Traveling isn’t complete without people. Sure there are desolate places in the world. But many times, what makes these far flung corners even more amazing, are the miraculous souls that dare to inhabit them, against all odds and possibly most socially accepted forms of reason (which I don’t usually adhere to). Locals make a locality something special. They are part of the history, the food, the culture, the language, the sites, the smells, the adventure, the mystique and, above all, the numerous interactions you will have, which build upon a point in the world’s unique identity.
It is all part of the experience, enriching and enlivening it. But does sharing these connections, these somewhat profoundly personal moments, improve when it is shared with others? Or is to their detriment?
I think like the experience, this is also a very individualized question, based upon what you want out of travel and how easy-going you are. I say easy-going, which is usually attributed as a positive trait. In this case, I see it more as something neutral, that is neither good nor bad, but just the way someone is. I, myself, am easy-going in that if an amazing suggestion to do or try something essentially local is suggested, which doesn’t involve bodily harm or unbalanced heights (I am fine with ladders), I may take it up, as not miss out on a once in a lifetime bit of spontaneity. Yet in other cases I am not as easy going, and want to do, what I want to do. The hour glass sand is rushing, and I see no particularly good reason to waste a grain of it.
I have travelled both solo, in a group and as a couple and with friend. From personal experience, here are some of my observations and thoughts.
AS A GROUP:
THE CONTEXT: In 2010, I cycled from Amsterdam to Istanbul with 13 (or so) cyclists for a charity bike ride.
Since we were traveling under the banner of an organization and were representatives of our country, there were certain guidelines that we had to adhere to, which we advertently broke, such as not having a beer with lunch when we are passing through places like Germany and the Czech Republic. We were also supposed to travel in pods of at least 2 or 3 riders. This was fine when you were cycling with someone who cycled at your speed and wanted to see what you wanted to see or at least would wanted to DO THINGS, as opposed to NOT DO THINGS. Here in lies the problem:
When people are spent, tired, and dirty and on trip of this nature, they want to do what they want to do. Fair enough. The week and a half no showering in Romania does that to people (plus, the weed that grew freely in the fields did other things to us as well, mystical, revelatory, sensorial diverting things). Finding a like-minded person was invariably hard on these occasions I wanted to see as much as I could and if something interested anyone in my pod, I wanted to stop and see it. This something, could be anything and was a lot of things. From museums, to the slowest playing song in the world to essential dance sessions on the top of stacked hay towers. Some of the riders wanted to see how fast they could get to our daily final destination. In fact, we coined one of these riders “Speed Ranger” (German: Shnell Forester). He would ride ahead of his pod, directionless and we would have to wait for him to return to realize he went the wrong way. Frustration almost led to his end (actually, he almost got run over by a truck, but he didn’t, so we can find amusement from this recollection). These speed riders, like Speed Ranger, pushed themselves to never unclip from their pedals, racing through the beautiful landscape, not only NOT stopping to smell the flowers, but not stopping to smell, ANYTHING. Why? Why come allllll the way to Europe to simply ignore your surroundings? Again, to each his own, but somethings are just wrong and this is one of them. “But Irrrrraaaaaa…” But nothing! Some riders liked to nap, instead of see things. What do these nappers dream of? I hope of nothing, because they are currently living one and they are unaware of it. Dreams treated as mundane is clerical work or neighbor interactions. Again, shade is shade is shade. Who cares? I want to pick cuisines to try, not trees that are best suited to nap under. “Well an evergreen has thicker growth, thus blocking out more of the damaging UV rays…” No, do not consider such things. Please. Stop. There were moments, where the lumberjack in me (I am Canadian, you’ve all seen the Logrider’s Song and if you haven’t, you should Youtube it) wanted to chop down all trees to avoid this decision. Days off from riding became personal sanctuaries, away from the bustle of others’ opinions and blasphemes, and systemic voting of what and where and who, where I would wander off on my own and follow my own regiment, indulge in food and history, before returning to the 13 headed hydra that is group travel.
It’s my party and I will cry if I want to is my motto for travel at times and here I had no opportunity to cry unless it was agreed upon by the group. Group travel reminds me of a cruise, or an all inclusive. It hinders your experience, traps you in a social cage, inhibits you from connecting with locals and promotes lollygagging and bloodlust. It was like a scene from Office Space and I just wanted to burn it all down. At one point, my pod almost left one girl behind, because she was slow. Like slow to the point of, you actually had to really concentrate to tell whether she was in motion or not (jokes if you are reading!). At another point, a guy argued with me about directions. I had a map and he had “a feeling”. Cartographers and world explorers did not live out their lives on feelings. Feelings lead to ashrams, crying at Unicef commercials and getting ridiculously, stupidly lost. I am not saying he was suggesting we be mislead on purpose, I am stating it.
