― Alain de Botton,
On Twitter Gloria L asked: Don’t you ever feel alone when traveling on your own? How do you manage to travel alone and for long periods?
From a simple question on twitter ensued a rather long post where I write of loneliness and how this word, to which we give a negative connotation, has instead allowed me to travel for 15 months making me live this wonderful adventure which I believe can happen only once in a lifetime.
When I tell the people I meet that I have been traveling for more than a year they look at me dumbfounded and tell me that I had been able to realize what was their great dream.
Be able to travel for more than a month, then if they are 3 months or two years, is in fact an idea that fascinates and that makes traveling the fantasy of many even though it’s not something that will suit everyone.
I have met who, after two months, wanted to go home, who after 3 weeks was tired and just wanted to stop, those instead who have traveled for more than two years and have no intentions to stop. I put myself between these extreme positions.
I do not want to travel for a lifetime, or at least not in this way, but I was not even able to stop after the first six months of travel, which in theory were the official ones, or, in truth, those I had decided had to be back in January 2011.
The choice of traveling alone was then more or less a necessary choice.
In fact I never really tried looking for a fellow traveler, I booked my one-way ticket on the sly, without telling anyone, and deciding where to go and what to do without consulting anyone.
The decision had been taken and I gave the news to some friends only a few days after having bought the ticket.
When some of my friends knew what I had in plan, in a few, very few, proposed themselves, but in the end none of these proposals turned out real: the time, the job, the money, I do not know, but yeah, but no. In short, the usual answers.
These were the responses I very often received even when I was organizing simple weekends in Europe, in theory, everyone wanted to come along and then the moment they had to type the numbers of their credit cards on the airline website, these companions would dissolve into thin air.
It ‘was how I realized that, or I was to do this experience on my own, or I was never going to do it, it’s hard to find a traveling companion who will follow you in such a long and unconventional journey.
And honestly, the thing did not bother me because only once on the road did I realize what it really means to make an experience like that in the long run.
When traveling for extended periods everything becomes magnified. It is a very intense experience, forces you to stay almost 24 hours on 24 with someone that, however much your friend, you do not really know that well, or of which you might not really want to know all the facets, there is a lot of traveling to do and sometimes the trips can be tiring. I once traveled for 48 hours by bus and I believe that no traveling companion would have followed me in this epic undertaking.
The risk for such an experience could be high and as you can imagine what could be irreparable: the rupture.
I do not say that I have not met couples who have traveled for long periods together or with friends, but they are the couples torn apart rather than those who remain together, I have seen friends quarreling, at some point each going their separate ways.
Me, in my “solitude”, and please note that I have put it in quotes, I have never quarreled with anyone, in fact I’ve never even had the time to do so, when things were not going well, with a hug and a promise to stay in touch then each on their own way.
That’s why I travel on my own. My friends, my family are more than welcome to accompany me for a certain period on this venture but for a maximum of one month.
And even in this month together (which has not happened in reality) a unique and indispensable rule “clear agreements long friendship” counts for me, in traveling and in life.
Let us feel free and independent and not to force each other to do things, everyone is free to make their own decisions.
Although then this has always been a bit my philosophy of life, I have noticed that in recent months this tendency has amplified.
I’ve always been a social animal with an extreme need of solitude, I need my space and am extremely jealous of my time, I need to think in solitude. I talk a lot but I know how to shut up and I need you to process, sorrows , joys , disappointments.
I like to work at night or work for 18 consecutive hours eating in front of the computer, read a book for 10 hours without interruption, I like to stay in my pajamas until the afternoon and especially hate it when someone tells me what to do or when I feel obliged to do something that I don’t want to.
I’m my own guide, I follow what my brain/heart tells me, I am much more cerebral than emotional, they say. Black or white, yes or no, I like or I do not like.
Then when I am asked how I can travel alone, if I never feel lonely, if I do not feel the need to have someone with me, my answer is usually: No never, and probably I would not have been able to do this same experience in the company of someone else.
I remember when I was in Mexico, to be exact, in the Yucatan, I could not literally find a few hours in the afternoons to be able to work in peace, there were those who invited me to go to the beach, and it’s hard to say no to the sea of the Caribbean, who for some tacos, who for a day trip, and then the rides on bicycles or shopping.
Although the company was really perfect (I think the best in a year of travel) after 7 days, I took a bus and I literally retreated myself in Isla Holbox. An island of which the Lonely planet in the penultimate edition did not speak about, and so for me it meant NON-TOURIST which further translated meant: enough time for me and my solitude.
I missed so much to be on my own.
It was in Isla Holbox that I meditated on my future and where I decided to continue traveling for a year and I bought a ticket to go around the world. I had compromised my life for another year at a moment when I was not enjoying myself and when my life was anything but exciting, I was literally doing nothing more than working from 8 am to 8 pm, but I was doing it in swimming costume under the palm trees and with my feet buried in the sand.
I really liked that life style even when I was not in the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, in fact, is not very inviting, and above all even though I was completely alone.
Traveling alone is therefore not for everyone, just like, according to me, traveling for long periods is not for everyone. Not everyone has to like it, and not everyone can do it, a good part of it depends on our nature, the other our capability to adapt.
The cons of solo travels on long periods
When I am told that I live on vacation I answer with a smile that my life for a year now, has been anything but a holiday.
Call it a wonderful experience, call it intriguing, fun, exciting but add also tiring. Very tiring.
