Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Travelling Solo

My two months of travel throughout North America has changed me in all the typical ways you would expect travel to change someone. I had moments of bliss, of drunkenness, of confusion, of homesickness and of realisation. I grew incomparably over such a relatively small time frame and I owe that to the diverse experiences I had while travelling within America and Canada.

Laughing with Alex in front of Seinfeld's 'Tom's Restaurant' in New York City
I began my journey with my friend Alex and we spent a month together travelling from our base in Toronto to Niagara Falls, New York, Quebec City, Montreal and then back to Toronto so that Alex could return home to Melbourne and I could continue on to San Francisco solo. Despite two separate bouts of heat stroke as well as a few stressful times and sleepless nights we survived our trip unscathed with many great memories, photos and funny stories. We learnt things about each other that only spending four weeks straight with somebody will provide you and shared moments that nobody else will ever understand or appreciate in the same way. While this part of the trip benefited me immensely, it's the solo travel aspect that I've chosen to focus on for this first post on my return as it is the part that changed and bettered me the most.

Picture of the Toronto skyline from Planet Traveller hostel rooftop
Travelling alone is one of the most gratifying things you can do in life. While safety as a solo traveller seems to dominate online articles and guides about solo travel especially for women, there are so many other positive aspects of solo travel that merit discussion. As a solo traveller you become completely and exhilaratingly independent from the needs of others and as a result you're able to focus solely on yourself and what you want. No longer buoyed down by the needs of a second party all the travel decisions and mistakes are solely yours to make. While this does add pressure onto making the right decisions, it allows for a type of freedom that is unparalleled in terms of liberation and practicality. 

The Painted Ladies in San Francisco
When you have to rely only on yourself, I find that you start thinking more deeply and working your own mind harder instead of relying on others. As a result you become more sure of yourself and more capable of making independent decisions. When I was travelling I had to decide myself what was the best hostel to stay at, what time to leave for the airport or catch various methods of transport and how to get to certain areas via googlemaps. If I was lost I had nobody but myself (and helpful passersby) to help, and this made me think about things beforehand and what was the best way to do something. Being able to do this without constantly failing made me realise how capable I am as a person and has made me more confident in decisions I make in everyday life. 

Posing in the water in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco and hanging with Andy, a fellow traveller I met from Perth, Australia
When you travel solo the day is yours and only yours. Instead of having to compromise with your travel companion on how to spend that particular day, losing autonomy in the process, you can spend it completely as you wish. Whether that is spending it at a cafe, in bed recovering from the night prior, exploring the city or hanging with new friends you've met at the hostel you're staying at or any other meeting place. Life becomes so much more spontaneous, your day turning into something completely different from what you expected because you only have your own schedule to alter. You can choose how long you spend in a particular city and when you're ready to move on or if you want to stay longer you can do so without discussion or further thought. There is something so liberating about choosing when to leave a city whenever you feel like it, moving onto the next city seamlessly when you're ready and being completely immersed in another place so different from the last with only yourself to worry about. 

Cafe Santrapol in Montreal, one of my favourite places to relax alone or with friends while I stayed there
Converse to popular opinion, solo travel does not mean being alone for the entire trip. It means being free to meet people in each city you go too. Deciding each day and each moment if you want to be social or if you would prefer to be alone for that day. Friendships forged while solo traveling can lead to some really beautiful connections as you are all sharing a world that is so different from everyday reality and can bond easily over the many moments that define travelling in a foreign place. The people that I met from all these different countries and backgrounds reminded me of how interconnected the world is and how despite all our cultural differences and languages we are all so overwhelmingly similar.  

Going to Osheaga music festival in Montreal with new Canadian friends Kaede, Steph and Nicole who I met in my hostel dorm the day prior! Taken by another friend I met at the hostel Edar who was from Honduras in Central America
Travelling alone allows you to be who you want to be without conforming to preconceived notions of who you're meant to be. As a solo traveller you can truly be yourself even if you don't quite know who that is yet. You don't have anyone to disappoint or impress and that means you can be unapologetically yourself without any restrictions. This allows you to figure out who you are as a person without your friends and their beliefs of who you are influencing you and your own sense of self. Being alone with all different people made me realise how I want to and do naturally act when I don't care what people think of me, and this has had a substantial influence on how I see myself and how I act on return from my trip. I learnt that you have to be you. There is nobody else to be but you. Sometimes it just takes a solo escape from everyday life to realise it.