Two new friends, Riley and Cece, joined me in Kyoto, Japan for the first four days of my January 2017 week-long trip. The final three days, I remained alone. There were ups and downs, challenges and laughter. This trip got me thinking. How does traveling with friends or traveling alone impact a traveller’s experience, and is one option more advantageous than the other?
I began writing this blog with the intention to produce a quick comparison, but while writing, I realized that this is not a simple topic. As a result, I split this blog into Parts One and Two. Rather than produce a systematic comparison, this is rather a collection of experiences that I use to present both positive and challenging things about both types of travel.
Firstly, I should establish that I consider myself an extrovert. I love meeting new people, and tend to make friends fairly easily. With the exception of awkward teenage years, I’ve always been outgoing. As the oldest of three, I have always been the assertive big sister. I loved adventure films, like the Indiana Jones series and the book and movie, The Beach. I grew up in England within a multicultural family with bilingual parents. From infancy, our family traveled to Spain to see grandparents, aunts and uncles. I first travelled alone with my aunt at age eight, and as an adult, later moved to Canada. I now reside in South Korea.
BACKGROUND TO MY TRAVEL EXPERIENCES
I just took a week long trip to Kyoto, as mentioned above. In the summer of 2015, I also visited Kyoto with my university friend Beth. We stayed there for a week, and thereafter toured Thailand for a month. She returned home, while I continued travelling solo in Thailand, and later Cambodia and Vietnam.
My first time traveling or backpacking alone was in 2012. I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey for a few days. I discovered the experience of traveling alone exhilarating and addictive! I later traveled to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with another university friend, Ana.
In Jordan 0f 2012, I travelled on numerous occasions with groups of friends. As part of an student archaeological team based in Aqaba, we took weekend trips throughout the country over a period of six weeks. These included Wadi Rum, Petra, Jerash, the Dead Sea and desert camping with the local bedouin. We were grouped together to travel as units. I often traveled with my closest friends, Erin and Mike, however each weekend trip brought different hangout friends, and these included Miranda, Aaron, Lou, and Victoria.
I’ve also traveled with romantic partners (former boyfriends). We visited Spain, England, Italy, Canada, America, The Philippines, Mexico and travelled through S. Korea. Finally, as an adult, I’ve travelled with my sister Vivien, brother Joel, and aunty Angela. These were trips to various locations within England, France and Spain.
TRAVELING WITH BOYFRIENDS
They say that if you want to know if a new boyfriend or girlfriend is the right one for you, take a trip together. Travel is stressful. It can be long, uncomfortable, and you are forced to deal with language barriers, cultural differences, frustrations, scams, heat, hunger and irritability from lack of sleep to name just a few.
I travelled to Rome, first with one partner Jeff in 2009, and later, in 2015 with another partner, Wayne. On both occasions, friction began right away. Petty things caused small arguments. I wanted to shop for footwear which Jeff had low tolerance for. Wayne enjoyed shopping, but we bickered about other things. Our hotel was located a twenty minute train ride from most of the locations that we visited which seemed to extend our travel unbearably at the most exhausting of moments. The forty degree August heat and the lack of air conditioning in our room caused restless sleep, and as a result, our week there was memorable for all the wrong reasons. In the future, I will prioritise having some alone time to indulge in my interests where necessary, and ensure that distance to sites, temperatures anticipated and hotel comfort are addressed better.
COMMUNICATION, COMPROMISE AND FLEXIBILITY
Before we set out for Israel, Ana and I discussed our travel style and needs beforehand. I discovered that she was not interested in going to religious sites, and she wanted a more relaxing vacation pace while I wanted to challenge myself, do lots of walking and see pretty much everything.
At our hostel located within the old city of Jerusalem, we met travellers, Roxanna and David, and while Ana relaxed at the hostel, I travelled up to Bethlehem with Roxanna and David.
As a fellow Greek and Roman History student, Ana was interested in going to Roman historical sites and the Dead Sea, so we rented a car and, together with Roxanna, visited Masada, the mountain plateau fortress where the rebel Jewish group, the Sicarii, took their stand against a Roman siege in 73AD (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masada). When we descended, since I enjoy physical challenges, I walked down the snake path while Ana and Roxanna took the less strenuous cable-car. Thus, although Ana and I had different travel styles, we had agreed in advance to be flexible as we travelled together to accommodate our different preferences.
In 2012, I visited Granada, Spain, with aunty Angela. We both wanted to see the Moorish legacy, Al Alhambra palace (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alhambra), so we booked a twin room at Hotel Atenas in central Granada. On this occasion, Patience was a very important ingredient for traveling together successfully. Fresh from my travels in Israel, I was eager to get going in the mornings. My aunty however, has trouble sleeping. Despite this challenge, she was driven and wanted to maximise our short trip there.
Aunty Angela took more time getting her day started, so while she prepared, I would wonder the neighbourhood, scope out potential breakfast cafes and take photos of local architecture. When I returned, aunty Angela would be ready to leave.
INDEPENDANCE = COURAGE, NEW FRIENDS AND PERSONAL GROWTH
The first time I travelled alone, I visited Istanbul. I was worried before traveling and arranged to be collected from the airport and transported to my hostel to ease my nerves. On arrival (Bahaus hostel, Sultanahmet), I met outgoing staff and travellers. Straight away, my fears subsided and my courage grew. Thus began my “romance” with traveling alone.
I realized that it was so easy to make friends with other guests. After venturing out alone on my first day, I joined Bahaus travellers and together we toured the Topkapi Palace, the Spice and Grand Basaar, the Hagia Sophia, and enjoyed a cruise on the Bosphorus strait. This was the singular, most formative adventure that emboldened me to travel the world.
In 2015, I travelled from Koh Samui to Phuket, Thailand. On this trip, I discovered that traveling alone promotes growth by testing your levels of endurance. The journey was physically exhausting as it was twelve hours long, and I switched vehicles (including a ferry) at least seven times. The last vehicle on my journey had no suspension and each bump on the twisty, never-ending roads made me feel like I would throw up. I additionally put myself in a dangerous situation by mouthing off at a Thai head honcho who disrespected me in a jungle clearing. That day, I wished I had a travel companion there for emotional support. This experience taught me about my limitations for discomfort, ability to befriend travellers out of necessity, and to support each other in tricky situations. See my blog, “My Journey from Hell,” here: (https://travelandtash.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/the-journey-from-hell/).
The aforementioned situation quickly reminded me of the advantage of having travel companions. As a unit, Beth and I had numerous advantages. We had navigated our way to various locations, tag-teamed to negotiate down fares with tuk tuk drivers (Bangkok), identified scams such as misinformation about the location of train stations (Hellfire Pass), warded off threatening packs of dogs (Kanchanaburi and Ayuthaya), and more importantly, supported each other emotionally while experiencing travel fatigue (everywhere). Also, I felt like I had a special friend with whom to share these amazing adventures.
In Part Two, I will address the importance of stamina, opportunities to meet new people and managing money. Finally, I will disclose my personal lessons and recommendations from travelling alone and with others.
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What is one thought you agree or disagree with here? Can you add any other reasons why you prefer to travel with friends or travel alone? What have you learned about yourself through travel? Share you thoughts in the comments below.