You are tired of making decisions every day and also of undergoing burdensome journeys completely alone, there is no one with you when a Burmese bus drops you off at 3 am in the middle of nowhere and you with your backpacks go in search of a place where to sleep.
Are you tired of moving all the time, of changing rooms (hostel, guesthouse) every 3 days, are you tired of living with a few rags, do not even call them clothes anymore, tired of not having a nest (home), a point of reference , tired of not knowing where you’ll be from there in two days time, tired of organizing your movements, how, where , when, how much the cost?
These questions assail you continuously until the moment you sit on the bus and then you relax because you know that for the next two days you will not have to worry that much more than just enough of your immediate future.
It ‘s hard to travel by public transport in Central America without air conditioning, with a backpack of 18 kilos on your back and one of 7 in front when outside there are 40 degrees (so inside the bus there will probably be 50), or when a bus takes 7 hours to travel 200 kilometers on non-existent roads, or when you want to eat something healthy or just different from the typical local cuisine and the only thing that is offered is rice, beans and fried bananas (because that’s what is eaten in the central America and that’s what I ate for 7 months).
In this post I have not wanted to emphasize the usual and, forgive me, boring pro of traveling alone: you’re never alone, you’ll make friends, meet people etc etc.
Things told and retold, hackneyed and if not experienced, are also difficult to understand.
If a person has never traveled alone, it is normal to have those fears and little matter that someone else is saying “do not worry”, there are many posts of this kind online. But having actually done this experience, I do not even want to paint it as idyllic all the time.
In fact there are times when you’re really alone. On several occasions, I was alone at the hostel, alone on buses in countries where people spoke neither English nor Spanish, and it was impossible to communicate if not only with gestures, I also happened to have fellow travelers whom I did not like and with whom I have not linked with from the first moment.
But who said that this is a dramatic thing?
To travel alone one need to be able to know how to live alone.
The problem sometimes becomes just that: the inability to be with oneself, the need to have someone by our side
I was never afraid to be alone, I am not the person who believes that the presence of the other is necessary and essential for my happiness. I can be alone for days and make my days productive, having fun, write, walk around, go to a bar and chat with local customers or watching television.
In Bacalar Lagoon (Mexico) I was all by myself at the hostel, there was no internet and the season was the rainy season.
The only person in the hostel with whom I spoke to was the owner but in the end I stayed there 4 days.
I managed to occupy my time doing things that, at times I forget how much I liked doing.
When traveling alone is not a pleasure
This is not something I’ve told to many, and now it will become public knowledge, but I admit that in Cuba after the first two weeks spent with my sister that I had chosen as my official companion of this first experience in the Caribbean and in Central America, the day she went home I realized how dramatically my life was changing and I was seeing for myself the consequences of this choice.
I was alone, far from home and without any possibility to be in communication with my family. No internet, no phone. Nothing.
I had suffered panic attacks during my years in London, had found myself stuck in the middle of Havana, with the infernal heat and unbreathable air, without being able to articulate my legs, sweating and feeling my heart beating madly. Dragging myself, I was able to return to the casa particular. In tears I tell Toni and Yolanda I think I had done everything wrong and that I was not sure to be able to make it on my own.
I was afraid of everything. To be robbed, to find myself in a dangerous situation, of being disconnected from “My World” and not to know how to get in touch with my family. The thing that terrified me was that if something happened to me I would not have a shoulder to cry on, someone to ask for advice, someone close who, embracing me would tell me that everything will be fine and that I must not have any fear.
But after that first little “trauma” that I successfully overcame within 48 hours the unpleasant moments of travel due to the fact that I was alone were others and, all in all, predominantly linked to the heat, fatigue and safety.
Traveling for 10 hours by bus where people cram in, where you have to be careful with your own luggage , where any moment is the right moment to be robbed if in company, that thoughts becomes secondary. When alone it is the primary.
What will I do if my credit cards get stolen? No one would lend me money. What do I do if I feel sick? Who would stay with me to ask me if I’m feeling better when I’m alone in a guesthouse?
I think these are things that those who want leave alone by themselves must consider but must not make of them excuses for not doing it.
I have been doing it for more than a year and there has not been even one time that I have thought to go home, or that I’ve felt so lonely as to look desperately for company.
Even when in Cuba for a moment I thought that maybe I had done it all wrong, I lived that moment more as a challenge to myself rather than as a limit.
And thus, backpack on my back and alone, I have traveled in some of the most dangerous countries in the world without ever having had any problem and I have been across the globe for well 2 times.
Travelling alone is not always wonderful.
You spend more, sometimes you are alone to face situations in which you would have liked to have beside you a friend, sometimes you are afraid, sometimes you get bored, sometimes you wish you could share some nice moments with someone you love. Sometimes.
As I said to a friend of mine who had proposed herself for a few months “I prefer that you come a month at the most. I love you and I do not want to get to the point of hating you.”
I know it may sound severe, which is why I must stress that this behavior of mine, there is a very strong component that has to do with my independent and not very easy to compromise nature but which makes this way of traveling, for me, the only and possible one.
But in the end if traveling is really to live, as many say so, is it not the same everyday life that sometimes do not put us face to face with similar situations made of loneliness, misunderstandings, fatigue, even without leaving our city?
I travel independently taking mainly public transport. A world trip began in 2011 is not yet finished, my mission is to explore the world and write about it. Travel consultant Galapagos, Argentina, Morocco, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Namibia.