Over the last decade, I have traveled with both, friends and tour groups; however, the majority of my travels have been solo.
Solo traveling is exciting. There is no greater buzz than standing in an airport preparing to board a plane to a far off country all by yourself. The thrill of adventure and the unknown is amplified when traveling solo.
However, like every mode of travel, it is a two-sided coin; it has its good and its bad. Here are some of the pro’s and con’s of traveling solo, and why I think everyone should try their hand at it at least once.
Pro – One of the biggest pro’s of traveling solo is the intense sense of freedom that is at your fingertips.
Do not like where you are at this very moment? If not, you simply book a ticket and leave.
Want to stay in a city longer? No, problem, you can!
Traveling solo means you call the shots.
You can go where you want, when you want. The thrill of the entire world being an open book ready to be explored is amazing.
Realizing, you get to navigate it as you see fit is indescribable. When you travel with tour groups or even with friends, you have to take into account what the entire group wants to do.
Sometimes it is frustrating to come so far to visit a country and still miss some of the sights and experiences on the top your list because the majority of your group wanted to move on.
Con – Traveling solo can sometimes be lonely. There is a lot of down time traveling such as waiting in airports, bus stations, trains.
When this happens it is easy to get lonely. You find yourself in a very busy but transit place and chances are there will be none one to talk to.
Sometimes while traveling you experience something that you wish you could share with someone.
For instance, there are times when you look at the sunset and wish someone was with you to enjoy it.
Pro – The sense of adventure of navigating the world is priceless. Traveling between and into foreign cities, wandering around a city where you can’t read the signs or speak the language, trying to find your bearings and locate the essentials can be extremely overwhelming.
However, soon the unfamiliar become extremely comfortable and you feel a deep sense of accomplishment knowing that you are connected to this world on your own.
Con – The first couple weeks can be extremely difficult and some people who travel solo get homesick quick during this period.
The foreign seems too overwhelming and well…..foreign. I have met many people that couldn’t take it and headed home.
Pro- Traveling solo you meet many more people than what you normally do when traveling with people.
When traveling in groups, people tend to get clicklock. You meet a lot of people, but you tend to hang out with your group.
However, when you are alone other backpackers become like your family. I find myself much more outgoing and will talk to anyone for hours when traveling alone.
Con- When you are travel alone, you feel almost secluded. There is a lot of busi-ness surrounding you and sometimes you are even apart of it, but then everyone, including yourself goes a different way. Even returning home can make you feel almost secluded, as if no one understands the wonderful experiences you just had.
Pro - Traveling with friends strengthens your bond. You have a once in a lifetime experience together, figure out mistakes together, and immerse yourself in other cultures together.
You share a unique and precious memory and whenever you see one another again, you almost instantly pick up where you let off as if no time had past.
Traveling solo has it pros and cons, but I think it is a great experience as it opens up the world in unforgettable ways.
It has changed my life in many ways. I recommend solo travel for everyone at least once in a lifetime. Perhaps, it will lead to discovering a whole new world.
As travelers, we often find ourselves talking to friends and strangers alike at parties, at work, wherever, about travel and how to do it right. We evangelize for travel, extolling its opportunities and benefits. We often go on at length about the magic of our favorite places, the addictive high that comes from filling up a passport book, and the thrill of crossing a new border and making new connections. We also find ourselves giving out advice on all matters travel, from where to find the cheapest airline tickets to where to stay and when to go. You know you do this.
But normally it’s one-on-one counseling, spreading the gospel of good travel one conversation at a time. In almost any social situation I would meet many would-be travelers are looking for a better option than shelling out a fortune to join a big-bus corporate tour with an itinerary geared toward hitting the owner’s favorite tourist traps. I was always stuck by people’s desire for useful tips for shaping their own experience and, more importantly, the need for an infusion of “Hey, I can do this!” confidence.
After thousands of private conversations, I also realized that the most efficient way to share what I knew with those who were interested was to teach.
