Travelling Solo or Not?

Travelling Solo or Not?

We have finished another delicious dinner in the city of Hue in Viet Nam. We have paid our bill and thanked our waiters with a smile and a tip. I am leading the way out, making my exit on to the busy street cautiously merging into the chaotic pedestrian and motorbike traffic. I look behind to see how he is doing but see no sign of him. Thinking he got caught up in the crowd, I wait for him to catch up to me. Minutes pass but still no sight of him so I retrace my steps back to the restaurant. He couldn’t still be in there talking to someone after our agreement to leave and head back to our guest house, could he? Oh yes he could! There he is talking to a young couple totally oblivious that I am not anywhere around. Normally I would have joined in and participated in the usual conversation that travellers have when they meet for the first time. However, after a tiring day of sight-seeing, I had just wanted to climb into bed and have some time to myself, a desire I thought he had understood. Any patience I had left quickly evaporated once I got out the door for the second time because by now I was on the verge of committing murder or getting a divorce!

Three years have passed since this incident and fortunately Hubby and I are still alive and still married to each other. However, this restaurant episode served as a good learning experience for us when travelling together. Our independent natures often clash when we are together for a long periods of time especially when dealing with the challenges posed by visiting a foreign country. To keep them to a minimum, we have learned to put more time into communicating just what is or isn’t important to each of us which sometimes results in us going our separate ways for a while. Then, he can talk to all the people he wants, dispense with his map and rely on the locals for instructions on how to get from A to B, and go wherever he wants. I can wander freely looking in shops and out-of-the-way places and take lots of pictures. We both agree that temporary separation has been a good solution. When we come together again, we are more willing to compromise on any further contentious issues that might crop up.

The restaurant incident illustrates one of the so-called “bones of contention” we have had when travelling together. He gets great enjoyment out of engaging just about anyone who “looks interesting” (his words) in conversation, whereas I just want to keep focused on getting to our destination or to eat our meal without the usual preamble that takes place when meeting fellow travellers. On the other hand, one of the difficulties I have had when travelling alone was not feeling comfortable with striking up conversations with strangers. Oddly enough, I now find it much easier and often (but not always) rather rewarding to engage in conversations when I am on my own and sometimes even when we are together. We have learned from each other and have found a fairly comfortable balance on this issue.

There are benefits to both ways of travel but the more personally transforming has been my solo travel. Here are the three most important reasons for saying this:

  • Freedom – This has to be the best bonus to travelling alone especially as a married woman. I get to do whatever I want. This may sound selfish to some, but I have learned that until I take care of my needs first, I can’t be of any real use to others. Travelling solo has helped me realize this. For five months out of a year, I can happily relinquish my duties as chief cook and bottle washer, cleaning lady, and yard maintenance woman. I can choose to eat when, where, and what I want. No matter what I do I have only myself to answer to. Fortunately, Hubby feels the same way about this so has no problem letting me go off to do ‘my thing’ while he does ‘his thing’ in Florence, Italy. He feels very at home in Florence having spent a significant part of his early years there enhancing his singing career and immersing himself in the Italian culture which he loves. For the winter months I prefer and feel totally comfortable in the warm climate of Thailand and other SE Asian countries so have headed in that direction. This pattern has evolved over these past eight years and seems to suit our independent personalities for now.
  • Self Growth – Like so many women of my generation, who have struggled with the fear of doing something different which is more in tune with our true nature and not what others or society thinks we should do, I have solo travel to thank for helping me the most. Although a daunting venture at first when I made my first solo trip to India and Nepal three years ago, it was thee I had to overcome my fear. When I look back on this trip it was certainly the most stressful one I have ever taken but probably the one where I learned the most. While there, for some inexplicable reason, I felt a protective presence around me reassuring me that I was not alone. My posts “Incredible India” and “Adventures in Nepal” can fill you in on the details of that trip. Always interested in self-growth, I have participated in many workshops and seminars, as well as teaching courses on the topic, but none of this succeeded in increasing my confidence to the level that travelling solo has done. When on my own, all my focus is on being responsible to myself and not my classmates, students, or my husband. What better way is there to conquer fear and become more confident than by simply taking the plunge and doing it.? It’s much like learning to swim!
  • Doing what I love – My love for travel was sparked in my pre-teen years while reading the Vicki Barr books (Vicki was an airline stewardess) and the smattering of geography I received in school. In my early 20’s, I back packed to Europe for nearly a year with a few girlfriends. At that time, I would never have dreamed of doing it on my own as so many young women are doing today. Now in my senior years, I have rediscovered not only my love of travel and all the personal benefits that come with it, but also the enjoyment I receive from writing about it all. Travelling solo got me started in earnest with the writing and now allows me to do more than if I were with Hubby.

