It seems almost like an oversight that I haven’t already expounded at length on this topic – so integral to the entire experience of my entire Grand Tour of the Far East has this been.
You see, I dislike travelling with people. Not because I dislike people. On the contrary, I love them – I just prefer to be observing them, rather than trying to observe tedious niceties when travelling in their company.
I discovered the pleasures of travelling on one’s own rather early – when I went on an epic backpacking journey through Britain during my first Summer vacation at university. I enjoyed it so much I did it again the next Summer, and the Summer after – to other places than Britain, naturally.
Why exactly do I like it? What are the pleasures?
Let me enumerate.
Firstly, there is nothing like setting and keeping to a schedule of activities and sights that is entirely one’s own. How often have we, in travelling with friends or family, been subject to the tyranny of another person’s preference, and found one’s self being dragged, willy-nilly to some dreary shopping expedition at the most generic-horrifying mall ever; or worse yet, find one’s self being bullied out of bed at 5 a.m. in the morning, so as to hike up some infernally steep slope to peer blearily at the sunrise, which, though admittedly “magnificent,” pales in comparison to a few more life-giving hours in bed.
Really, there is nothing better than being able to do what one wants, when one wants and how one wants it to be done.
Second – I am one for PRIVACY, not sharing. I like my own room, my own space, my own bath, my own bathroom, my own view, my own desk, my own bed, my own…well… everything. I cannot countenance having to tiptoe around somebody else’s mess in my room, particularly since my things are always immaculately arranged when I travel. I hate it when the television is turned on – as it inevitably is when I have a travel companion – particularly since my idea of relaxation is a bottle of wine and a good book. Worse of all – I get so anxious that I would do something embarrassing like snore (or worse!) in my sleep that I don’t get any sleep at all!
And then of course, there is the privacy of thought – how does one think, observe and reflect on what one has observed and experienced, when there are annoying voices constantly yapping away at one’s ear?! (“Ooh take a picture of me please! Just here! Right here!”)
The last thing one needs, when one travels, is to have one’s own private space and private thoughts invaded and crowded out by people who simply would not understand.
Third – I have found that being alone, I am more able to immerse myself into the immediate surroundings; observing, absorbing details in the backdrop or the mise-en-scène – whether it be the exquisite curves of a Doric column in the Grand Lobby of a Grand Hotel; or the subtle body language of a couple ensconced in the corner of the hotel restaurant suggesting they are on the verge of a breakup. On my own, I am better able to relish the saffron-sweet spice of a glass of rioja; or the melt-in-your-mouth surprise of a morsel of rare kobe beef; or the delicious throb of the double bass in a jazz performance; or that menacing shade of green in a piece by Francis Bacon in the Tate.
There is no distraction; no mediation – just me and whatever it is that I am experiencing. And that immediacy is intoxicating, because it is so intense; and also so secret and personal, something only I – and I alone! – am privy to.
What a wonderful thing!
I think ultimately the reason why I travel and relish traveling solo is that the entire experience is personal – meaning it is an expression and exploration of the self – of MYSELF, of ME.
An expression because the way I travel is distinctive to me, and me alone – my preferences, my views, my tastes. An exploration, because each time I travel, I find out new things about myself – how I react to sights, sounds and people; how I internalise and reflect; how I behave in such and such scenarios…
In other words, what I’m saying is this: to travel solo is to engage, experience and explore with great immediacy the richness of the universe within and outside the self – within and outside the self being, at some level, one and the same thing.
This, I think, is one of the most meaningful, satisfying and even mind-blowing experiences one can have.