Next week at a local Seattle-area library I’ll be giving the first of several ninety-minute “Travel Talks” I plan to give this year. The seminar-style presentations, which I call “Traveling The Best of Europe Independently & On A Budget” will be free, presented at assorted libraries in the Seattle metro area.
This marks the tenth year I’ve been doing them, having originally started in my hometown of Chicago. I tackle the question about how to travel independently in Europe (since that happens to be my specialty), how to plan it, and what to do when you’re there.
I wish more experienced travelers, wherever in the world they happen to hang their rucksack, would occasionally give up a Saturday afternoon to teach these sorts of classes. Not only is there a deep need for the info but there’s plenty of reward in it for the speaker. Some have asked why I bother doing these talks when it’s basically giving me time and advice for free. My answer: Sharing my hard-won tips on budgeting, itinerary-crafting, and other how-to essentials is a joy. Many of the people who attend these classes have an ideal trip in their minds and have had it for most of their life, but have lacked the skills or confidence to go on their own. And seeing their eyes light up when they realize they can take control of their own travel dreams and plan their own adventure is profoundly rewarding.
Moreover, it’s a public service. More than just the mere nuts-and-bolts information of planning a trip on a tight budget, arming curious people with the info and inspiration to broaden their horizons is a good thing for them and for their country. They will likely return from their adventure with not only experiences they will cherish, but a better perspective on their world as well.
So, if you’re inclined to spread your knowledge and love of whatever destination you adore, please consider offering a ninety-minute “how to travel independently & on a budget to…” presentation at a local library or school. Any guidebook will have a chapter on the basics, but it’s a presenter’s confidence and palpable love for the subject that can inspire someone to finally book that plane ticket. Let them learn from your trial-and-error. Impart your wisdom and fill the room with your enthusiasm for the amazing places you’re talking about. You might just motivate a wannabe adventurer to take the trip of their dreams and change their life, and that is time well spent. Go forth and spread the gospel.
Traveling slowly with my husband across Southeast Asia has been a great way to leave our jobs and lives in Canada behind to explore the world on a small budget. It also means we spend a lot of time together. Every meal, every walk, every bus ride to a new city, is together. Where once we saw each other only in the evenings and on weekends, we now see each other all the time. Where we once had schedules and habitual activities alone, there was now a much more shared and aligned schedule. This is fine, really, but we don’t always agree that something is worth our time or energy. Sometimes we need to split off and spend some time apart.
When we were living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I felt the need to take our scooter to some neighboring towns to see other temples, other roads, other food stalls. This little adventure interested only me so I took off down the highway with the scooter and left the husband behind to revel in his alone time with his fantasy football activities. I put a single earbud in, had Google maps speak directions to me and put on some music. I immediately got lost on a small residential road due to my inability to grasp the distance of 200 metres and turned too soon. I almost ran over a chicken that was literally crossing the road (why it was crossing the road is beyond us all.) Once back on the highway, I decided to trust the navigator voice and made my way south on Highway 106 to Lamphun. The drive passed under towering rubber trees that lined the road and went in and out of clouds of incense and smoke from barbecued pork. Each rotund tree had an orange swatch of fabric tied to it, indicating it was blessed by monks, therefore protecting it from logging. The roots had overgrown past the road and were pushing up the pavement along the edges. I took it slow and drove only as fast as I wanted with Blood Orange’s Chamakay setting the mood.
I stopped at a couple of different wats (temples) in Lamphun: Wat Phra That Hariphunchai and Wat Kukut respectively. The first was almost deserted compared to the wats I had visited in Chiang Mai. No more than four tourists and about five or so Buddhist monks were wandering the grounds. This was a much more peaceful way to visit a wat than pushed around in a throng of tourists, constantly moving and talking over each other. Little bells blew around in the wind and broke the silence with soft tinkling sounds like wind chimes. Wat Kukut was completely deserted. The only human I saw was a Thai man who came into the front gates briefly to release a small bird from a tiny wicker cage and then leave. I had a great opportunity to take my time and photograph every small detail that fascinated me: small wooden elephants casting long shadows, tiny figurines placed in flower pots and along walls, standing Buddhas along the walls of the chedis, catching just the right amount of light on my lens.
