I recently returned from my summer trip to Hong Kong and Macau – my second solo outing. The food, sights, views, and cultural experiences were irreplaceable. However, I did not find the experience positive at all times. Sometimes I encountered ruts, downs, moments of depression. Today I wish to share what I see as the highs and lows of traveling along.
High – Self-Efficacy
There is a great pleasure to be found in managing your own affairs. It’s adulting at its finest. As I book my own flights, lodgings, and transportation tickets, a round of metaphorical back-patting ensues. Few things feel more satisfying proving our own toughness, self-sufficiency, and capability of managing obstacles when they arise.
Because obstacles always arise. Lessons are learned.
For example, don’t book ferry tickets between Hong Kong and Macau in advance, There is always room on those massive boats, and you never know when the weather will cause a cancellation of a non-refundable voyage.
Or bring Hong Kong dollars to a Macau casino. None of the dealers accept Macau patacas.
Or bring some open-toed sandals to a tropical climate in the summer. Your shoes will get wet and it pays to have a pair that dries quickly.
It’s not only useful to fill your knowledge gaps, but also empowering to experience difficulties, wade through the discomfort, and discover solutions.
I lost some money, but I did not lose my cool. That’s a sweet feeling worth more than what I lost.
Low – Loneliness
It’s tough to build relationships with others when traveling alone, especially while abroad. In retrospect, I wish I had done more research on hostels and guest houses. Perhaps I could have found accommodations with more common areas where I could socialize. Hindsight is 20/20.
I’m shy enough as it is. But when I am thousands of miles from my home country, and another thousand miles from my country of residence, don’t know the local language, don’t have contacts or friends in the city, and survive only by the skin of my passport, I’m a shell of myself.
I’m the kind of guy who cannot approach someone without good reason. Small talk with strangers at a mutual event is fine.
So what interested you in improv?
Are you here for the bride or the groom?
How do you know the birthday girl?
But approaching strangers for small talk? With no pretext? In a bar or restaurant? No way! When I’m sent to hell, it will be an existence where I have to go to an unfamiliar bar with unfamiliar people night after night.
Perhaps this is my western cultural upbringing at play. Don’t trust strangers. Anyone who is friendly to you is only out to get you. Best to mind your own business.
It’s unfair. I want to have a positive and optimistic outlook on humanity. But when I travel alone, my true colors come to the light. I trust no one. I run scared through an indifferent jungle.
I am green to travel. Inexperience binds me in a cocoon. Making mistakes in familiar environments in not ideal, but far from terrifying. Mistakes made while traveling abroad can turn scary in a hurry.
So solo meals and excursions mount up. There I was in two of the densest cities on Earth with dark clouds of loneliness tailing my every move. To be fair, those dark clouds also spewed actual rain. The weather can make or break my mood. Anyone else?
I hope to find a travel companion next winter. Is anyone keen to visit Taiwan? The Philippines? Singapore?
High – Freedom
Yet when I travel alone, I relish the freedom and lack of accountability. Protect the passport, protect the money, protect the phone. That’s it. I have no one’s feelings or goals to consider when planning the day.
And whatever I do plan is subject to change. No debate. All votes are unanimous. I don’t have to notify anyone. I pass a museum on the street? Let’s check it out! I eye an intriguing restaurant? Pull up a chair.
Sure, these kinds of deviations are fine when traveling with others. But at the very least, I feel compelled to notify my companions. Where are you going? How long will you be? Where do you want to meet later? Are you going to eat? Are we going to eat?
Traveling solo? No need to make plans I am the plan.
This fits my travel style – freestyle – just walk around and take pictures and approach anything that looks interesting. Follow the road signs. Leave people be. I structure my day around one or two sites at most. Beyond that, it’s all sandbox play.
I bathe in a full spectrum of emotions on solo trips. To be fair, the lows I experience arise from inexperience. The more solo trips I survive, the more confidence I stand to gain. With confidence and experience comes a loosening of constraints and a dulling of fears.
Through careful planning, I can find accommodations that encourage greater socialization. Common areas would be a plus. I could even research meetups in a given city to find a pretext to meet others.
I love to travel. It’s an infection I’m unlikely to shake. As I learn and grow from a novice solo traveler to an average solo traveler, I can minimize my emotional troughs. Yet I doubt the lows will escape me for good. After all, pain and discomfort is a constant of life. The key is not to eradicate pain, but to find pain worth suffering for. For me, personal growth and travel are painful roads worth walking.
So I walk on. On to the next one.