I started travelling late. I had been to several cities in Canada, the US, Japan and Hong Kong before but I was always with someone. I was following the other person. Everything, where to go, when to go, how to get there, where to go next, was all planned out before we even reached the city. It was cool and all seeing a new place, going to museums, memorials and stores with a set itinerary and transportation plan. Travelling then was, ok. I liked it but 'travelling' was not a thing on my mind.
Being the 'great at reading and writing but can't speak or understand a word' type of language learner, I made a decision to go to Italy after studying Italian for three years and still couldn't order a cappuccino in Italian without getting butterflies in my stomach between lining up at the counter and actually ordering, then of course messing it up. After saving up for almost two years, I requested for a leave of absence from work, applied for a summer job in Tuscany and got a six month working holiday visa for Italy.
In May 2011, I went to Europe for the first time. I went by myself on a return ticket with six months in between. And I went without a plan except for a one night reservation at a hostel in Amsterdam and a one week reservation at a hostel in Rome. I thought about what countries or cities I wanted to see but there was no solid plan. I didn't know what I was doing or where I was going as the summer job I applied for was not a guarantee. I didn't know when I would start or, if I would start. I planned my time in Italy in intervals of three, four days. I spent a week in Rome, a week in Naples, another week in Rome before I started my four week gig as an English camp counsellor/English teacher/activity facilitator in a beautiful little Tuscan town called Castiglion Fiorentino. After my assignment, I spent a few days poolside at a campsite in Rome - hooray for €11 per night accommodations - perusing my Lonely Planet Europe guide and booking hostels for the next month on my little 16G iPhone 4.
For the rest of my first solo travel trip, I would book my accommodations days or weeks ahead of arrival. Train schedules were usually looked up a day before departure. For some, that may seem disorganized, stressful, or procrastinatory but for me, I enjoyed the flexibility and freedom. The thrill of not knowing and not planning seemed almost nomadic and romantic to me. That was how I liked to travel. Not having cellular data, phone network or GPS made me rely on me. I became more resourceful, reliable and resilient. Not having a way to contact me if I'm not at my hostel or in a wifi zone made making plans with people more real, more solid, more committed. Not following a predetermined or planned itinerary and exploring a place by feel and mood, going with the flow and whatever might happen, getting lost and not knowing where the hell I was, made my travel a real discovery, of both where I was and who I was.
I strongly recommend solo travelling to others. One should try it at least once in their life time. It will completely change your travel experience, it will also change you. When you are by yourself, you are all you've got. You force yourself to make decisions, to navigate, to stand up and fend for yourself. When you are discovering a foreign place, you really take it in because you're not distracted, talking to your travelmate. When you internalize what you see and feel, you are communicating with yourself. You are getting to know yourself better and developing a relationship with yourself through these experiences. You also meet and talk to more people because you're not attached to someone you are familiar with or dependent on. You open up yourself more because when we don't have company, we tend to be more willing to open up to others, to reach out, so that we have that human contact we miss while being on the road. Of course there are also perks such as going with your own plan, doing what you want, going where you want, when you want. There are so many advantages of travelling with someone and sharing that experience but there are also many numerous benefits to solo travelling that most people wouldn't think of doing or want to try.
Where you travel alone can also make a huge difference. Recently I discovered that travelling solo in Bali was not an experience I enjoyed that much. I had to rely on my husband and his motorcycle when I was with him. When I was by myself, I had to rely on group or private tours because I am too incompetent and chicken shit to ride a bicycle, let alone a scooter. I felt like I was stripped of my independence because of the lack of reliable public transportation and places I wanted to see were not of walkable distances. I liked Bali; I just prefer to go there with somebody.
I am always dreaming of going somewhere. My heart always feels like it should be somewhere but here. Not because I don't like home or where I am. I love Canada. I love Vancouver and all my people here. But I would also love to be somewhere else and see what's out there. It's oxymoronic but I think my constant craving to be elsewhere is because of how home makes me feel. Home doesn't push me away but rather, makes me feel that I can always come back. It will forever be a safe haven when I return from wherever and however long I've left it for. That, is a pretty incredible feeling.