Sunday, 10 February 2013

Travelling alone? Or Travelling solo?

I prefer to think that I'm travelling solo.  

But judging how the two Japanese ladies on the chair lift recoiled in horror when I told them I was solo, they obviously thought I was travelling alone.

The two ladies were part of a group of 30 who had come on a tour to ski in Hakuba from Yokohama, about 300km away.  To them, coming all the way from Australia to ski here by yourself seemed incomprehensible. 

Can travelling by yourself actually be enjoyable?  Would someone actually choose to do that?

Absolutely!  It's all about attitude.

Being solo doesn't mean you can't go anywhere

I love travelling solo.  For starters there's the freedom and independence (some of the reasons we go travelling in the first place?) and of course the added bonus that when I'm ready, everyone's ready.

There are other benefits too.  My solo traveller status has had me upgraded to the last remaining first class plane seat, scored me the best seats in restaurants, and allowed me to jump ahead of the lift queue when skiing (using the dedicated single lane).

Not to say that I haven't found travelling with friends, family and small groups great too.   I've had wonderful European driving holidays with friends, ski trips with family, and made new friends on small group tours across Asia.

But I'm not as repulsed by the concept of solo travel as others seem to be.   And quite frankly I'm mystified why more people don't do it! 

I've had friends who've complained to me that they would love to go travelling, but don't have anyone to go with.  A lack of money or time are valid reasons for not travelling.   A lack of travelling companions?  Nope.  Sorry, you'll have to think of a better excuse than that.   If you think travelling solo is sad, I think it's sadder to want to go travelling, but never actually doing it because you're single.  Why does your happiness hinge so much on the whims of others?

Statistics say there is a growing number of single-person households; are they all planning on just sitting at home during their holidays?

Interestingly I think a growing number of hotels and other tourism operators are recognising this single market.  In Japan, for instance, I've found I've been paying for a hotel room on a per person, rather than per room, basis.

No doubt it is a matter of preference and taste, but perhaps don't discount solo travel until you've tried it.  

When in China on a small group tour of 12 people a few years ago, we came across a massive busload of Chinese tourists visiting Beijing.   They felt sorry for us travelling in such a small group, much preferring the company of at least 50 others when touring their own country.  However, for me, travelling with more than a dozen people would be a nightmare.  Can you imagine how long it would take them to get ready in the morning, taking into account the usual stragglers?   And just how authentic and impromptu would any local interaction be?  Would there ever be any opportunity to pop into a local cafe or restaurant to sit and relax, or just go for a wander by yourself to explore the neighbourhood?

Travelling solo often means you interact with others, whether they be locals or other travellers, much more than you would if you were travelling in a group.   And with email, Skype and Facebook, I seem to "talk" more with friends and family when I'm travelling than when I'm living in the same city as them - probably because I've actually got something to talk about.

"But what do you do about dinner?"

Hard to believe, but I actually eat dinner when I travel solo, just like I do at home.   A fear of eating dinner by themselves seems to be one of the core reasons why people don't travel solo.   They feel they can handle lunch, but dinner is a different story.   

I can understand this to some extent. I used to feel a little weird asking for a table for one.  But then I got over myself.  Who cares what a room of strangers think?   Is me walking into this restaurant solo rocking their world?   

If anything, I've felt solo diners are given special treatment by waiters (probably out of pity) and often score the table with the nicest view.  Just like at home, while waiting for my meal I read a magazine, catch up on some emails or plan the next day's adventures.

Dining by myself also means I've noticed a few things.   Like the couples who can't think of a single word to say to each other across the table and just stare in opposite directions.  And the parents of the screaming children who look like they wish they could sit by themselves for just one uninterrupted meal.  

At the end of the day, just as travelling with others has perks, so too does travelling solo.

So don't pity us solo travellers; we're probably having a much better time than you.

1 comment:

  1. Well said Matthew!!! More people are considering travelling solo but they are not as brave as you!