Of course, there are some cons for solo travel and they are

  • Loneliness – The battle of learning how to deal with loneliness which most likely will appear at the end of the day when you go out for dinner or come back to your room wanting to share your day with someone. At first, I experienced many days in succession living like this, but with my increased confidence in ‘breaking the ice’ and starting up conversations with fellow travellers and locals, the problem is waning. For me, it’s been a challenge to ask for help not only because I don’t speak the same language, but also in simply overcoming any feelings of pride and admitting I need the help. While travelling with Hubby in Morocco, I really began to appreciate his ease at speaking French which is widely spoken throughout the country and his asking directions which can be annoying but also helpful – at times!
  • Expense – As you would expect, it can be more expensive to travel solo especially for accommodations and moving around. In most countries a single person will pay the same rate for a decent size room as a couple. Some places will have a small single sized room or you can opt for a dormitory style guest house, but if you are looking for something for a long-term stay as I do when in Thailand, there is no choice except for a double room at double the price. In most cities, I have to pay full fare for taxis, tuk tuks, or whatever mode of transportation is offered. The one exception is the songtaew in Chiang Mai which operates like a bus with one fare per person.

I have discovered that the pros for travelling with a spouse are actually the cons for travelling alone. They are

  • Banishes loneliness – Having Hubby with me certainly eliminates any kind of loneliness. I always have a dinner companion and someone to bounce ideas off when making decisions on where to go and arranging transportation to get from one place to another. Two heads are sometimes better than one! It’s also somewhat comforting to be able to pass the reins of responsibility over  to him so I can have a break from having to do it all myself.
  • Easier – There are some countries which are more stressful for female travellers than others. Thailand and SE Asia, for example, are relatively safe and easy. There certainly is little hassle from the male population. India and Morocco, on the other hand, can be somewhat problematic for women if they aren’t prepared for it. I was certainly stressed out once I had finished travelling to Delhi and the Taj Mahal in India, and probably would have found Morocco more challenging if I hadn’t had Hubby to speak French to the pushy cab drivers.
  • Less expensive – More choice and less cost for accommodations is definitely a plus when sharing a room with someone. Also as I mentioned above, you can cut your taxi fares in half, and sometimes reduce your food costs if you can agree on sharing certain dishes which would be far too large for one person. Unfortunately, Hubby and I have never been able to agree on this one. Not liking the idea of sharing, he would rather eat the whole thing whether he needs it or not.
  • Meet more people – Yes, I have to admit when I am with Hubby I do meet more people and especially young Europeans and locals. We met many from both groups while in Morocco this year – all were wise beyond their years and absolutely refreshing to talk to. It amazes me that they even want to spend time with us older folk but they do. Perhaps it’s because we both tend to be younger of heart and so can relate to them sometimes better than the older travellers.

Finally, the cons for travelling with Hubby are almost opposite to the pros for solo travel, and they are

  • Less freedom – Naturally, I don’t have the same kind of freedom I have when on my own. To achieve a little space from each other, we will often take a day to go off on our own to pursue our individual interests. This gives us a much-needed break so that when we get back together again, we are more open to compromising with each other.
  • Learn less – Because I don’t have to do all the planning or organizing or deal with other minor nuisances that come with travel in foreign countries, I tend to leave much up to him when we get together. As I already stated, although I have a nice break from these responsibilities, somehow I don’t feel as connected or learn as much as I do when on my own. I admit I become complacent!
  • Need for patience – Travelling with someone else also calls for oodles of patience and flexibility. As we get older, we are getting better at it. I am conscious of being more patient with him when he stops to talk, or when he takes forever to prepare for a day’s outing, or when simply walking along the street. He calls me the ‘energizer bunny’ but I think he goes too slow. Not surprising there has to be lots of ‘give and take’ around this. In all honesty, can I actually call this a con when it has helped me to be more patient and flexible, the two qualities of which I’ve not been overly endowed?  Yes, there can be growth of a different kind when travelling with someone like Hubby.

I have concluded that for me it’s almost a draw when it comes to determining which mode of travel is better. There are definitely pluses and minuses for both. Of course, it helps when the person you are travelling with is your spouse because really who else do you know so well? A best friend can work if you know each other’s needs and personality quirks. I happen to like both modes of travel, but if for long periods of time or in more challenging countries, I would definitely prefer to have someone with me. That said, I do feel that I have been very lucky to have both ways at my disposal for as long as we can both travel. The question that remains is whether I could handle travelling completely on my own if ever circumstances should put me into such a dilemma?

 

This gallery of pictures is of our trip three years ago to Viet Nam where we mostly travelled together but did take a two-day break from each other. We were in Hanoi where I had visited the previous year on my own so he wanted time to explore and test out the new opera house there. I wanted to go further north to visit the Hilltribe village of Sapa. So we separated and joined up for a final trip together to Halong Bay.

