I think we all have an internal opinion and perception of what sort of traveler we are. This sometimes runs contrary to reality. I like to think I’m an outgoing, easy to get on with, up for anything adventurer. From time to time I take time to do a reality check though. I have come to notice I’m not always living up to my internal narrative. Yes I get annoyed when a backpacker takes it upon himself to bust out the ukulele and appoint himself master of ceremonies (you know who I’m talking about). What happened to easy going there? I rock up at a hostel and proceed to talk to nobody and wait for somebody to invite me to have a drink with the group. I thought I was outgoing?
The hard part of the self awareness is that the bliss of ignorance melts away. I found with a little more introspection, I was able to improve every subsequent holiday and adventure I went on, because I was able to better cater to my true strengths and weaknesses, and build on both. At the time when I identified as an outgoing traveler, I realised at the time I was always in the safety of traveling with friends. They were my fallback. Striking out on your own to the bar is a whole different ballgame. Your choices are posting up at the bar and hoping someone thinks you’re a bit of alright and strikes up a conversation. It has success, but not the most foolproof plan. I will remind this is from the male perspective. The other option is you remain fixated on your phone and keep up to date on what all your friends are doing on Facebook on the other side of the world. Lately I’m coming down quite hard on this head down scrolling of Facebook (or similar Social media), this practice closes so many people off from what’s going on around them and the true value of travel is much more difficult to realise. I’ve done it myself and I’m unhappy with the image I project to the world. Sure you can tell everyone back home how much fun you’re having, or you could actually have the fun, and well, have more of it! In this piece, I encourage you to do some reflection and be honest with yourself about what sort of traveler you are.
For the established solo traveler, the below commentary will leave you nodding and saying “I know this already, geez.” I want all the tour group and the people that can’t move without an entourage to pay close attention. Only in the last 3 years have I embraced this type of travel. Before then, it was traveling with friends of varying numbers, to destinations not chosen by myself. Only after testing the waters with solo travel did I realise just what I was missing out on! You travel where you want, leave when you want, and if anything or anyone is not to taste, you move on or simply do something different. Simple, yes. Effective, certainly. I won’t lie and say it’s easy solo traveling. It’s an adventure for sure. You have to be comfortable putting yourself out there and being open to opportunity and spontaneity. Once you give yourself over to this, there are no limits. The key, just say “hello.” That’s it. This freedom is truly liberating and I believe it has contributing to me growing as person. It teaches you to think for yourself and solve your own problems. You don’t rely on others to help formulate plans or solutions, you have only yourself. You either rise to the occasion or you’re calling your friends and family to get you out of a jam.
There’s going to be times when you’re not in the mood to hang out and interact with other travelers. We all feel this way at some point, especially when you’ve just come off a 10 hour flight after a 5 hour layover and the airline lost one of your pieces of luggage. We just want to sit in our own bubble, headphones in and eyes averted. It’s important to take time to recharge and get those energy levels back up to adventure ready. I know there will be the extrovert personalities that are in go mode no matter what, and I am envious to a certain degree. I know once I make the a little effort, the momentum it creates is extraordinary and next thing you know you’re traveling with your new best friends to somewhere unexpected for an unplanned and welcome adventure. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many times this has taken me on wild exciting escapades, Thai ping pong and shows swimming with manta rays in Indonesia notwithstanding.
One thing I have noticed with solo travel is the long term friendship it forges. There is the uniqueness of shared experience that forges a bond like no other. Years later I am still in contact with people I have traveled with and the spare space on floors and couches is continually growing. What sort of friendships and relationships have you developed when traveling at home and abroad?
Group and Tour Traveler
I spent the first 5 years of my travel getting around with friends, and on one occasion as part of a multi-country tour. I loved traveling with my friends and having all the shared experiences that went with it. Nevermind the perks of getting cheaper accommodation and transport because of the number of people contributing. It was great to get an apartment and have my own bedroom when snowboarding in Niseko, Japan for 3 weeks. This comes with a kitchen and bathroom with closed doors. I later went on a solo trip to Hakuba, Japan for another snow trip. This time there wasn’t anyone to come with so it was two weeks in shared accommodation, shared facilities and no shower curtains. I preferred the comfort of the apartment to be sure! I had my friends around me all the time, at least a couple of them always had interests that aligned with mine on any given day, and there was always someone to crack a beer or sip sake with. Please ensure you make the effort not to drink cooking sake, as seen below.
