I always say that the hardest part of traveling alone is ‘getting on the plane.’
That was certainly the case for me at the beginning of last year, and after working with a travel company since then and dealing with thousands of folk whom, for the most part, travel alone that seems to be the case for them too.
I think when you realize that you’re not just going from Scotland to France, or New York to LA there’s a different dynamic than that of traveling from one continent to another. The reason for which seems to be is that you’re traveling to a completely different way of life. In every regard. There’s very few parallels can be correlated between the way life is at home to where you’re headed to. In most western countries, if not all, we enjoy the comfort and security of well established societies. If something were to go wrong we’re normally protected by the institutions that we’ve been fortunate enough to collectively build over the years.
Everyone will have a preconceived idea of what it will be like when traveling alone, and then we arrive and are immediately proven wrong. Oops! I had no idea when I arrived in Southeast Asia that I would meet the friendliest, most welcoming and kind-hearted people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. You could put that down to naivety or ignorance but whichever way you slice it the final line is that I had built up a place in my mind before I even arrived.
If you’re thinking salt, expect sugar.
Journeying into the unknown is always an anxious endeavour. This is true to interviews, new jobs, a wealth of other things, including travel.
We always hear that saying ‘it’s normal to feel nervous about…’ whenever the appropriate situation arises. Travel is a really big step to take. You’re leaving everything you’re used to and heading to everything you’re not. If you look at it from that perspective it’s totally daunting. I remember when I was taking the step from primary school to secondary school and thinking that all the older kids were going to beat the shit out of me – an urban legend I’d heard called ‘the treatment.’ All the other kids thought it was hysterical but I was absolutely terrified, thinking it was true. I say this as an example of heading into the unknown and building up an idea of a place or thing before you’re even there. To then realise how wrong you’d got it.
One of the greatest things about travel, especially if you’re doing it for a significant period of time is that you’ll reset your traditions. You’ll be away from your friends and family and that will afford you the luxury of being able to do what you want, all the time. Every decision you make is for the benefit of yourself alone. This will find you either doing stuff you’ve always wanted to do, but were never able to or doing the same things but in different crowds.
Conventions are flipped on their head.
As the years go by and you grow up there are certain norms that you come to realise. Normally the passenger flags down the taxi, but in Southeast Asia the taxis, or ‘tuk tuks’ flag down you. I think if taxi drivers in the U.K exercised the tenacious salesmanship that is evident in Southeast Asia they’d make a fortune! One of my colleagues and I once thought up a drinking game called ‘tuk tuk tequila’ where you’d take a bottle of unopened tequila and walk down Siem Reap’s ‘Pub Street’, each time you were asked if you wanted a ‘tuk tuk’ you would each take a shot.
In the time I had since been in Siem Reap we realised what a terribly conceived idea that would be and never attempted to try it. The bottle wouldn’t last 30 seconds. As much as we both loved tequila, we weren’t too taken by the notion of crawling through Pub Street. Although there has been times when that has happened. Yes, time(s) – plural. If you ever attempt a round of ‘tuk tuk tequila’ and inevitably find yourself crawling along the road… we can take no responsibility for any injuries or embarrassment that will no doubt find it’s way into one of your friends Facebook or Instagrams.
Bonus anecdote – I once seen cigarettes on a rack beside cough syrup… in a pharmacy.
You’ll gain a few.
The diet decorum will be annihilated when you travel. Especially in Southeast Asia. The street food situation is arguably at its finest in these lands. When I think back to the mess I used to make in my kitchen back in Scotland when only making a sandwich. I might be the only man in the world that needs to wash five pots after making one sandwich.
The street food vendors here have got it down though. They’re able to prepare three orders simultaneously and keep their stalls pristine. It’s really quite impressive. It’s like when you’re walking by a takeaway and you smell the food and are instantly hungry, the difference being that with street food you don’t just smell the food – you see it too. :p
Food 1 – Traveler 0.
Understanding how small the world really is.
This is the winner as far as I’m concerned. When you combine traveling with working for a travel company you meet folk literally from all over the world. You wouldn’t normally think if you placed someone from a remote town in Southern Australia and again a person (me) from a tiny little village in Scotland and expect them both to find a friend in common. This friend wasn’t from Scotland nor Australia. In fact this friend was from a town in Hungary – no sh*t!
We were only sat together for maybe an hour or so, and within that hour we were able to reach the topic about Hungary – that universal go-to topic of conversation. You often meet mutual connections but this one just felt too bizarre to be coincidental. Small talk was never something I enjoyed all that much, probably down to the fact that I worked in an office before that was accessed by an elevator and every morning having to suffer through the most tried utterances of ‘small talk’ conceivable. I’ve logged far too many hours trapped in a rising box discussing ‘the weather.’ Hypocritically I moan about the weather all the time out here – Scottish people aren’t at one with the sun. Especially if that Scottish person is also part-ginger.
It’s different when you’re traveling because there’s so much happening around you that you’re unfamiliar with, it’s impossible not to get enthralled in really deep and interesting conversations. This was the case when I met this person from Southern Australia and we got to talking about traveling around Europe. We reached discussing a UNESCO heritage site in a town called Hóllóko which is a very small provincial town that the majority of folk have never even heard about. Travel afforded me the opportunity to find someone to chat with and we both, in the most mind-blowing way, were able to find a mutual connection from that tiny little town in Eastern Europe. The world truly is a small place, and it’s all out there waiting to be seen. Travel can be planned or it can be a surprising turn of events that sees you hot-footing across this amazing world before you even realized you were going to.
But most of all, you’ll love the sh*t out of it.