On the way back to Chiang Mai, I waited at a stoplight and saw a small girl staring at me from the car beside me. She shyly opened her window and waved. I waved back from my scooter with a big smile and saw the delight in her face right as the light turned and I sped off up the rubber tree highway, Kanye West’s Bad News taking me home.
Had my husband been with me, this day trip would have looked quite different. On the back of our scooter I would have been navigator, looking at my phone and directing rather than driving at my own pace, stopping whenever I wanted, and taking my time in the deserted wats. I probably wouldn’t have had my headphones in. Sometimes it’s nice to have a soundtrack of my favorite music to accompany an experience. It was nice to have a day that was my own with my own agenda. If we had been on a short two-week vacation, we would have been rushing to maximize our time and fit as many activities into our schedule as possible. A day trip to Lamphun wouldn’t have been considered when there are flashier attractions nearby that we would both enjoy. It’s a healthy exercise to spend time alone and be forced to rely on your own strengths and spend time with your thoughts as you travel. Growing up as an only child, this was standard. Spending time alone used to come so naturally to me. Since being married, I can sometimes forget the way my brain works and thinks differently alone. While it is an incredible journey my husband and I have taken on together, having a solo adventure here and there has enriched the overall experience.
To read more about Maryanne’s travel adventures check out Unknown Home.
This week I’m in San Francisco, after riding my motorcycle from Washington. First, I have to say – the ride down the PCH was in-damn-credible! Thanks to a friend’s suggestions, I got off the PCH near Fortuna and took the Avenue of the Giants scenic route. Who would have thought that there was a scenic route to an already incredible scenic route? I’ll write more about this another time. Take my recommendation, though, if you are ever in southern Oregon, take 199 West and to 101 South, then just take that as far as you’re able. Here’s a couple pictures to wet your appetite.
Now – this week, I wanted to ask a question. When you travel to busy, vibrant locations (big cities and such) – do you feel a bit lost? A bit secluded?
The other night, I was talking with my friend Boris, who I met when trekking through Siberia (a real awesome guy, btw). Anyway – we were discussing what it was like to visit a large city like San Francisco when you’re traveling solo. We both felt that if you don’t already know someone there, it’s easy to feel a bit alone. It’s the reason he gave me some things to do in SF; recommendations that would get me started and he also introduced me to some of his friends.
Truth is – often when I’m traveling solo, I feel the need to some alone time to acclimate. I remember going to Göteborg, Sweden a few years ago. It was a great place to hang out with a vibrant night life. Before I could venture out, though, I had to spend about a day alone in the hotel to absorb the new environment. Only after that did I feel comfortable in going out to explore the city. Yet, on every adventure I’ve been on, I’m often traveling as part of a small group. In those instances, I felt comfortable in most situations (well – except for some really sketchy ones). I was able to jump right in and explore the surroundings.
I noticed the same thing at World Domination Summit a few weeks ago. I was fortunate to have a lot of friends to hang out with and springboard from; but, it’s something that I would have struggled with otherwise. I find that with small, intimate destinations it’s much easier for me to get involved and to be a vibrant part. Once there’s too many people, I tend to step back and observe, rather than participating.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts – is this just part of my introvert tendencies – or is this a more common feeling?
Chris Plough writes and podcasts at oznog.com, where he shares stories and advice from his adventures and from the incredible people that he’s met along the way. You can also follow him on twitter: @chrisplough.
I was planning to write about learning to throw axes during my last trip to Toronto. About how it reminded me to get out of my head and flow in the moment. That the moment I started laughing, that’s exactly what would happen and my throws became more accurate. I’ll write about it another time, though, because today I learned that my grandfather has passed away.
He had an incredible impact on my life and is a large part of why I’ve become the man I am. Though he was a great man, I’m not going to write about him either. First – it’s much to fresh and I don’t have perspective yet. Second – this blog is about us, learning about how travel has made our lives better.
