Why I Hate Traveling Solo

I have a secret that I’m a little ashamed to reveal: I hate traveling solo.

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I know that this is 2013 and I am a modern, capable woman, and I can do anything I want by myself without a man or anyone else by my side! Okay, okay, I am capable of traveling solo. In addition to a solo weekend jaunt to Ljubljana in the fall, I also spent five+ weeks in the spring exploring Southeast Asia on my own before hooking up with family for the last few weeks. I didn’t die, suffer any terrible accidents (aside from destroying my  right calf after I crashed my motorbike, the scars from which I still bear today), or even get sick. Probably because I went through three bottles of mozzie spray to ward off dengue fever. Yes, I am physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially capable enough to travel on my own.

Never forget. I know I can't.

Never forget. I know I can’t.

But you guys? I hated it. I don’t know if I have really explored this fully with anyone. It makes me feel a little embarassed to say that it was just something I hated doing. I don’t want to give off the impression that I hate traveling or hated Asia, because neither of which is true. I still have so many travel plans in my future – most immediately South America and hopefully the Balkans soon. I just hate doing it alone.

I’ve read all the treatises about how amazing solo travel is. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want. Eat when and where you want. Spend a day wandering in a museum or reading by a canal or just lying around doing nothing. Get up and go at a moment’s notice. Having once traveled in a group of five friends (which is way too many), I absolutely appreciate that it’s wonderful to not have to run your decisions past anyone else. You can be your own boss.

Top bummer of traveling solo: you have to take awkward selfies ALL THE TIME.

Top bummer of traveling solo: you have to take awkward selfies ALL THE TIME.

But now that I’ve spent so much time on my own, I’ve found it’s just not something I like doing. Besides the obvious benefits of traveling with another person (split costs, a bag-watcher when you go to the bathroom, another mind when you are too mentally drained to figure out logistics), I just like sharing things with others. My ideal travel partners have been family and friends who spend approximately 40% of their time with me exploring the city and the other 60% doing whatever, leaving me to wander alone. I love being able to spend whole afternoons exploring back alleys or reading in a coffee shop in a foreign city, meeting up with loved ones to share stories from our days over dinner. And so my future travel is going to be framed around visiting friends who live abroad or finding like-minded travel partners to come on a grand adventure with me.

Going on an adventure

And you know what? This life is too short to do something I hate just for the sake of appearance (this is also my reasoning behind not eating 100% healthy. It’s not like I WON’T die if I don’t eat that crepe, after all). And so I will continue to travel as often as I can, exactly as I like, and nobody can say a damn thing about it. Unless you want to travel with me, because if I do say so myself, I am an excellent travel buddy.

They can attest. One of my favorite traveling-with-friends trips.

They can attest. One of my favorite traveling-with-friends trips.

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Once more, dear friends.

I can scarcely believe it, but just over a month ago I was still tooling around England (P.S. I was just in London – did you know that?!), drinking about 15 cups of tea a day, enjoying a daily apple-n-peanut-butter, and and trying to keep those blasted kids out of trouble.

Almost immediately upon my return to the U.S., I felt like I had never left. I jumped into celebrating Christmas, New Year’s, and birthdays. I had an absolutely amazing, fantastic, incredible month, but now I go once more unto the breach.

I’ve already chewed over how nervous I am about this whole venture. I’m happy to say that I am now officially over that. Not to say that the fear isn’t still there, because it is – I woke up on Sunday feeling suddenly overwhelmed, anxious, and pretty nauseous (and may or may not have teared up in the shower a little bit. And sobbed on my mom’s bed later that day.).

But mostly, I’m kind of just annoyed that I have to wait to just get going already. It’s kind of like when you know you have to go get your wisdom teeth out or something. You know parts of it are gonna suck, but you just want to get it over with so you can be on the other side (enjoying the pain meds HEEYYOO).

And in the spirit of this very jumpy post, allow me to publicly discuss my GOALS for the next few months! Anyone who has met me for three minutes knows that I can’t just sit around twiddling my thumbs. I need something to work towards!! And so I shall make them public so you can feel free to hold me accountable.

The one that is not really feasible but would be nice if it could happen: I’ve decided to do the Couch to 5K. THAT’S RIGHT! Mama downloaded the app and everything. I appreciate that it dictates exactly how I have to do everything. Plus I think I can knock out 3 miles. I am an Amazon woman. I would really like to be able to kick it off while I’m traveling, but I’m not sure how realistic that is given the climate and what I’ll be up to. So, considering the training plan is about 2 months long, I’m going to say that I will run a 5K sometime between April and July. How’s that for non-committal?