Nepal – Lest We Forget

The Annapurna Massif - part of the Himalaya range.

The Annapurna Massif – part of the Himalaya range.

Isn’t it strange how events come about in our lives? Is it happen stance or is it destiny? There is no doubt in my mind that it’s the latter.

The seed which would grow into my visit to Nepal two years ago was planted as far back as the year of 1970 when my girl friend and I were back-packing around Europe. We kept running into other back- packers who were returning home to the US and Canada from India and Nepal. We were enamoured by their stories of Kathmandu and the vibrant scene of the ‘hippy’ life they had either experienced or witnessed there. It was a whole new world I had not even heard of opening up before my eyes. How naive I was! Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, we never got there since we were running out of money, or perhaps that was the excuse because down deep we were really afraid to test such unknown waters.

When the same girl friend and I were having one of our yearly meet-ups at her house three years ago, the subject of us travelling together to India came up again for the umpteenth time. For me, that seed was obviously still there and about to germinate because I could feel the excitement bubbling up within me. It was time to make this journey! I was going to go even if I had to do it solo! Long ago my husband told me there was no way he was ever going to India. My friend was mildly interested and thought that adding on Nepal would be an extra bonus for her if she went. I agreed so began to incorporate that possibility into my travel plans. As it turned out, my friend took ill and never did accompany me. It simply wasn’t a part of her destiny as it was for me. I set off to fulfil my dream of travelling to both India and Nepal in just over a month. Thank you my dear friend for igniting the fire. You can read about my visit to India in my post entitled “Incredible India” and about Nepal in ” My Adventures in Nepal”.

When I heard of the devastating earthquakes that hit Nepal in late April, I was doubly grateful for having had the privilege to visit this fascinating country when I did. On the other hand, I was so saddened to think about what this beautiful country with its abundance of temples and spirituality had lost. A quake of 7.8 magnitude followed by another at 7.3 seventeen days later has had a devastating effect on the country. Over 8,000 souls taken with thousands left homeless, many of their sacred temples toppled or shaken to their foundations, and an almost fatally wounded tourist industry has left the country reeling. Fortunately much relief has poured in from India, China and other wealthy countries, but with ongoing tremors, a traumatized populace, and a government with an unenviable record of instability and ineptitude, the recovery will be long and probably painful.

According to the latest reports coming out of the country via the media the future is looking a bit brighter than originally anticipated. The government is at long last stepping up to the plate by focussing on raising funds for rebuilding. They are seriously taking the need to rebuild more responsibly something which should have been done years ago since they have been warned about huge earthquakes coming for over fifty years. Moreover, after much squabbling over a new constitution for democracy for the past ten years, they are now about to draw up a long-awaited new one. Yes, it often does take a disaster to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

Tourism is a major industry for Nepal because of the Himalayan Mountains and the trekking that they offer, as well as the spiritual history of the country with its numerous designated heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley. In fact, tourism provides 40 per cent of its gross national product. Needless to say, the government is anxious to lure the tourists back so have been working tirelessly to reconstruct the least damaged sites which fortunately happen to be those most visited, such as the main Durbar Squares in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. There is some doubt that they are meeting the safety standards required so tourists are still being very cautious about returning. The latest report is that many of the sites are offering free WiFi so tourists can upload pictures to send to the rest of the world. Pretty clever marketing, I would say. To sweeten the pot, they have also commissioned many big name stars to come and put on performances to raise much-needed reconstruction money.

In other areas of the country, many of the more remote villages are still reportedly cut off from the outside world. These would be the areas where total villages were wiped out. Another surprising bit of information passed on by the geologists and scientists who have been studying the effects of the quake on Mt. Everest is their discovery that it has actually shifted southward about 1.2 inches. Surprisingly, Pokorha, the second largest city in Nepal and one of the prettiest due to its location on Lake Phewa with the snow-capped peaks of the Annapurna Range towering over it, suffered no damage at all. However, it is suffering an almost total lack of tourists with a 95 per cent vacancy rate.

At this time, Nepal is still feeling tremors around the country which isn’t doing much to help calm the Nepalese nerves. They are also having to deal with mud slides due to the heavy rains. However, this country has endured much discomfort over the years beginning with the abolishment of their monarchy, their subsequent search for stability and freedom from a patriarchal caste system, corruption, constant power outages, and the threat of earthquakes. Their spirits are strong which will stand them in good stead as they slowly move forward to resurrecting their country from this latest disaster. In fact, with a new constitution in place, a Prime Minister who appears to be taking a strong position of leading his country out of the aftermath, and through the generous contributions from around the world, Nepal will survive and tourists will once again be eager to return.