Instead, I’m going to write about why I’m grateful that I’m able to ride my motorcycle across three thousand miles of this beautiful country. Right now – I can’t imagine anything better than cruising through the incredible landscapes of the Southwestern United States, then up the Pacific Coast Highway.
I don’t know about you – but for some reason, I’ve always found driving and riding to be almost meditative. After a few hours on the road, it always seems that the gates to my subconscious pry open and I’m flooded with thoughts, ideas… emotions. All those things that we seem to seem to suppress during our minor-crisis and Facebook filled days.
How about you? When do you find that moment? I know some people who find it when running; others when meditating; and more than a few after a judicious portion of psychedelic drugs.
This is one of the main reasons that I love traveling. I mean, aside from meeting interesting people and seeing/smelling/hearing/feeling a new place. The act of traveling – of being on the road – brings me a sense of contentment. Of course, even that has its limits. After 14 hours in a truck, I’m usually beat and need to pull over for a nap. On a bike, anything over 7 hours makes my butt ache – a lot.
Again – how about you? Do you seek the destination or the journey? Both? Think back on your last few trips – which memories burn the brightest? Were they from the destination — or from somewhere along the way?
All I know is that I’m grateful that I get to spend the next couple of weeks in the saddle, flying across long stretches of highway. Right now it’s about the journey.
Chris Plough writes and podcasts at oznog.com, where he shares stories and advice from his adventures and from the incredible people that he’s met along the way. You can also follow him on twitter: @chrisplough.
Starting from Minneapolis, Minnesota, I spent 30 days exploring the United States (traveling to 37 states) and documenting the faces and places I saw on the Greyhound Bus system with photographs and short stories. I showered rarely, slept infrequently, ate poorly, and I loved every uncomfortable minute of it.
My fascination with the culture of the Greyhound started in college when I would take the bus to Montana to visit a dear friend. As I discerned my creative inspiration to street photography, I felt a pull to quit my awful job, forget about my recent heartbreak and get on the road. Why wait?!
While exploring in the few moments I had off of the bus, I wanted to learn about each city’s preferred method of travel. Was it bus? Subway? Bicycle? On foot? Why were people commuting the way they were? As you can imagine, the answers varied based on financial and geographical limitations.
I took over 4000 digital and film photographs using four different cameras: Canon DSLR, Holga, Fish Eye and iPhone. My trip was funded solely by the Minneapolis community with individual donations. The gallery exhibit profiling my journey was funded by a FEAST MPLS grant I won in November 2010. My self published book, Falling Asleep Behind the Lens, documenting my journey is available on my website: KPCreates.com
Last weekend, on a sunny Saturday morning at a local Seattle-area library, I kicked off the first of several ninety-minute “Travel talks” I plan to give this year. The seminar-style presentations, which I call “Traveling The Best of Europe Independently & On A Budget” will be free, presented at assorted libraries in the Seattle metro area.
I began doing these talks several years ago after answering the umpteenth question about how to travel independently in Europe (since that’s my specialty), how to plan it, and where to go. I realized there was a hunger for this type of straight-up advice from a trusted source. Since then I’ve done several, and I’m always stuck by audiences’ desire for useful tips and, more importantly, a much-needed infusion of “Hey, I can do this!” confidence.
Some have asked why I bother doing these talks when it’s basically free work and free advice. My answer: Sharing my hard-won tips on budgeting, itinerary-crafting, and other how-to essentials is a joy. Moreover, it’s a public service. More than just the mere nuts-and-bolts information, I’ve found that it’s the message of “you can do it too!” that is truly valuable, no matter what destination you’re discussing. Any guidebook will have a chapter on the basics needed to plan a trip and where to go, but it’s a presenter’s confidence and palpable love for the subject that can inspire someone to finally book that plane ticket.
So, if you’re inclined to spread your knowledge and love of whatever destination you choose, please consider offering a ninety-minute “how to travel independently & on a budget to…” presentation at a local library. Impart your wisdom and fill the room with your enthusiasm for the places you’re talking about. You might just motivate a reluctant adventurer to take the trip of a lifetime, and that is time well spent indeed.