The one that I really want to make work: I know I’m not going to be some awesome travel blogger who gets all this money from whatever, but I would like to use my blog to learn more about HTML. I would like to be able to use it as a resume booster and as something to tell employers when they ask what I’ve been up to since December. Anyone have a suggestion for a good resource?

The one that might not happen but would be awesome: I would also like to look into designing a mock study abroad app – not the technical infrastructure, just the design. I have a pretty snazzy idea and again, could be a good thing to brag about.

I also have all sorts of travel-related goals that basically boil down to “Don’t be such a wussy” and “Actually talk to other people, you misanthrope.” So we’ll see how that all works out.

Time to jump in, my friends! Next time we talk shall be from Bangkok.

image via bangkoksuccess.com

P.S. This is totally off-topic, but I was just thinking about how this time last year I was sitting in a cafe tucked away on a top floor of a random building in Istanbul, drinking salep and enjoying this view:

I was remembering this because I was sooo freaked out before I went to Turkey the first time, but fast forward a year and I’m completely content and pleased in this cafe. In memory of this I dove back into my FB timeline from last year and was reminded of what happened on my birthday – ALL that happened on my birthday:

Started the day stranded in a blizzard in Anatolia. Ended in AK Party HQ awkwardly walking three inches behind a Very Important Politician strolling down a hallway and shaking hands with admirers lining the hall. Now I get to party with Kevin McClure. WHAT UP.

I TOTALLY FORGOT about the random AK Party politician!!! God, that was awkward. AAAAND scene.

Listening to the Fear

So, I don’t know if this has been completely obvious, but I’m kind of a scaredy cat. I KNOW! MIND BLOWN!

The fear has been there all along, but as we are finally in 2013 the reality that I will soon be traipsing around a far-away land all by my lonesome cannot be pushed aside. There are plenty of things to fear – how will I figure out how to get from place to place? What if I get sick? What if I just spend day after day totally alone and eventually go crazy but NO ONE WILL KNOW because no one is talking to me?! Even if someone tries to talk to me, I’ll undoubtedly respond my dribbling some spittle out of my mouth because clearly I am unable to handle social situations! These are real problems, people.

Okay. Okay. I know, it’s gonna be fine. Everyone, stop freaking out.

The point is, I’m a little nervous. I realized that I was subconsciously using the same coping mechanism to think about this trip as I did when I had a terrible transition to college. Back then I used to tell myself to break down the experience into little bits – “Okay, so there are five months until summer. But really, it’s more like two weeks until you go home for spring break. Just gotta get through two weeks, which is easy!”

I’ve found myself thinking of my trip that way – sure, it’s THREE WHOLE MONTHS!! A third of a baby could grow in that time! Inconceivable. But really, it’s just six weeks – actually, more like five! – until Papa McCarthy joins me. Then he’s basically there for like a MONTH (okay, three weeks), then just another two (okay, three) weeks after that! Easy peasy.

I’ve previously discussed how I would really like to go back in time and tell my 18 year old self to relax, because everything works out okay. Even though I logically understand that all will be well (and I’ve done a fairly good job at pretending I’m a super-cool go-with-the-flow chick to people when talking about this trip), the fear is still there. So what am I hoping to get out of the next three months of my life? I’m mostly excited about the part where I look back and think, “I really needed to calm down. What was I so worried about? All was well.”

I also have my mantra to keep in mind, as given to me by my wonderful friend Laura: “Keep calm. Be brave.”

And so I shall.

So what’s next? Bangkok for four days. Flying down to the islands on the Andaman coast after that. It could be worse, huh?

P.S. As per usual, Laura remains my life coach. After I had penned the first draft of this post, she sent me an email that ended with, “If you get cold feet in the coming weeks, just remember it’s an adventure. An adventure that will change you and allow you to see the world through new eyes. How exciting is that? Nothing to be scared of, just jump into the deep end with no regrets – you know how to swim.”

Finding Solitude in Slovenia

As you are probably well aware (since I won’t stop talking about it), I consider myself an introvert. I’m not shy or weird around people but I simply enjoy my alone time and am perfectly fine with being by myself.

I’ve long known but am constantly reminded how being an introvert is both a blessing and a curse. I love that I love going to restaurants or shows by myself, but it also means that I prefer flying solo rather than seeking the company of others – which is pretty snotty of me and can get mighty lonely.

