Maybe think twice before travelling with friends!

Community Highlights Travel Philosophy Maybe think twice before travelling with friends!

I decided pretty early on that solo travel was for me! As a curious 19-year-old, I set off to Amsterdam, for my first trip alone. Being my first attempt, the Netherlands was not too far away, and if I enjoyed the experience, what was to stop me travelling further afield?

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Traditional old Dutch style houses

Checking into the Vondelpark youth hostel on that misty October morning, I quickly realised, I was far from alone. So many others were coming and going, backpack in tow. Connecting easily with fellow hostel dwellers, I got chatting to a South African woman, travelling around Europe. This was the first year Black South Africans could apply for a travel visa, and Denise was taking full advantage. On visiting me in Glasgow, she returned the invite to Johannesburg; not needing to ask twice. Being quick to realise, if travelling with friends, not having that same urge to connect with others, opportunities would be missed. Johannesburg was a remarkably interesting visit, albeit dangerous at times. Also invites to Soweto and down to Cape Town, meant I got a flavour of different towns and people’s lives.

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Cape Horn where the Atlantic meets the Pacific

This has now morphed into a fear of travelling with others. Following a recent trip to the south of India, a friend urged, "we really need to go away together!". At that point, the gut instinct kicked in, fear and panic, thinking, no we really do not! Whilst I love my friends, travel is an opportunity to escape the familiar; friends, work, in fact anything about my life.

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Out and about in Tallin, Estonia

Not wanting to compromise, if the urge takes me, I can sit outside a cafe, people watching all afternoon, being free to do so. We quite often have unique needs, interests, fears, and go along at different paces. Eager for the thrill of new cities, I do not particularly want to spend valuable time bickering over plans and activities. Travelling at my leisure, has led to experiencing the world as a rich, eye opening, perspective building cultural experience. Having no fear of the unknown, I simply experience people to be people the world over. Lone travel has lent itself to interactions with wonderful people around the globe. Random encounters with strangers, leading to invites for lunches, dinners, and to social events. The fear of being locked into a routine and not able to escape is the real fear, maybe you also feel like this?

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Lunch

Fears

I would need to stick to a plan or routine. I enjoy wandering off randomly, getting excited by places and people met along the way. Sauntering around cities taking photos, stopping for coffee, gaping in awe at spectacular sights. All decisions are mine and mine alone. A travel companion would soon get bored, whereby I could not relax into my default snail mode.

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A stroll around Nyhavn, Copenhagen

The whining about being hungry and spending ages looking for a restaurant to suit everyone. Preferring to eat when hungry, I have usually pinpointed a few food joints in my meanderings. Eating alone can sometimes be challenging. Quite often in Mysore, the whole cafe would stare, slack jawed, scanning every move as I went into my bag or purse. Maybe I was going to pull out a rabbit! I found strategies to tackle this, like choosing a table with my back to other diners. But in a city off the mass tourist track, we need to accept people are just being curious! I know it is not easy!

So, we can come and go as we please, avoiding the hassle of organising routines and plans with others in mind. This extends to the finer details, like choosing what time to get up in the morning. Waiting around patiently for friends to get ready when it takes me all of ten minutes. We can go back to our digs and chill for an hour or so. Choosing Airbnb when travelling,means sitting around chatting with my hosts, learning about their lives. The knowledge of Airbnb hosts, is in my opinion, far superior to any travel guide. Whilst in India, they arranged yoga classes at local rates, put me in touch with friends who founded NGO’s, booked an Ayurveda massage, and suggested exciting places to visit, excluded from guidebooks.

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Hanging out in Mysore

I will not be lonely! Those not inclined to travel alone, often feel sorry for you, thinking you have no friends. Almost like you are forced, rather than it being a choice to explore on your own. Or that you enjoy your own company so much, you want to be isolated in a bubble during your travels. Almost like you will not connect with others and be nothing less than incredibly lonely. These ideas could not be further from the truth. As others have said before me, you can be lonely in the company of others. Striking up conversations with locals and others I encounter, is at the root of why I find travelling interesting. The beauty however, is you have the ability to disengage easily from strangers, not that simple with friends. I do like time on my own, to recharge my batteries and read. People who go to Spain every year with their extended family, will never know how liberating solo travel can be. But we all go abroad for different reasons and if that is what you enjoy, that is fine too.

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Around Sofia, Bulgaria

People often call sole female travellers brave. I believe bravery is when you fear something, but push ahead anyway. Whilst understanding that some lone females are brave, having varying degrees of fear on that initial voyage, this eases over time. Fear of compromise, being inauthentic and locked into a routine, are what concerns me. .

So, I would recommend solo travel for all women and men, young and older at least, once in your life. It is such an liberating way of stepping out into the world, many opportunities will arise, and if your instinct is in favour, your life could be transformed.

Booking an Airbnb or another homestay, means you will be well looked after and have a good sound base. Ditch the guidebook, otherwise you will be directed to attractions that are mobbed, and you have probably seen on TV or in a book anyway. Do you really want poked in the eye with an extended selfie stick?

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The old town Kaunas, Lithuania

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No words necessary!

Ditch the capital cities in areas of mass tourism, instead plump for second cities. Not only will they be less crowded and unique, everything is a lot cheaper. Eastern Europe a relatively low budget destination, with many first cities off the tourist track. The Baltic States, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia are not only quirky, stunning and rich in history, they tend to be more lenient on the purse strings. Try to travel off season, to avoid the crowds in capital cities, while benefiting from cheaper flights. Riga is one of the more popular eastern destinations. Whilst travelling in January, I entered a winter wonderland, in a city scant of tourists.

