Traveling alone

A long chat with Hari on the phone yesterday. He is an intrepid traveler, with whom I made my most memorable trip ever – the one to Bhutan – and also a worthy model to emulate in the sphere of travel writing. His expeditions are chronicled here.

I’m one day away from making my first jaunt abroad, truly alone. Yes, there have been several occasions when I have flown alone to a different country, but there’s always someone there whom I know and with whom I work the tourist trappings or trek or cycle or explore. This time I fly in alone, fly out alone, and stay all by myself in Denmark. I was wondering what the experience would be like, and I asked Hari what he thought.

Hari was emphatic that traveling alone was the best way to travel – the only way to travel. Traveling in twos, he said, was grudgingly acceptable. But the real traveler traveled alone.

The biggest advantage, he said, was that you can completely do your own thing when you travel. Each place that you visit is already imbued by something in your head that you know about it, and there is already a romantic ideal of the place you are going to before you so much as set foot on it. No need to share this with anyone else when you travel alone, and no need to share in anyone else’s, either. You are free to make your destination the place of your dreams, to reinforce stereotypes, to come back with a sense that the trip was everything you dreamed it would be, only more real.

So you plan your itinerary with fierce selfishness: going only to the places that catch your fancy, and feeling completely free to discard all of the “Patel-snap” places from your itinerary.

The second advantage, in Hari’s opinion, is that it is simply a lot more efficient to travel alone. Food, especially, is a much more speedy affair when you don’t have to gather in groups of 6 and reach consensus on the place to go to and what to order. Hari told me that when he travels by himself, almost all his meals are typically street food. I’ve never tried that before: I certainly should.

That said, I must admit that my own efficiency is often highest when I am in the company of others. So perhaps what applied to him may not necessarily be true for me. Perhaps jet lag will help me wake up early enough to catch enough of Copenhagen by morning light!

And the third advantage, he said, and this, he emphasized, is possibly the most memorable, is that when you travel alone, perforce, you make a lot more local friends. Sitting by yourself in a train or a bus, you strike up a conversation, and head where it leads you. Going to a bar, you chat up the people having a good time, and more often than not, you’re part of the good time yourself.

Making new friends, savoring new experiences, living the dream: that’s what we travel for. And I’m looking forward to see whether solo traveling appeals to me as much as it does to my footloose cousin.

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