Prior to moving to Barcelona, I have never traveled alone. Yes, I may take flights and trains alone, but never have I been on a trip planned solely for myself for extended periods of time.
Realizing that I may not be able to get this opportunity again, where I am young, filled with energy, absent of pressing responsibilities, far from the madding crowd, fussing parents or clingy boyfriends and financially sustainable, I made a promise to myself that I shall travel alone at least once just to try it out. If I don’t like it, then at least I can say I’ve tried it to know.
One month, four countries and ten cities later, my verdict on traveling alone is that
I absolutely love it. Here are the reasons why.
Meeting so many people
The common misconception of traveling alone is that it is just that – you are alone. Allow me to debunk that myth right away. I have never encountered so many people in such a short amount of time. There is an air of liberty knowing that you might never meet that person again so you worry a lot less about the impression you make.
Learnt how to be resourceful
This is especially true when I was traveling to a country where I couldn’t speak the language. I had to make communication happen somehow, be it body language, hand gestures, facial expressions, anything! Don’t be afraid to get creative with your communication, use all the resources you have, be it incidental props or hidden acting talents.
There was a time when I was lost in the suburbs of Belgium close to midnight and I was trying to find my way back to the hostel before trains run out. There was no one on the streets on this ominous winter night except for an African-Belgian patiently waiting for the last train to arrive. Usually Belgians speak good English, but this man only spoke French. He was my only hope to salvation, or else it meant spending the night getting frostbitten in the cold Belgian winter.
After racking my brains on what to do, I recalled the relationships between Latin languages (i.e Latin based languages; Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese are similar). I figured I would have a better chance if I used a Latin language, so I whipped out my limited Spanish and asked for directions with a tinge of French accent (just pronounce the letter ‘r’ from the throat and you’re halfway there). Fuse that with exaggerated hand gestures and facial expressions, BAM! – legit communication. It took us a while but its safe to say that the frostbites didn’t get its hands on me that night.
I did whatever my heart desired
Long gone are the days where I used to give up what I really wanted to do in my travels because my travel partners would rather do something else. Like that time in Venice a few years back, where all I wanted to do was go on a gondola ride but my two guy travel buddies think 60€ for an hour’s ride is a waste of money. Their voices still ring in my head;
“Go on that gondola ride with your husband next time.”
Yes girls, that’s what happens when you’re the only girl traveling with guys that are not your boyfriends. Being considerate goes out the window. So after enduring giving up what I really want to do for other people, I just relished in all the things I want for a change.
Visit a former mental hospital that has been turned into a Psychiatry Museum? Check.
Go kayaking on a cloudy day in the magnificent Lake Como, Italy? Check.
Cycling through the Swiss mountainside without a GPS and navigating my way through rivers? Check.
Take myself out for a fancy steak date at a French restaurant and getting bottomless drinks and free dessert because you became buddies with the manager? Check.
I overcame my fear of asking for help
Traveling alone has taught me to get over that little voice inside my head that’s stopping me in my tracks whenever I want to ask for help. It either screams,
“You’re going to look like an idiot!”
“What if he/she thinks I’m up to no good?”
That liberating feeling of knowing I might never see them again came into play for this one. It suddenly does not matter anymore if they might think I’m a creep because the chances of having a future encounter is close to zero anyway.
But lets be honest, we live in a world where people are always keen to help out “helpless” girls. Not trying to be sexist or promote the damsel in distress ideology, but people are generally less intimidated by girls. It wouldn’t cross their minds that such a petite girl could possibly do anything harmful. There’s not many benefits of being tiny so I shall milk it while I can!
If you’re reading this and thinking,
“I ain’t need no one to help me out, I got this!”
Fair enough, Mr / Ms Independent. I’m one of those too, I like to figure things out on my own. Being independent has its virtues but not if you’re completely lost in the Swiss mountains because you thought going hiking by yourself without bringing water or food supplies was a good idea.
As I write this, it suddenly dawned upon me how I spend half of the time on my trip being lost. Nevertheless, those were the moments that defined my journey. Which brings me on to my final point….
Let the universe take its course
I admit that it does sound like some hippie way of life. Yet time and time again I have had wonderful things happen to me when I internalize this. See, we humans always feel the need to control every minute detail of our lives. I am beyond doubt guilty of such a crime, control freak was my middle name! As I’ve traveled more and especially with myself, I’ve realised the importance of letting the universe do its thing – the underlying concept of serendipity.
One of the many serendipitous moment that marked my journey was while I was aboard a train from Geneva to Interlaken. An hour into the journey, I started talking to a middle-aged Swiss lady that recently got a divorce. She was going on a rant about how her ex-husband left her for a younger woman. After I let her vent out all that anger, she told met that she was stopping by Montreux for a day trip.
“You should stop by Montreux with me, its a hidden local gem. Its less touristy than Interlaken and the views are breathtaking!”
“Hmm.. But my connecting train to Interlaken leaves in 10 minutes. What’s there in Montreux anyway? I’ve never heard of it before.”
“Trust me, you wouldn’t want to miss it. There’s a train to Interlaken every hour from Montreux so you don’t have to worry. ”
“Okay, if you say so.”
I got off at Montreux with her where we parted ways and wished each other well. In this trip, my intuition has led me to make both good and bad decisions. But this one, I have to say was one of the best ones. Why, you ask? Well, because if I didn’t stop by Montreux, I would have never seen this.
The sight was surreal, the lake was clouded in a shroud of mist giving it a hint of mysteriousness. Surrounded by the Swiss Alps and Lake Lac, the scene was a hue of blue as vast as the eyes can see. It was almost dreamlike, I felt like I had to touch it to confirm its tangibility.
So fellow travelers, if I can leave you with one thing from this post, let it be;
Dip yourself in serendipity and let the surprise be your prize.