The Pros and Cons of Solo Travel from a Solo Cyclist
The following is a guest post from the highly adventurous Dave of Vague Direction.
“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” – Paul Theroux
Taking 10 months off, or quitting your job entirely, to pursue something new is a big deal. It’s scary. It’s an intimidating thought. As we ‘grow up’ it becomes impractical to up-and-leave. Valid reasons like job security, relationships, and making rent replace our once happy-to-rough-it-for-months mentality. That’s a good thing. Looking at friends lives that have slotted together in recent years, it’s a great thing. And that’s the main reason why the 12,000 mile bicycle ride I did last year was a solo endeavour. It wasn’t intentionally based around being a solo trip, but that’s how things worked out.
Short-term solo travel is different to long-term in the sense of mentality and mood, attitude and psyche. At least in my experience, the start of a trip, in those ﬁrst few weeks, is full of energy and excitement – every day is generally amazing, fun, brilliant – all those kind of words. It’s after you’ve settled into the trip, (for me a trip becomes long-term beyond about 6 weeks), that new thoughts begin to creep in to your mind. Sometimes, dark thoughts. But that’s one of the most appealing parts, too. The mental game. It’s fun to test yourself, and ﬁnd out how far you can push ‘it’. Independent travel has a dark side. The main downsides are these:
“What are you up to?” “How long have you lived here?” “What’s fun to do in this town?” “Yeah, cycling around America.” “Mainly camping but sometimes cheap motels and staying with people too.” “It’s mostly fun when it’s not raining!”.
Generic questions and answers that become a script, a routine. Whilst travelling on the road, the same sentences were said, over and over. 3-minute conversations become the norm, not intentionally, but because people are understandably busy with other tasks. It can become tiresome quickly.
The L Word
Loneliness. What else?! It’s sure to vary from person to person, and individuals have their own coping mechanisms. But one thing is for sure, it’s inevitable. At some point, even if only brieﬂy, it will raise its ugly head. Not a long drawn out melancholy, but tough afternoons, for sure.
Thankfully, there are a couple of effective ways to shoo away these demons, and kick the ass of both of the above subjects:
- Being more proactive. Easy to suggest, harder to do (especially in a deserted rural town on a Sunday). Meet people, ask the questions, go to where it’s busy, try to beat ﬂeeting conversation, dig deeper.
- If you can’t ﬁnd conversation, there’s always Skype to check in with your crew back home. The internet’s a wonderful thing.
There are others downsides, too. On my last trip, the whole concept relied on travelling. Constantly moving to complete the route. It became so clear after a couple of months that it’s crucial to ‘stop and smell the roses’. By having constant momentum, you’ll never get under the surface of a place and you’ll make it easy for negativity to creep in.
Remember to experience. That’s what it’s about, otherwise you may just be sat on the sofa at home and watch a BBC Natural History programme. On that note, we might as well all go home and never think about travelling solo, right? No, no, NO. There’s a light. Lights, even. Bright ones.There are multiple positive reasons to travel solo. Here’s just three. The three C’s. Cool.
The ﬁrst, much like superﬁcial relationships, comes down to people. Every now and then, you meet someone and get through the initial layer of same-old-chat, to ﬁnd yourself talking with an incredibly interesting and often amazingly generous individual. On the bike trip, I met people who will be good friends for many years. Often they’re not the type people of that you’d usually close to, which does wonders for proving any engrained preconceptions wrong. Inherently good people are everywhere.
There are times, after riding for 10+ hours on the bike, that you ﬁnd yourself in deep thought. Unusually deep. This reﬂective time is signiﬁcant and matters. Creativity ﬂows naturally and ideas are generated with ease. Moments of clarity which will help inﬂuence your future. Side projects to work on whilst travelling will develop. This has to be a good thing.
Now this one isn’t strictly a positive. There are times when everything seems to go wrong. Perhaps you’ve angered the karmic gods, or maybe it’s just coincidence. But no matter, there will be days when you want to curse everything. Nothing goes to plan. Why has this even made the positive list? Well, because you deal with these problems. You crush them. And whilst it’s not fun in the moment, in retrospect it’s the challenging times that make the best memories and the best stories. Your independence, self-reliance, willpower and decision-making abilities will thank you.
Long-term solo travel isn’t for everyone, and I wouldn’t for a minute suggest that anyone travel alone exclusively. There’s something incredibly powerful about sharing experiences with those close to you and being able to reminisce in the future. But there is something special about solo travel that you can’t access elsewhere. If you can embrace the dark days, expect them, and know how to deal with them, there are shining positives and opportunities that are totally worthwhile.
So, where you gonna go?
About the Author
Dave Gill likes tuna pasta. Also, he just finished cycling 12,000 miles around North America. Along the way he met a variety of interesting folks, from singing cowgirls to ex-convicts, Hollywood directors to organic farmers. He spills his mind on VagueDirection.com.