I am a solo traveler. Not to say that I don’t occasionally enjoy a girlfriends get-away or a romantic escape, but that’s a different kind of travel. Then the main event is the company, with the destination merely a backdrop and any outsider the supporting cast. When it comes to adventure travel, make mine solo please.
It doesn’t mean going it alone. Tourists are everywhere, including the furthest reaches of the planet. Wherever I choose to go, I can be reasonably sure that I will meet someone who has also gone through the effort of getting there, an indication that we will share at least some common ground. And wherever tourists go, there are sure to be locals who within the framework of their culture and resources are prepared to make them welcome.
Traveling on my own enables me to focus on all that unfolds around me in the moment, without the filter of sharing impressions with companions or having to factor in their needs. It makes it easier for me to connect with the people I met along the way. And they are more likely initiate contact without feeling they are intruding. To them I am the interesting oddity who came all the way from a world that is as foreign to them as theirs is to me.
I was barely in my teens when I had my first taste of solo travel: a two-weeks visit in the family of my German exchange student. I immediately became the center of attention, the visiting Parisian. My friend took me on daily outings around Cologne, to monuments, museums and the hip shopping areas. Her mother showered me with kindness and made sure I tasted all the local specialties, including the seven-layer cake topped with whipped cream at the poshest tearoom it town. Her girlfriends were interested in my clothes, and their brothers were… just interested. Never mind that back home there were entire schools filled with the likes of me, here I was unique. I felt like visiting royalty. Solo travel was definitely the way to go.
Throughout my traveling life, it never failed to deliver unexpected perks. I once struck a conversation on a train from Milan to Venice with a lovely woman who then called my hotel the next day to invite me to tea. Her apartment turned out to be the piano nobile (noble floor) of her ancestral palazzo, at the end of a street that bore her family’s name. An invitation to a Venetian’s home is a rare privilege, to enter a private Palazzo an even rarer one. I would never have had this opportunity had I not been traveling alone.
In Chiang Mai, the historic city in the mountains of Northern Thailand, the manager of my hotel invited me to join her on a visit to the nearby Buddhist temple. She gave me a crash course on the rituals involved that allowed me not only to observe but also to participate in the daily offering of food her property made to the monks.
The most “alone” I’ve ever been on a trip was in Katavi, in the farthest southwest corner of Tanzania, where I happened to be the only visitor at the remote Katavi Wildlife Camp. There were four dedicated staff members eager to anticipate my wishes. The rich floodplain was teaming with game. Alone with my guide in the open-sided land cruiser in the infinite wilderness of the African bush, I experienced my most unique game drives ever. Then the young Oxford-educated British camp-manager joined me for dinner on veranda, and stimulating conversations interspersed with long pauses to contemplate the diamond-studded night sky and listen to the raucous silence of the bush.
In recent years (perhaps an additional perk brought about by gray hair?) I occasionally find myself “adopted” by fellow tourists the age of my own children. They see to it that we are on the same vehicle of game drives or river excursions. They invite me to share their table at meals. Invariably, after a time I always get the same questions. “Do you often travel alone?” Every chance I get. “Aren’t you, afraid?” Not a bit, I meet the nicest people on these journeys… More often than not, one of them will exclaim “I wish my mother would do this!”
For me the treasured memories of solo travels are as many as the trips I took. If you are an occasional or dedicated solo traveler, or if you are just considering it, or not, please share your thoughts.