do it first, then see what happens”
#4 YOU START A SELF-APPRECIATION SOCIETY
Few things can boost your self confidence as much as travelling can.
After a while by yourself, you’ll realise just how damn awesome you are. A lot of people don’t want to travel alone out of some fear that other people will think they’re alone (true), that other people will think they’re loners (possible) or that other people will think that they’re lonely (depends). The reality is that after a while you just won’t care what other people think because you’ll be too busy laughing at your own jokes and enjoying your own company.
Fancy dinner at a fancy restaurant? Or a broadway show? Or an afternoon on the beach with a good book? You become so comfortable in your own company that you don’t sit around waiting for someone to come with you, you go and get on with it.
I go off hiking because I’m such a laugh I keep myself entertained for HOURS.
#5 MAKING NEW FRIENDS
It’s incredibly difficult to meet new people when you’re already travelling with people. You have more opinions to take into account, more considerations and compromises to make and ultimately, it all just gets a lot more complicated.
Travelling alone gives you the freedom to do what you want, go where you want, eat what you want etc – so when someone else says “I’m going to X, fancy tagging along?”, you’re free to answer “Yes!” without having to worry about whether your friend/S.O/sibling also wants to come.
It’s worth pointing out that just because you travel alone, it doesn’t mean you’ll actually be alone. I spent roughly 180 days out of the country last year and yet I can count on one hand the number of days I was physically alone. Whether I was catching up with friends in [insert city here] that I’ve met on previous travels or travelling with new people, I was rarely truly alone.
Another reason for this is that when you’re perceived to be alone, you’ll be seen as being more approachable and in turn you’re more likely to experience the kindness of strangers – equally, you’re less intimidating if you’re alone and children will want to befriend you, as happened to me many a time!
What are your thoughts? Do you prefer travelling solo or with others?
Leave your comments below 🙂
*I would just like to say that after my little outburst and the ensuing discussion/compromise (turns out I was also quite hangry), all was resolved and we had a wonderful rest-of-trip!