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Riga in January

Prior to visiting Geneva, everyone who had not visited, exclaimed it is expensive!!! Almost like we should only travel to ‘cheap’ countries, to ensure good value for money. Sad to say this is not how it works. This is where home stay's come in handy, having the luxury to cook meals, if required. It is possible stick to a budget wherever you find yourself. You could go to say Riga (a low budget city) and spend a fortune eating and drinking daily in prestigious hotels, or holding on to cash instead, by frequenting lower end food joints or supermarkets. Not finding myself starving to death with a near empty purse in Switzerland, there was no need to visit the supermarket. Things were a bit more expensive, but what the bearers of bad news could not know, having never been, was the quality delivered, was worth every Swiss franc. So, what I am trying to say is many of us do not travel to countries merely because the booze is cheap, that does not even come into it.

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Old Town Geneva

Travel has really changed over the last 30 years. Pre-social media, backpackers gave detailed accounts of places visited, swapped tips, along with humour humour. Now Lonely Planet, Trip Adviser, Rough Guides etc have increasingly become the essential go to, when embarking on a journey. Relying solely on these resources however, often results in less interaction and face to face communication. The guidebooks can also put the fear of god into people, when they read the 'dangers and annoyances' section. Unfortunately, it is the dangers many keep at the forefront of their mind, wandering the streets clutching their bible close to their chest. I have observed people arguing over 20p with rickshaw drivers in Vietnam, because Lonely Planet warns these men will try and rip them off. Rather than promoting independent travel, these guides can produce fearful travellers. When visiting developing countries, it is important to try and put things into perspective. A rickshaw driver may earn $5 a day if lucky, so what is 20p to you? Be kind (but savvy) do not go about like a stuck-up Westerner with a superiority complex, looking down your nose at people with contempt.

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An elderly women selling incense at a temple outside Ho Chi Minh City

Widespread access to the internet also provides a virtual platform to review and critique every part of your travel. From your accommodation, to the food you ate, in what particular restaurant, how regular or comfortable the buses were, right down to what you thought of the Great Wall of China. Whilst understandable to read some reviews, for example, if planning to stay in a less than reputable hotel, or to book local transport, but is it actually the best way to decide that it is not worth seeing the Mona Lisa, because a review deemed it size of a bit of A4 bit paper?

It seems some people do not like to take risks or relish in surprise when travelling. There is that burning need to know how others rated the restaurant before you go in. People we do not even know and whose tastes and expectations could be the mirror opposite to ours. As an Airbnb host, I get reviewed, while most are positive, you always get that few who like to complain about something. Reviews often describe events or non-events from disgruntled people, one did not see the Northern Light’s on that trip to Iceland, is it a given that those colours sweeping in the sky, will miraculously appear? Apparently 61% use online reviews before making a decision on a purchase. However, recent research found 40% of reviews we read are unreliable, so it might be unwise to use them as validation.

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Down by the Blue Mosque, Istanbul

I know many people enjoy planning their travel itinerary in detail and feel secure having that structure in place. Not being a big planner, I maybe have an idea of a couple of places I fancy, but mainly go with the flow. I take pleasure in taking time to become familiar with the local area, then edge further into the city. I like to keep myself open to any new suggestions from Airbnb hosts and others met along the way. The local yoga class in Mysore, led to a chance encounter, when someone told me about Thai Pushyan, the 10-day long festival of pain and trust, that blew me away.

Through meeting Stanley from Odanadi, the NGO supporting young survivors of sexual exploitation, I was invited to their Republic Day celebrations, marking 50 years of India’s independence. The most offbeat encounter was with Rev. Fr. Raj from the 'Montford Father's Society, whilst returning from a hotel that did not offer swimming to non-residents after all. Looking a bit out of place with his clerical collar, carrying bags of groceries, he invited me to the celebration for a priest, returning from a long stint in Papua New Guinea, as a missionary. When we arrived at the Victorian mansion, the dining area was buzzing with priests and nuns, from all over India, delving into feast. It was the one time I savoured beef in India, being 'illegal' except for Christians.

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Thai Pushyan

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The very busy bus coming back from Thai Pushyan

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Festival security

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Free food for all festival goers

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Waiting to dance

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Wee dancers

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International Red Cross Museum, Geneva

Something else that has changed, is the terminology around of travel. People now ‘do’ countries. Almost like a banal tick list! A friend’s daughter went travelling for a month and proudly said she ‘did’ 20 countries! Yeah, she may have spent a night in the airport, but she ‘did’ Dubai! When chatting to her I was reminded of the ‘travel moaning’ we hear from people. "It was so hoooooootttttt!", "They didn't have wi-fi in the jungle", "The people were sooooo rude!" - well were you rude to them? And the list goes. This constant whining is far worse, of course, when it comes out of the mouth of a travel companion. And do not even get me started on the dropped prepositions, you do not travel around Europe anymore, you travel Europe!

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Human rights exhibition in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Finally, I had a friend visit when I lived in Vietnam. She came armed with her Lonely Planet. As we approached a bar, she quickly flicked the pages gasping, "Oh we can't go there, it’s not in the book"! And people wonder why I travel alone!!!

Happy travels!

This featured blog entry was written by katieshevlin62 from the blog A fear of travelling with others!.
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By katieshevlin62

Posted Tue, Apr 28, 2020 | Comments