This was very much challenged on my first holiday away since I arrived in London: a weekend mini-break to Ljubljana! (Before you ask: yes, I know going to the capital of Slovenia is a random choice. I’d heard great things about it, didn’t really have any ‘conventional’ quick getaways left, and it was cheap to fly to.)

My holiday came after a particularly long couple of weeks and I was eagerly looking forward to going somewhere that I could explore without running into any of those pesky students and just be with my thoughts. It was also my very first time traveling solo, and while I was nervous I was excited to step out of my comfort zone.

So what did I learn on this miraculous trip?

Baby steps out of the comfort zone are okay as long as you keep on walking

I was a terrible solo traveler on this trip. I literally didn’t engage in conversations with people for a 48 hour period. I can honestly say I probably spoke about 20 words per day. That was due to a number of factors: my aforementioned weariness and desire to get some alone time; the fact that the hostel was pretty quiet and didn’t really have a giant vibe of hanging out; and mostly because I was just stubbornly laconic. That was fine for the first day and a half, but by the final stretch I was pretty bored with reading and bored with myself.

I’m telling myself that this first solo trip was my first trip out of the comfort zone, so just doing it was an okay first step. But I need to make sure I don’t have three months of silence in Asia – and so I need to actually, you know, talk to other people.

How to pronounce Ljubljana – and other fun bits about it

For the record, it’s Luh-blee-ahn-ah. It came highly recommended to me via travel blogs I enjoy, and for good reason. It’s basically a cute little European capital city, highly reminiscent of Prague or Budapest, but with approximately 10% of the people. The Old Town is cut in half by a wonderful flowing river, and as recently as a few years ago a mayor closed the Old Town to vehicles, making it a pedestrian’s paradise. It’s incredibly walkable, tourist-friendly but not tourist-accommodating (which is nice), and just a lovely place to wander.

The downside? There’s not a tooon to do there. There’s a great castle up on a hill overlooking the city, a couple of museums, some churches… and that’s about it. Most of the value comes from taking in the scene from a river-side cafe, restaurant, or bar, people-watching and watching the world go by. That’s nice and all… but mostly if you’re with someone else. I did finish two books in two days, but by the end of the second day I was itching to get back to London. I think two days in Ljubljana for a solo traveler is a bit too much – day and a half would have been perfect. Again, if I had actually, you know, spoken to other people I may have had a different experience, but that’s how the cookie crumbled.

Being alone is not always lonely 

Despite having a bit too much solitude, I still had wonderful moments of stillness and serenity… most notably on the first night. I was doing an evening walk and moseying across a bridge when I caught a glimpse of the Famous Ljubljana site of the Triple Bridge. I was so struck I immediately pulled out my journal to record the emotion I was feeling: incredible gratitude and disbelief that I had gotten to that point. Who would have thought I would have been spending a beautiful October evening wandering the streets of Slovenia, soaking in a beautiful site? Not this guy.

So despite the lazy and lonely way I may have seen Ljubljana… moments like that make it all worth it.

Where Am I GOING?!

It’s November, friends. This means a few different things:

1) I have only one month left in England (!!)
2) We’ve FINALLY come past one of my least favorite holidays, Halloween. While I love a masquerade and candy as much as the next gal, it just doesn’t hold much appeal to me beyond the requisite viewing of Hocus Pocus and the scary episode of Boy Meets World with my undergrad friends.
3) It’s All Saint’s Day! You’re welcome for that reminder.
4) Most importantly: I’m about to hit the most exciting next six months of my life (not to be over-dramatic or anything).

So what are my plans? Just what countries will get to experience some K10 love?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

November-December

 I’ll be bouncing around the isle(s), heading up to Edinburgh tomorrow (for the first time! Clearly Scotland in November is a tropical paradise). I’ll be busy working as it is a program with my students, but I have vowed that I WILL try haggis!

Immediately after returning from Och Eye Land, I’ll be welcoming one of my old roomies to London, then traveling the following weekend to Dublin to crash with the Me at the Ireland site. After  welcoming to Me in Ireland to London, the McCarthys officially invade London!

As I wrap up my job and force the kiddos out of the country, I’ll be welcoming my progenitors to this grand city. We will also be doing a little family trip up to York, another amazing English city I’ve never been to!

December-January

I have a lovely six weeks back in the States to celebrate Christmas, birthdays, and get my life somewhat in order (mostly to nap with my cats) before…. Southeast Asia!

January 23-April 16

You’re already up to date on this! It’s going to be a crazy few months and I’m guaranteed to welcome in 2013, turn 25, and cry at least once (per day). Just kidding… maybe.