One of the great things about Europe is its magnificent Christmases, when the frosty air is infused with a spirit of joy and celebration. From Scotland to Slovakia, a smorgasbord of culture is on display as each country celebrates with its own unique traditions.
This is the second in a series about the Continent’s various subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) yuletide differences that make each culture uniquely fun.
Some of France’s yuletide traditions have spilled over to the US, where we associate the word “Noel” with the holiday. In fact Noel is the French word for Christmas, stemming from the French phrase les bonnes nouvelles, which means “the good news”.
Paris, the City of Light, celebrates in a less red-and green-light gaudy way than big US cities. But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a realm of secular Scrooges: its neighborhoods often host popular Christmas markets that are as festive as any scene in New York City. The shoppers bustle under the glow of the light-strewn Eiffel Tower, radiating light like a beacon against the cold night sky.
In the countryside, where the culture of any people really resides and thrives, the traditions are stronger and richer. The warm tones of local choirs singing medieval carols can be heard emanating from candle-lit, thirteenth-century churches. Soaring abbeys host more elaborate performances of ancient music under their arches. The smell of burning wood emanates from the fireplaces and stoves of old farmhouses in the chiller Normandy and Brittany regions, while the southern areas of the country enjoy the more moderate temperatures afforded by their proximity to the Mediterranean. Epic manger scenes crowd around the courtyards in front of the great cathedrals, uncomfortably close to the commerce-heavy outdoor markets where locals score the freshest chestnuts and tastiest red wine while shivering carolers entertain with the old favorites.
In this strongly Catholic country, many families will attend the midnight Mass and return home to enjoy le réveillon, or the “wake-up!” meal.
And that meal is fantastic. Being France, the food is an integral part of the celebration—in fact it’s the culinary high point of the year for many. Delicacies like foie gras, oysters and escargots are popular aperitifs, while the entrée tends to be more straight-forward dishes like goose (popular in Alsace) and turkey (more popular in Burgundy).
Meat (including ham and duck) is paired with a good red wine and served with the ever-popular chestnut stuffing, a French favorite for generations. Chubby truffles are another beloved feature of most dinners. While the use of the actual Yule log has diminished somewhat, the French make a traditional Yule log-shaped cake called the buche de Noel. It’s a sugary delight of chocolate and chestnuts.
After the Mass and le réveillon, the children put their shoes in front of the fireplace hoping that Pere Noel (Father Christmas) will fill them with candy, nuts, fruit and gifts. As the kids drift off to sleep, the adults sit up late, hang goodies from the tree and polish off the Yule log. Before they turn in for the night, a softly burning candle is are left on the table in case the Virgin Mary passes by, a long-standing custom of this Catholic country.
From Bayeux to Arles, France revels in its ancient cultural traditions as it celebrates the Noel with that classically French combination of style and joy. Gift giving is less emphasized than the act of gathering and celebrating simple rituals with family and friends—and sharing a fine meal with good wine, of course.
Flying with your Service Dog takes a bit of pre-planning. Most airlines require 48 hours advance notice about your canine partner. Initially tickets can be booked online through a collective search website like CheapOair. Before purchasing tickets, check out the Airlines direct website for Service Animal rules. Under Federal Law airlines are required to allow Service Animals but a few are friendlier about it than others.
For example: Delta Airlines states on their Special Concerns page “We welcome trained service animals in the aircraft cabin. Trained service animals are different from emotional support animals in that they have been trained to perform a particular function or service to assist a passenger with a disability in the management of their disability. Under most circumstances, we do not require passengers using trained service animals to provide additional documentation. However, it is expected that a service animal behave in public and follow the direction of its owner.”
Special note: If you have an Emotional Support or Psychiatric Service Animal you must provide documentation from your Mental Health Professional.
Before finalizing travel plans take into account if your dog will need to relieve itself during a layover. Allow yourself as much time as possible in case you’ll need to exit and re-enter a security check point.
