Reflections on Traveling Solo
I’ve been on so many solo trips that I forget it’s not something that everyone feels comfortable doing. I find comfort in being on my own, allowed to experience a new place in any way that makes sense to me. It’s invigorating and freeing.
But when I think back to my first solo trip, I remember feeling uneasy and scared. I was traveling to India to conduct my dissertation research, but when I received a scholarship, I extended my stay to include Tokyo, Hong Kong, Nepal, and Paris on the way home. I had not yet been to Asia, so that was also a little intimidating. I didn’t know any of the languages, and I was on my own.
I remember sharing the trip’s details with a class of high school seniors that I was teaching. One of my students became extremely concerned when he realized I would be traveling alone. Wouldn’t I get lonely? Who would I talk to? Is that even safe? His questions were valid and ones that I didn’t have answers to because they were the same ones I was asking myself. I assured him that I’d be fine, that I’d meet people, and that I would enjoy the solitude, but it’s really hard to convince him of things I wasn’t even sure of myself.
I recently found an old journey where I talked about this first trip. My amazement is clear. Now I know that meeting people is sometimes easier when you’re traveling alone. It’s become one of my favorite parts of traveling solo; I never know who I’ll meet.
Here are my ramblings from my journal from that first trip:
In Tokyo, I met a student named David. He was from Korea and was traveling back home after spending the semester studying in San Francisco. His English was perfect, and I was shocked to learn that he had only been studying for three years. We ran into each other outside of the fish market and spent the rest of the day together. We shared a Japanese lunch before parting later in the afternoon when he wanted to go to a sports arena, and I wanted to fit in one more temple.
In route to Hong Kong, I met the friendliest woman from New Zealand. We spent most of the day together, as we both had a long layover in Beijing. She had an opportunity through work to visit Tokyo and was planning to meet her husband in his hometown in northern England. They were spending time with his family before traveling to Spain for a cruise. I wanted to join her on her trip. It sounded wonderful.
Ashley and I were rather forced together in Hong Kong. We were both traveling to see the big Buddha, and since we were both alone, they had us share a car. By the time we arrived, we realized we got along great so we traveled together the rest of the day. She had been traveling all over South Asia for three months and was meeting her mom to continue her travels in Europe later in the week.
On the flight from Honk Kong to India, I met Jiya, a young college student who liked the word fuck. I couldn’t believe it. She’s from Delhi and had been in Hong Kong visiting a friend. We were just chatting about flight time when I mentioned the length of my Chicago-Tokyo flight. Fuck, she shouted! Did I mention we were also sharing the row with a monk. So, I have Jiya, the saucy mouth teenager wanting to take me clubbing in Delhi, sitting next to a reserved monk. Jiya actually gave me her number in case I wanted to meet up to go clubbing. I don’t have to tell you that I didn’t call her.
In Delhi, I traveled briefly with a girl from Spain. She was beautiful and had been in India for months. She had many helpful hints, as I was extremely overwhelmed in Delhi.
In Agra, I met a Chinese student who was studying in the states. We met in the hallway of our hotel and decided to meet later in the evening to watch the sun set over the Taj Mahal from the roof of our hotel. She met two girls earlier in the day and was planning to meet them for dinner, so I joined. Turns out the two girls were friends from Mizzou, one of whom is from Mumbai, though she didn’t meet us for dinner, and the other lives in Chicago and came to India to visit her friend from college. We shared the nicest dinner–three strangers in the morning and three friends by the night’s end.
In Nepal, I spent a day with Martin, a Frenchman. He dissed a lot on Paris, but it was interesting to hear his perspective. We visited the monkey temple and took lots of pictures of the scenery together. He was offered weed more times that I can count; it became our running joke for the day.
In Varanasi, I met Eva from Belgium. We decided to share a taxi from the train station to split the cost. Turns out Eva, with her blond hair and blue eyes, speaks perfect Hindi. I cannot tell you how helpful she was. Someone would approach us, and then she’d respond in Hindi. It was instant respect. It was great. We spent a lot of time together, as we decided to go to the same hotel.
I joined two Japanese volunteers at the school in Bihar. We spend much of our days together at the school, and somedays we stop for chai on our way home.
I am not mentioning all the people I met: a high school student from the US who traveled to India so he could experience Indian culture, the American living and studying in Japan, the Parisian girl I shared the computer room with for several hours in Nepal, the Sweeden girl who had been working in Nepal for six months, the nervous girl from Ohio who came to Nepal to volunteer, the family from Amsterdam who explained the cremation ceremony in Kathmandu…the list goes on and on.
Seeing this is a nice reminder of how far I’ve come. I was so shocked and relieved on this first solo trip that I made note of all the people I encountered. I no longer keep count in this way, but I have made friends that I suspect will last a lifetime on my solo adventures.