I have now been a solo backpacker for 2 months and 8 days. As time continues to fly, I wanted to reflect on some of my thoughts and emotional experiences of travel. So, with 6 more months left of exploration to go, here are my pros and cons for solo traveling so far. Since I want to end on the positive, I’ll start with the cons.
Cons of Solo Backpacking
1. HOMESICKNESS : The worst battle for me has been the ache in my chest for home. I don’t think I’ve missed being home so much in my life. The toughest part about it is that it is a persistent ache and it could color your experience a very deep grey or even make you irritable and shut down. In the beginning, the homesickness was almost unbearable and I found myself crying upon waking up in a new and unfamiliar place, barely able to wipe the crust out of my eyes before it all came rushing in. Now, there is still an ache for home, family and friends – but it ebbs and flows and is fading in intensity…or maybe I am learning how to cope with it a little bit better. Whatever the case it gets better –
a. Excerpt of me on October 16th : “Emotionality. I’m feeling all sorts of things. I guess it is still painful – repeated attachments and detachment from where you are comfortable. I left Bhumi today in good spirits. Now at almost 11pm in Malaysia – I feel lonely. I feel angst. I am saddened. I don’t like airports. Perhaps I wouldn’t be in my feelings if I flew directly. Here I am, 10 hr. layover in an even stranger land than the one I am headed too! I feel like at almost every turn, I’m grasping at familiarity; grasping at little fragments of comfort…”
b. Excerpt of me on November 19th: “Did I mention that this experience has been one of the hardest yet rewarding things I’ve done? While I sit in and sometimes fester in my homesickness and discomfort, you turn around and go to a lake that brings tears to your eyes thinking of the many beautiful nature landscapes that God created and then blessed you enough to bear witness. You eat some of the most amazing local foods – now traditional Thai home cooking that lights your taste buds to flavors and dishes you’ve never had – like the soups, squid, and jellyfish I just had last night over my first open BBQ (fire and pan on table and everyone cooks what they want to eat fresh). Or how about the other night, another great tasty Thai meal (Freshwater Bass was ridiculously good!) and the jam session that transpired shortly after over whiskeys and soda – truly heart-warming and an authentic good time. Then conversation and laughs you share with other travelers that lead you to a spontaneous swim inside of a Thai Grand Canyon or go on a crab run with a couple – Nepali and Chinese. These are the things that makes this less strenuous -more worthwhile. Less lonely and more inspiring. This ebb and flow of homesick and not, happy and sad, content and discontent makes the experience I think – it makes the person too…”
2. DISCOMFORT : I think this one sometimes goes hand in hand with homesickness. The lack of true comfort. I truly grasped what it means to be “outside of my comfort zone” when I realized nothing is better than your own bed, own space, and the warmth of a loving home. Or when I am in transit and realize just how much energy is spent perceiving and interacting with new surroundings. The constant starting over with each place, though this can also be a good thing. While most times I have the energy to navigate the new worlds I visit, sometimes I am just drained and prefer not to see an unfamiliar face, or determine whether or not I’m being ripped off and if I should say something about it, or decipher a new language as I order food, or use the butt sprayer instead of toilet tissue because toilet paper isn’t guaranteed all the time, or sleep in an open bungalow under a mosquito net that is doing a poor job of catching mosquitoes. Sometimes, I want nothing more than the comforting smell of Mother’s lotion, our vibrant and clean home, be hilariously silly with my sister and feel the warmth of my puppy’s furry body curled next to mine. In my bed. Mosquito and bug free. Convenient familiarity. With toilet tissue in abundance.
3. TRANSIT : I absolutely hate airports. I thought I liked airplanes until I realized that traveling too long and via too many diverse modes of transportation, I get sick and irritated. I hate loading and unloading my heavy backpack on 3 different x- ray conveyor belts on my way to my gate. I hate the crowds. Unless it’s a quick journey, I’d rather teleport than throw up on another plane.
4. LONELINESS : Those times when you need a friend/familiar face/voice but you’re living 12 hours ahead and everyone you care to talk to are asleep. It isn’t even about finding just anyone to talk to. It’s about talking to the ones you want to. This loneliness and discomfort can also be enhanced when you are the only Black person you’ve seen in the last 4 towns and Trump wins the presidency.
Pros of Solo Backpacking
1. YOU CAN DO WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT : And this is perhaps the best part of solo travel. You don’t have to compromise to anyone’s needs or wants but your own AND you have the means to do it! If I want to return to a place I’ve already visited or if I want to fly to Timbuktu, I can. With no complaints or opinions from anyone else. I only have my voice to listen to and most times that is the only voice I need to listen to.
2. QUALITY TIME ALONE : While I do experience loneliness and/or homesickness, nothing beats this time alone. And I feel like now couldn’t have been a better time to have it. It’s a time to listen to myself and in some respects, it’s a time for me to learn how to listen to myself, discover what I want, what I need, and form my own paths, ideas, life philosophies without those of others and those that are culturally imposed. And there is no pressure. I am realizing that being with me is the best and maybe this is what I needed after all.
3. MEETING NEW PEOPLE : When you bump into someone who is awake on matters of the world and can teach you a thing or two about life AND have a good time, that is the best! I have met many awesome people who vary from me in many ways, but what we all tend to have in common is that traveler's soul, compassion, curiosity, and the determination to seek our own wisdoms and way of being. Creating our own paths and figuring out what makes us happy. Bomb conversations are not always a given, so I appreciate the times when they do occur.
4. SEEING NEW PLACES : With each new place there is a fresh start. While seeing new places is an obvious occurrence because why else do we travel? But it is important to bring to light what this means. Each place has their own unique spin no matter how similar. And with each new place there is something to learn and a mix of new and familiar feelings that accompany the sights you see. It is my constant appreciation for the moments I tear up, overwhelmed with joy and beauty or sometimes grief at what I am seeing, And when I can’t help but thank The Creator for allowing me to go from Detroit to Ann Arbor to lush green pastures, jungles, mountains, bustling cities, historic cities/neighborhoods, new foods, new cultures, and kindred souls miles way from home. Seeing new places can mean more than just being there for the sake of being there when you travel with a purpose.
5. THE CHANCE TO FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU ARE MADE OF : Solo travel has taught me that I can rely on myself. It has shown me that I can make sound decisions and take care of myself. While this can be an apparent quality for some staying in the States, being immersed in the unknown brings out another side of you that is necessary. A side that pulls no punches and is cognizant of what it means to be aware and safe in an unfamiliar place. That kind of independence isn’t easy to achieve, but traveling solo forces you to learn really quickly.
6. FOOD : This one speaks for itself. If you love to eat and not afraid to take a chance on something new, you understand me. But I guess you don’t have to travel solo to experience this.
7. MAKING GREAT MEMORIES : Having experiences that you will never forget and stories that your grandkids will probably get tired of hearing. That is the best part.