Two days before, call into customer service and follow the extensions for an existing flight. Have your ticket conformation number handy. Let the representative know you’re traveling with a Service Dog and at this time you may request a bulkhead seat. From experience, I’ve found that the bulkhead window seat provides the most floor room for my dog to curl up. Sometimes (but not always) they’ll ask the breed and size of your animal and also what tasks it preforms for you. Any airline staff or airport personal are allowed to ask what tasks your dog preforms for you. They can NOT ask directly what your disability is. Answer them nicely. They only do this to confirm legitimate Service Dogs.
Navigating security isn’t as horrible as the media advertises. Liquid restrictions and the taking off of shoes is a pain; but it’s just part of the process. On the upside you don’t have to stand in those long, long security lines. Look for a sign that says, “Crew or Passengers needing extra assistance.” These lines are generally shorter and will help accommodate your needs. To enter, hand them your boarding pass, ID and Service Dog Handler ID. That last one isn’t required; however it helps to have one. Mine is plastic (size of a credit card) has my countries flag, the names of myself and my Service Dog as well as our photos. On the back is printed the U.S. Federal Law about ADA Act, along with phone numbers and website address for the Department of Justice. Occasionally this ID has been photocopied, along with her vet papers, when we’ve flown internationally.
Generally, I opt for the old fashion metal detectors and put my dog in a sit-stay on one side. Pass through myself, and call her through to me. Do not remove your animals harness or vest. Only their packs need to go on the belt. If possible I take extra care not to “beep”, but my dog always does. Her working harness, collar and leash all have metal buckles—no avoiding that. This does mean TSA will pat down and search your dog. I use a stand-wait command for my Service Dog. That way she can be searched without interaction with the agent. The process doesn’t take long. They feel her harness and usually swab her for explosive residue. If you need to hold your dog during the search, they’ll swab your hands too. In the event your dog is uncomfortable being handled by strangers with rubber gloves, get a thin cape with plastic buckles and a rope leash to avoid them “beeping.” Place their normal working gear in the bin with your shoes.
When at your gate; take advantage of pre-boarding. You can get yourself and your animal settled before the wave of other passengers. I take along a small blanket to place on the floor so she doesn’t leave fur behind. It’s also good practice to find out if the fellow passenger beside you likes dogs once they sit down. I’ve personally never had an issue with anyone not.
Flying international with your Service Dog requires extra paperwork and attention to detail; as well as, traveling with mobility equipment, such as a wheelchair. I’ll address that in another post.
Recently I’ve been reading, “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. When the author was in her mid-twenties she solo hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. Her book unfolds as she treks north, nursing her blistered feet and cumbersome heavy pack along a majority of the 2,663mi (4,286km) trail. It initially begins at the Mexican border, passes through California, Oregon, and Washington in the USA and over the border into Canada. Several years ago I’d been gearing up to ride my horses along the same trail, but heavy snows in high mountain ranges and challenges with support team coordination threw a wrench in the trip–so it never happen. But I did ride sections of that trail, along with parts of the Continental Divide Trail, Chilkoot Trail, and the historic Oregon Trail. On foot I’ve graced sections of several other long paths, and driven a dog cart on one pulled by twelve huskies.
Reading Strayed’s book got me thinking about other long-distance footpaths around the world. A popular one in Europe that comes to mind is El Camino de Santiago which starts many different places but ultimately ends at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I first heard of the trail in a novel by Paulo Coelho called, “The Pilgrimage.” Other countries in Europe such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have quite a lot of paths. In Asia I’d looked into hiking the Annapurna Circuit in central Nepal. But it appears that Israel and Japan have many for the choosing as well; Japan’s most popular being the 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
Here are the worlds’ best hikes according to National Geographic.
Mark Moxon has an extensive website of information and stories from his long walking adventures.
The UK has a Long Walkers Association.
One Canadian man even walked around the world in eleven years.
Have you ever hiked or ridden on a long-distance path? Or do you have plans to do so?
Please share your stories or plans in the comments!