I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older, it much harder to get all your friends in one place, let alone set off on an overseas adventure together. People grow up, have families, have increased responsibilities and financial constraints. Depending on your type of friend group this may not be much of an issue. I have some friends who have been able to travel in packs of all their best mates and couples each and every year to amazing destinations, and they’re still going strong to this day. At times I am extremely envious of this. It makes me think to all the past trips and the fun I had with my friends. I absolutely love the bonds these shared experiences create. Let’s say you enjoy traveling in groups and all of your friends are unavailable to join you for any number of reasons. You aren’t quite ready to strike out on your own, but you are craving that holiday to blow off some steam and reset. You might be under some time constraints and just want everything to run smoothly while you’re abroad. Tour travel sounds like it is right up your alley. A schedule is arranged, transport is organised for you, activities are planned, and you instantly have a group of people around you who are (hopefully) in the same adventurous mindset. Et voila!
I took this route when I wanted to cover a lot of ground in a number of unfamiliar countries, and I was on a strict time schedule. I didn’t want to waste time figuring out transit options and potentially miss out on some of the places I wanted to see. A pre-arranged itinerary and associated transfers sounded like the perfect solution. I would travel to all the places I wanted to visit and I didn’t need to worry about how I was going to get there. There was a catch however. If you book into a tour by yourself, you generally don’t pick the other travelers that book the same tour. Hey, you might strike it lucky. You might tour with 15 of your new BFF’s. Or you might not. This is the gamble you take for the sake of convenience. To be confined for 2 weeks with the same 15 people who complained about anything and everything, from the weather to the quality of their hotel rooms, was something that is best forgotten. I was tempted to up and leave the group. To put this in context, this was a tour from Vietnam, through Cambodia and into Thailand. If you’ve ever been to South East Asia, you know it is always hot/wet and hot and wet all at once. That, and you get what you’re given. There’s no aircon in your room. Too bad. The bed has rogue springs and mysterious stains on the sheets. Too bad. The power comes and goes as it pleases. TOO BAD. Don’t get me wrong, I saw and did some amazing things, but I had to organise them myself. My tour guide was amazing and he went out of his way to put me in touch with his local friends. This was when the real adventure was had. I’ll skip the group dinner thanks, I’m just out firing an M60 machine and having homemade rice vodka out of a cut in half water bottle at the local army base after a few wrong turns in the tuk tuk.
Some friends of mine who have done very little traveling, loved their tour group. I was extremely happy for them as they had been looking forward to this trip for years. I dug a little deeper about their overseas experience (as I love hearing about places I’ve never been) and on the surface they remained stoked about the trip. But only after some follow up questions did they bring up the confinement they experienced being in tour group. Did they love the trip, yes. Did they get tired of being around the same random people for weeks on end? Definitely. Would they do a tour again? Probably not. If anything, they were encouraged and inspired to venture out on their own, to blaze their own trails across countries and borders. To say I was even happier for them is an major understatement. I could see the fire that had been ignited in them, mirroring what I had experienced years before, and I knew what fun and adventure travel had in store for them.
I’m not going to discuss cruises purely for the reason that I’m not 50 and over. I couldn’t think of anything worse than being stuck on a ship for weeks at a time, surrounded by a demographic that wants their every need and want catered for. This doesn’t align with present day me. I can’t speak for future me though, having a butler does sound nice…
There’s a lot of options for those venturing abroad. It’s only after you’ve had a chance to try your hand at a number of those options that you can really find out what works for you and what will give you the best experience on your holiday and/or adventure. I must say I’m glad I’ve tried out all the above because it’s allowed me to set myself up for having the most rewarding and fun experience possible. That’s not to mention identifying what really doesn’t work for you! There’s always fine tuning and constant learning which is half the fun, and discovering a new way to do things is incredibly rewarding. So take the time to try something different for a change. If you’re a tour traveler, book a holiday by yourself and check into a hostel when you get to your destination. If your life is solo yolo, see what a tour might offer you. There’s myriad options and your tour guide may just be the key to unlocking unknown potential at the next destination.
What traveler do you think you are? Do you think you’d be open to trying something different or are you happy with the your status quo? No matter what, keep traveling and keep having fun. That’s the point of it right?