My SEA (Southeast Asia) Plans!

My itinerary is still VERY in flux, but so far my plans are:

Thailand


Image via Xin Li 88
Image via brongaeh

I will fly into Bangkok and spend probably about a week, initially, to do my typical tourist sightseeing and jump in to haggling, street food, tuk-tuks, and traveling solo!

After Bangkok, I will journey down to Southern Thailand and hit up the Andaman Coast. I might end up going to the Gulf coast as well, but so far none of the islands sound appealing to me personally. I’m not exactly sure yet which islands I will explore, but I will probably use Krabi as a base and will likely go to Koh Lanta and Railay, as well as others, depending on how long the smoothie and beach bumming lifestyle appeals to me! I won’t be doing a ton of touristy sightseeing, mostly just relaxing, but I do hope to learn how to ride a motorbike when I am on one of these islands.

As of right now, I don’t think I will have enough time to swing Northern Thailand. That disappoints me… but who knows what will happen?

Laos 

Image via trippinlarry

As time is of the essence, I will likely fly from Thailand to Laos and explore the beautiful cities of Luang Prabang and Vientiane, learning more about the Lao culture and history. I will likely skip the backpacker favorite Vang Vieng, a town where you inner-tube down a river from bar to bar, as I’m not greatly into the “party scene.” But I may end up meeting some friends who convince me otherwise!

Cambodia 

Image via Stuck in Customs

This is the one part of my route that is most up in the air now but will end up being the most planned out, as I am meeting one of my favorite travel partners, my father!

That’s Pop!

He and I will likely meet in Siem Reap and spend about four days exploring the temples of Angkor before heading to visit some other cities. We are still talking about which ones, but perhaps Phnom Penh and Kep? No matter what, I’m looking forward to experiencing this country with him, particularly as I will be able to scrub off a month and a half of hostels and stay in nice resorts!

Vietnam 

Image via ccdoh1

I will bus from Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, in southern Vietnam (probably with my father, who will fly out after a few days there). I’m glad I will be able to jump into the craziness that is Vietnam with someone else! I plan to journey up the coast of Vietnam, hitting places like Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Hoi An, and Hue before ending in Hanoi towards the beginning to the middle of April. Then back to BKK!
After that, it’s back to Virginia to celebrate the weddings of two very good friends… and then MYSTERY. 
If you have any tips about good places to visit or how to best swing all of this, I would be happy to hear!

Taking the First Step

As you probably know, I’ve always been the gal with the plan and the carefully constructed timeline. Clearly college follows high school, so senior year is application year. After college? Grad school, naturally! Another application year. After grad school? Hello, job!

Whoops.

We all know what happened next, since I’m currently living it. And when I took the job, I had a tentative thought that grew into an avalanche: since I’ll be unemployed in winter – high season for the next region on my list, Southeast Asia – what a perfect time to travel!

Yes, I decided. This is happening. I bought the books, I started the plans, I mapped out the route. I told my parents, my close friends, and then the ENTIRE WORLD. This is guaranteed to happen.

Except… for that pesky first step. You know. Buying the plane ticket. 

For some reason, this has been the hardest thing for me to accomplish, because it makes it real. After I’ve dropped all that dough on a plane ticket, no backing out (or more accurately, chickening out).

And so I kept putting it off. My reluctance to buy that darn ticket was at first justifiable (at least to me): Clearly, I couldn’t buy it BEFORE I started my job, in case I had some random thing to do after the program ends December 9. Then once I started my job, I wanted to dive into it and just figure out my current transition before working on the next step.

But I’ve just celebrated my one-month anniversary (AWW), and my excuses are running pretty thin. In the past few days, I realized that I WANTED to start looking at my next steps. I spend every second of my day thinking of other people, keeping intricate details and to-do lists in mind for work, and I want to think about ME! Preferably me relaxing on a beach in Thailand.

So I took the first mini step: I decided that I would buy the tickets on Tuesday, September 18. (Why that date? No idea. I think it’s because I heard once that plane tickets are cheapest on Tuesdays and decided It Must Be True). Then, I told my parents that this was happening. The thing that pushed me over the line and got my feet (and my credit card) moving? An email from my dad that started, “As you make your reservations tomorrow…” Not if. This was going to happen.

And happen it did. Friends? It’s official. Flying into Bangkok on January 23. Flying out on April 16.

The in-between stuff? All in good time.

ALSO: I’ve been shockingly lax with my cat photos, so here’s one of bathtime. RRRR