Saturday, December 3, 2011

Guide: Why you should travel solo

Unlike in the past where it would take several days to reach somewhere in the vicinity by taking a boat, an aeroplane is all it takes to fetch us from one destination to another. So, youngsters are increasingly getting the point- that travelling is much less of a hassle than what it used to be. Therefore, they should vie for every opportunity to travel. Afterall, youth comes by once in a lifetime only.

So, they go in groups because there is safety in numbers. I'm not denying that people should travel in groups because there is much joy in company. But I find it equally compelling that people should dare to venture solo as well. Of course, my words don't hold water because I've only ventured out once, unlike many people who do solo travelling all around the world. But this post is for people who are bogged down by the inertia to travel solo. If you are one of them, hopefully this post convinces you enough to overcome your inertia and to venture a first brave step out to exploring a world you never knew.

p.s. I found a statute of Confucius in Quebec (not in Chinatown)- See how interesting things are?

Here are some reasons why people should travel solo at some point in life.

1) Say goodbye to troublesome friends
Everybody has this illusion that when you go on trips with friends, it's going to be real fun. After all, everybody is going to be shutter happy and have the time of their lives. Just imagine, all the peace signs, synced jumps and all.

But the cynic in me says that this is not necessarily true, if you have people in the group who like to wake up at 8 am/2pm, people in the group who don't drink/drink excessively, people who like to eat good food/don't like to eat, people who are okay with anything/so incredibly whiney and fussy and the list goes on.

Now, if you know somebody in the group like that, your trip is going to be far from perfect. Getting into the meat of things, we see that one of the advantages of travelling solo is Own time, Own target.

2) Own time, own target
The thing with travelling in a group is that there are bound to be people who like to wake up at 12 pm. They are so used to it that asking them to start exploring a city at 9 am is like wanting their lives. But guess what, if you really want to explore a place, I don't really see how 12 pm is a good time to start exploring. I'm not saying that you have to be on your foot 24/7 in order to explore a city. But with half a day in the gutters, you might as well stay put in your own country.

I found that this own time, own target thing was a really huge advantage when I went travelling solo. I went out at 9 am in the morning, and when I got tired, I just went back to my hostel to catch a nap and then set out a while later. No need for compromises or bottled up anger because the only person you need to deal with is yourself. This reduces all the travelling-related stress which defeats the purpose of travelling. That said, it doesn't mean that you are totally devoid of human contact because you actually get to talk to new people and meet new friends!

When you feel like it, just take a slightly more off-beaten path and you might find unexpected discoveries!

3) Get to meet new people 
When people clump in a group, the last thing we would do is to venture out and find people to talk to. Not that that's a bad thing. But if your point of travelling is to listen to stories from miles away, then these stories have to come from people you don't know. If you were just travelling with you friends, all you will hear is the latest gossip of another mutual friend- fun, but why waste money going to another country just to listen to gossip?

Instead, at the daily breakfasts or meals at the hostels, you might get to talk to interesting people. At the hostel at Montreal, I happened to meet a girl who was on exchange in Halifax and was in Montreal for a short trip. We were the same age and happened to share some common interests. So off we went the next day, playing cards in a cafe because it was raining, having lunch and hiking. The next day, we explored the museums and went for crepes. It was a great fun but we didn't continue contacting each other after trip. Why, you may say, since we enjoyed each other's company? For two people who believed that most friendships are fleeting, I suppose this was a conclusion that should be pretty expected. (The picture below was where we had breakfast because it was raining too heavily.)

4) Learn to be street smart
Confession: I was totally clueless on reading maps before embarking on my solo trip. Guess what, I'm still as equally clueless.

But I think the thing about going solo is that, believe it or not, you actually start to build hunches. You smirk and say, ya right. I smirk and say, ya that's right. I can't further elaborate on this, but you start to have your instincts tell you that you should be walking straight, instead of turning right. And 85% of the time, you turn out to be correct. That said, I'm still bad with maps!

5) People are more willing to help solo travellers 
For all that fear about not being able to find help when you are overseas, the good news is that people are actually more willing to help solo travellers. A caution has to be made though- I make this statement in relation to certain countries only where they are more receptive to helping. If the citizens in a country are generally hostile, obviously you wouldn't receive the help that you need. Do note that cultural differences in certain countries may also lead you to not being able to receive such help- so do your appropriate research.

One place I was particularly fond of was Toronto because the people were really helpful. I was finding my way to St Lawrence Market in Toronto and holding a map, saying that I look lost was an understatement. One guy approached me and offered to give me directions. Following his directions, I managed to end up at St Lawrence. This was just one of the few instances where people actually came forward, without me asking, to offer their help. Thanks to people like them, travelling solo is a lot more fun.

Final Words
These are just a few reasons why you should travel solo at least once in your life. Sure, no one's going to guarantee that you're going to be safe and sound. But if you are going to have the common sense to protect yourself, you're going to enjoy yourself a lot. Absorbing the sights of a foreign country, just being alone, taking in the heartbeats and pulses of a city. Isn't that something worth pursuing? 


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