So, as you can see, I am not a fan of group travel. Maybe I’d fair better if the group was smaller…
WITH A FRIEND OR PARTNER:
THE CONTEXT: Travelled via car and train with a friend throughout Europe. Travelled with a girlfriend through Belgium, The Netherelands and China.
I threw these two categories together to show a possible ying and yang, depending on the person you travel with. In 2010, when I travelled with a friend, it worked exceedingly well because of one simple fact that is sometimes ignored. If we were in a city, town, village, wherever and we wanted to do a specific activity that the other did not want to do, we could….SEPARATE. He was very much about city walking, seeing the neighborhood. I loved doing that as well, but there were certain activities and sites that I wanted to make sure I saw. So we split apart at times, chose a meeting location and shared our daily events over a meal. I was a great way to experience travel through the eyes of others, without being force to. The opportunities are there if you’d like, but no one’s feelings were hurt if you declined. Plus, the option is one you may have not considered.
The couple situation I was in was vastly different. Not simply, because as a relationship, there is seemingly, though not always, more at stake, but also our vehicle for much of the European part of the trip was by bicycle and she had never cycled before. It became a war of personalities and of comfortableness. She was not accustomed to headwind or hills and I took such trivialities, as just that, trivialities, a challenge accepted. Fights broke out over minute details. Time was wasted squabbling. Though it wasn’t all terrible. Like any travel companion, we were able to share personal highs and lows that later we could recount. We also were able to witness things together and when we were in a specific location, she was very gung-ho to go where I had researched.
In both cases, the couple and friend travel arrangement have their pluses and minuses. In addition to the one’s mentioned, there are just some inherent reactions to its makeup that are unavoidable, both internally and from others. Internally, the two in the tango, needn’t seek anyone else out to interact with. They have each other, so why complicate it or go out of our comfort zones. This is a limitation I dislike, because as I said, part of the experience is the interactions. Externally this is the case as well. For someone looking into couchsurfing, it is always a more close relationship you build when you surf one on one, or one on host family. This is also true on the approach from locals, who see a couple as already a complete entity, not needing any external influence. In a restaurant, in a bar, out and about, I have had less people approach me and inquire about what I was doing in a couple, than when I was travelling on my own (especially on a bicycle, they attract curiousity like blue light and flies). Though, this may not be the case with everyone. For new travelers, the couple or companion style of travel may open doors that they would have never in a million years attempted to do on their own. That goes for the group travel as well, which set up easy to ingest travel trips via packed buses and all inclusive tours.
THE CONTEXT: Several times, cycling from Vancouver to Mexico, training across Eastern Europe and another cycle tour through Netherlands, Belgium and England.
For me, this is the ideal version of travel. For the obvious reasons, I can do what I want, see what I want to see and am able to build personal relations with my couchsurfers and locals. I am also able to read a book, write, sleep, fart without having to consider there is someone else with me (I never consider with the last option in that list). I was able to see this immediate contrasting form of travel in relationship to my couple travels, as I did half of a bike trip through the Netherlands as a couple and half as a solo cyclist. Right away I noticed the relief of felt cycling out of Amsterdam. Days of hellish rain were fine, as I was at my own pace, facing only my demons, with only my fears and my anger to deal with. People would approach me and ask questions, give suggestions, share a laugh, a story. I sat in coffee shops (the ones with coffee in them) and sipped aromatic euphoria, while reading or writing, embalmed in the ambience of the café scene and my own brevity. There is a self-fulfilling courage to solo travel that makes each day of it a feat accomplished. As a creative soul, the mind is free in the silence spans of alone time, to conjour without restraint or interruption. Left or right is your decision, or to not move at all. To live in your own comfort level, which for me is by the seat of my worn pants, my bearded face, my gaunt composure.
Solo travel is solo only in action. You are traveling alone, you are on your own itinerary, but by no means are you alone. As I started this article off with people, I shall end it with people. Solo travel is filled with many of them, for me, much more than any other form of travel. The cast is always in rotation, but like Saturday Night Live, the new faces bring a freshness, their own brand of intrigue to the table. There is no compromise, except your own body and mind. You can decline to see the world for days or never sleep, just to get it all in. You can spend hours playing with a worn internationally exposed bouncy ball in a UNESCO site or stand-off against galing wind off the mighty Columbia River. You can sit under shady brush when you feel tired, but not watch as others do so and you are made to wait on their slumber. Again, rather than give you the pluses and minuses of forms of travel in a general sense, I opted to give you a personalized account of each, resulting from who I am. Generalities generally don’t work, as we are not generic, nor precise to any design, as generality would too easily suggest. The best thing I can suggest, is test the waters, have a sense of what you want from travel and be prepared to possibly add or subtract people from your traveling situation. In other words, if your with people that you want to throttle and through into the nearest body of water wearing led shoes, it’s probably a good idea not to follow through with that, due to the nuisance of legalities and what not.
Part of this is finite, the rest is unrestful, unedited rambles.