You and The World: The Apex of Solo Travel

You and The World: The Apex of Solo Travel

The freedom and adventure of solitary travel, and the feelings that come with it. Travelling alone can be terrifying and liberating – or both at the same time – but surely, it will be an extraordinary adventure.

The notion of solitary travel appears inconceivable to some, for reasons many can relate to — the hidden dangers that lurk in dark, murky corners; the stigma of loneliness; the need for mutual support.

Having someone by your side allows you to approach uncertainties that is the unexplored world with greater confidence; lingering doubts banished, thrown into the wind. While it is certainly no sin to travel accompanied, there comes a time when you cede control to naïve adventurousness, pack your bags, and set off for the first country on the map your coin lands on, alone.

Imagine touching down at an airport — you find yourself lost in a sea of bodies gathered around a rhizome of conveyor belts, arms folded, waiting in anticipation to retrieve their luggage. There is no other luggage to look out for but yours. Out into the arrival hall, more people flock to greet their friends and family. You feel like a freshman at a frat party, like all eyes are on you, but truth be told, no one pays attention; you are just another page of an endless book, writing your name onto the places you will be at. You almost turn your head to get a consensus on the next course of action. Of course, no one is with you.

The freedom is both terrifying and liberating at the same time; you get a creeping realisation that you are all by yourself, and with it, the unmistakable thrill of being unshackled from second opinions and the chore of having to please everyone.

You straighten up and head towards the metro with a zip in your step.

Imagine you are on a locomotive train that is chugging along the outskirts of a rainforest. It is late afternoon, and the train is filled like a sardine can with grandmothers, housewives, and their children. They are anxious to return to their rural homes after a long day at the town’s marketplace. Good fortune finds you, and you are seated by the window. The sun beats down, and it feels like a furnace in the non-air-conditioned carriage. You struggle to take in every scene, hoping to recount your journey on pen and paper. A housewife sits beside you with her three children who give you inquisitive looks, wondering what an outsider is doing in the uglier part of the country. The mother, sensing your loneliness and vulnerability, graciously offers a pear that she had earlier purchased from a vendor by the train station. You smile and gratefully accept. She asks you what you are doing there, and where you are from, and in return, you learn that she is a teacher in a local makeshift elementary school.  On it goes, and her willingness to share her world touches you. It is a language you barely understand, but you find yourself absorbed in the conversation. You initially project a short paragraph, but in the space of an hour, another story emerges.

Imagine yourself at a backpackers’ inn. It is no 5-star hotel, but money cannot buy camaraderie; you find yourself trading stories with fellow travellers. Laughs are traded, tears are shed, and hearts are set alight. With each story, you feel emboldened to take on the journey that awaits you in the morning. A tinge of longing sets upon you, and you are slightly dismayed at the fact that everyone in your bunk will branch off in separate paths, but this all adds to the mysticism of solitary travel, does it not — to encounter the different characters from all walks of life, and to let them go, out of sight from your personal life; to be known and unknown. True enough, no one asks to keep in touch, having long accepted the temporal nature of travel. You will miss them, but like the encounter in the train, you are grateful for the fateful meeting, and sometimes, you wonder where these people are at this very moment.

Image credit: MindsEye_PJ

Paul Theroux’s journey by train from Massachusetts to Patagonia, the southernmost point of South America, was punctuated with temporary encounters, but he mostly travelled alone. It was often during those solitary moments when he was able to reflect on his extraordinary journey, and his muses, which are sources of travel inspiration, can be found in his book, The Old Patagonian Express.

Nearing the end of his journey, he wrote, “If one of the objects of travel was to give yourself the explorer’s thrill that you were alone, that after fifty or twenty thousand miles you had outrun everyone else and were embarked on a solitary mission of discovery in a remote place, then I had accomplished the traveller’s dream.”          

About Author

Benjamin Tan
Benjamin Tan

As a nomad, Benjamin believes his place in the world is not determined by the borders of one country, but by wherever the sweet nectar of exploration tickles his nose. He continually hones his writing in the hopes that his documentation of his journeys can do the beauty of what he witnesses some justice.


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