I have always travelled on my own. My solo adventures might have started during my university days in Australia. Although those trips were often with friends, I preferred the freedom to explore by myself. The solo trip which I recalled vividly was travelling from Adelaide (my residence then) to Alice Springs in the outback, all the way to Darwin in the north, after which, I flew to Cairns in Queensland, made my way solo down the east coast by bus to Byron Bay, and finally landed in Sydney. After resting in Sydney for a few days, I travelled by train for 22 hours to Adelaide.
Was it tiring? It was but I was only 20 years old. Tiredness was only felt for a day. 🙂
Was it boring? It wasn’t boring as I had my novels to keep me occupied. However, admittedly, at times I had felt lonely albeit it was only a fleeting moment as I relished the fact that I was able to go on long bus/train rides without having to worry about my travel companions feeling cranky due to tiredness or boredom. Also, I had enjoyed getting lost in my thoughts while watching the landscape of Australia changed as I moved from one state to another.
But still, did I not feel the urge to converse with someone during the trip? Of course I did. The first leg of my adventure was with the backpackers’ hop-on-hop-off bus tour in the Australian outback. I remembered having fun getting to know backpackers from other countries but after some time, the drinking and partying got a bit weary. I felt that I needed to see and experience more of the country based on what I really liked to do. Rather than having memories imbibed with far too many pitches of beer, I opted to leave the bus tour the moment we reached Darwin and I went solo on the second leg of my trip.
And that’s how I am. Ever since I left home for Australia to pursue my tertiary education, I had always been independent. And to some extent, I have always been inclined to do things a little differently from others albeit in a subtle manner. While many Malaysians prefer to shop during vacations, I prefer to visit museums, art galleries or sites which give me insights about history and culture. Many Malaysians prefer the popular destinations such as Thailand, Korea, but I prefer the “unusual” destinations like India, Iran, Jordan.
Do note that I’m not travel-shaming anyone in terms of their choices of activities or destinations. I’m not a snob but merely highlighting one of the reasons why I choose to travel solo is because I have different interests. As much as I enjoy having friends around to share travel experiences together, it will not be fun if some don’t enjoy the same activities as I do, and vice versa.
Apart from not wanting to ruin friendships due to differences in travel styles, I also need time out to withdraw and to contemplate after being with people for a period of time. And this contemplative nature has become useful especially when making observations about historical linkages, architecture, people, languages, cultural traits, religions and food, all of which I find so fascinating.
As a result, I’m able to strike up conversations with locals easily, getting insights into their lives, cultures, challenges, hopes and dreams, and learning that they are no different from us. My host in Gangtok (city of Sikkim in northeast India) said to me that he didn’t regard me as a passing tourist but as a foreign friend who is visiting for a while. Needless to say, I was quite touched 🙂 These are profound moments and chances of experiencing such moments are minimised when travelling in a group as the locals do not wish to intrude upon a group but find it relatively easier to approach a solo traveller.
When all is said and done, I agree that travelling with friends is still the fun way of exploring destinations. In fact, there was a group of friends who I had the most fun travelling with from 2009 to 2011. We went to Indonesia (our first trip was Bali and Komodo Island!), Hanoi, Sri Lanka and Cambodia together. However, life circumstances changed – one relocated to Singapore, another returned to Delhi, the couple friend had a baby whilst I remained in KL and was in the midst of changing jobs. The five of us moved on and went our separate ways. We still keep in touch, often reminiscing about our trips and wishing that we would meet somewhere for a reunion (well, we managed to meet up again in Lombok in 2013) but there are conflicts in schedules…and I guess, to some extent, priorities as well.
Yeah, priorities change, and that’s LIFE.
Despite no longer having the original travel gang, my priority will always be travel. I cannot imagine life without travel.
As such, I shall continue to travel, and until I find a group with similar interests and style, I choose to travel solo.