Sometime in 2010, I took a short leave from work , packed my things, boarded a private, colurum van to Ilocos Norte with a bunch of complete strangers, and came home alive, four days after, with a newly acquired sense of pride and a taste for adventure. I get asked a lot: why travel alone? Isn’t it dangerous? Aren’t you afraid of getting raped, murdered, with your body thrown into a ditch, only to be found weeks later in an advance state of decay?
Of course, I’m afraid, you blithering idiots! But let me try and make a compelling case on why this ludicrous act has to be done at least once.
Most definitely, the argument lies not in practicality. When you are traveling alone, you pay for the full cost of lodging, guides, porters, and meals. It’s always easier on the wallet when a 20-dollar boat ride, for example, gets split into six. The trade-off? Simplified logistics. Case in point: I once went to a surf resort during summer (peak season) and easily got a bunk bed even without a booking, because I can squeeze in any dorm room. Everyone else in groups had a much harder time looking for a place to sleep. Haha!
But then again, that is not the point. I have traveled, mostly alone, in the past four years only for a simple goal, which is discovery–tucked in that, my friends, is self-discovery. Because when you do so–
You’ll never have to do things you don’t want to do. Like spend an afternoon in a shopping district, when you’re least interested in make-up, or designer clothes, or long lines at the H&M counter (before it opened in your home country). No, you will never have to settle for something that is a complete waste of time, money, and effort. Because you can wake up anytime you want, get a good-morning-mojito, and read a book, and not have people being pushy for next item in the goddamn itinerary. No.
You’ll learn to rely on yourself and no one else. To negotiate with half-drunk tricycle drivers for a 20-kilometer ride towards the pier at four in the morning; to navigate within a complex (first-world) train system, where everyone seems to know where to go and you are the only idiot with his map upside-down; to eat corn or sweet potatoes in the absence of white rice; to use sign language to find the nearest public bathroom. When you don’t know what to do and the language barrier is so high up, you learn to trust your instincts, and it leads you to the best misadventures. Ever.
You will meet the best and worst people in the world. You will find that there are inherently good people out there willing to give help without expecting anything in return. They will teach you kindness and you will feel compelled to pay their acts forward. In an earlier blog post, I did tell of Buddhist mechanic who offered lodging while I was out backpacking in Malacca. But you will also meet swindlers, cheats–and from them, you will learn how to hold a pen like weapon or run for your life (literally).
The feeling of conquest. When you have gone out and tested your limits, become friends with people with entirely different worldviews, seen the best and the worst of circumstances, ate in another family’s dinner table–becoming stronger is inevitable.
Most of these things can’t achieved with a companion to rely on. It’s fairly easy to entrust the planning to someone else and in the process, have most details set in stone, leaving no room for spontaneity. In traveling solo, what you always take home is a greater understanding of the world and why people do as they do–but most of all, the good and the bad that you, yourself, are capable of doing.
I’ve been at it for about four years. I can’t stop. It’s so intoxicating.