That alley looks awfully deserted and dirty. It’s the “uh-oh” feeling you get when you’re travelling alone, you turn a corner, and you’ve managed to get yourself lost; almost like a sixth sense you just know this is not the place to be right now. You’re in an unfamiliar city, thousands of miles from home and your support system of family and friends, and you can’t speak a word of Malay. So in a matter of moments you make the decision that the temple on the other end of that alley just isn’t worth it.Up until I lost my partner and travel companion of nearly thirty years to an untimely and unexpected death I had never really travelled alone. It frightened me think that maybe my travel days were over too after having lost so much else. They say you can run, but you can’t hide. But I proved whoever “they” are “they” are wrong. I did both. Alone.
Ray and I shared a life-long dream: spending several months travelling the world. Unfortunately we did not get the opportunity to do that together, at least not in the form that we had imagined. After his death I found that I had an even stronger urge to fulfill this dream. I wanted to go on a seven month journey that would take me completely around the world. His ashes were going with me and he was going to be left behind in some of the most beautiful and awe inspiring places on the planet.
But, since I’d never travelled by myself, I was reluctant to take on such a proposition not knowing whether I would absolutely hate it and be utterly miserable. I thought maybe a trial run to a comfortable and familiar destination would be a good idea. I chose a week in London and discovered that travelling alone, while not always the best way to go, was certainly still very rewarding. I was convinced my RTW trip was the right thing to do.
One of the things I learned during that seven-month trip was there is a clear and distinct difference between being lonely vs. being alone. I was desperately lonely rambling around our house after he died and it was a very different feeling from being alone in Singapore. One of the things I missed immediately was the extra pair of eyes available to you. When you’re in a new environment there is comfort in knowing that someone else is helping you watch your surroundings and will warn you when they see something awry that you’re missing. For this reason I sometimes think that when travelling with a partner you’re often more agreeable to taking bigger risks and sometimes reap greater rewards.Also, if you’re lucky, your travel partner will have complementary strengths. In my case, Ray was the best travel planner I’d ever hope for. He had a knack of creating an itinerary that was thoughtful and fun. I was better at executing the plan; making the travel arrangements, booking hotels, etc. When you’re alone you have to do both and you worry and stress over it more since you’re afraid you’re missing something major. In the same vein, I am better at spontaneity. These quick, radical, spur of the moment decisions can often lead to memories that will last a lifetime.
I now love travelling alone. I like making my own schedule, going at my own pace, seeing only things that interest me, and sometimes (okay, often) just sitting in a crowded plaza and watching. There are definite upsides to having a travel partner, dinner conversation being one of them. I wouldn’t hesitate to take off for South Africa and Botswana on safari alone. However I’d find it just as enjoyable to share it with someone just as long as they understood that my need to get away, to explore on my own is not an indication of how little I like their company.
Meet me at the pub at 17:30…we’ll compare notes.