I have a confession to make. Despite me rambling on about the joys and benefits of travelling alone, I in fact broke that habit of mine this summer by going on a road trip around the Western USA with a friend. No longer was I ‘sole-seeking’, as this blog is named; no longer was I discovering new places by myself. Now the trip is over, how do I feel about solo travel? Has it gone down in my good books? Or did I come away from the experience ashamed and unable to look at myself in the mirror without thinking, “You are so not who I thought you were”?
It is of course undeniable that there were many benefits to travelling with a companion on this type of trip. Over three weeks, we visited 10 states and drove a total of 4718 miles. Driving this distance by myself would have been exhausting, with the trip lasting about 10 days longer as a result. Not only that, but we were driving a 1986 Toyota Land Cruiser, and ‘Bertha Mae’ could be a little temperamental in her old age. Whilst I refuse to be one of those girls who insists the female gender is incapable of fixing mechanical problems, emotionally and practically it is easier to have the help of someone else in this situation, for both genders. Furthermore, having a companion made navigation more straightforward; there was little need for stop-starting in order to check a map and my confusion as a Brit over American road-rules could be fixed. GPS did not feature in our trip, and gladly too; the role of planning routes and directing the driver was not only a lot more fun, but also promoted a nice team spirit. We soon established a routine in which my friend would pay for the diesel and ice whilst I emptied the coolers, before I poured in the new ice and cleaned the windows as he filled up. It might sound insignificant, but those everyday moments quickly contributed to shared beliefs that this was the perfect partnership.
Mealtimes were also a lot more fun; I didn’t have to cook all the time (come to think of it, I was hardly allowed near the stove…) and I didn’t have to tolerate those pitying/baffled looks from people in cafes, after they assume that travelling alone was not my choice/was a crazy idea. In addition, I could look through my camera after the trip and see artistic photographs of beautiful landscapes, with myself featured unknowingly in the picture. Had I been alone, this would not have happened (yes, I’ll admit: self-timer can’t always be relied on for ‘moody’ action shots). Perhaps most significantly, with a companion one is much less likely to experience feelings of loneliness.
For me, it was particularly refreshing to reach a destination and see an amazing view spread before me, only to turn slowly to my companion and see the same excited glint in his eyes and hear the same awed whisper of “whoa!” In previous posts I’ve mentioned the huge sense of accomplishment one gets from discovering a spectacular place by themselves, but during this trip I realised just how special it also feels to discover something incredible with a close friend, and to fulfil goals that had been planned together. Furthermore, having a companion reinforced how, unfortunately, it is the case that travelling alone can sometimes hinder specific opportunities, both for emotional and practical reasons. Without my friend’s company, I probably wouldn’t have, or it would at least have been much more difficult to have:
– Hiked some of the trails that I did in Glacier National Park, because of their length and the potential to encounter bears;
– Descended by 4WD down a long, narrow, switch-backing dirt road into a canyon in Utah;
– Broken the rules and slept overnight in a national park, admiring the starry night sky and waking up to a beautiful sunrise;
– Spoken to some of the interesting people I did, having returned from elsewhere to see my friend making conversation with them;
– Been papped by a group of Asian tourists on the road to Yosemite, because of them noticing my friend’s guitar playing..;
– Gone quad-biking on the Oregon sand dunes, mainly because of my slight (and unexpected) fear of doing so;
– Noticed the little details that made a place even more interesting, because I was driving.
So does this mean I will never travel alone again? No, not at all.
Whilst the benefits of travelling with someone did make for a nice change, it would be a shame to let them deter me from solo travel completely. Solitude is something that people deal with differently – some thrive off the freedom it brings, others find it difficult to cope because they are afraid of being alone; it all depends on one’s mindset and level of confidence. Not being alone doesn’t mean that you won’t feel lonely, especially if there is a large communication barrier between you and your companion. Experiences don’t have to be shared through speech; they can be shared in a journal, through which one is still relaying a story. And who really cares if you’re the only one sat by yourself in a canteen? Those people giving you funny looks are probably just envious that they themselves wouldn’t have the guts to do so. There is always the risk that travelling with a friend will make you less open to talking to others, because of an idea that this is unnecessary; you may even become more closed-up. Meanwhile with the issue of restricted opportunities, it might be that you are less likely to see or do something because of your companion not having the same desire or amount of spending money. When alone, tours can be booked where you can meet new people whilst not missing out on an experience. This makes things more expensive, but it might very well be worth it.
There are clearly still downsides to travelling with a companion, with the main one being that you have to be a little less selfish in your decisions and perhaps consequently sacrifice a few plans. But if you’re lucky, you might find that you have extremely similar goals and ambitions to your travel partner. When that happens, it is almost like you are not travelling with a different being, but with a shared self. I myself was fortunate not to experience any of the aforementioned disadvantages that can accompany travelling with a companion. And it’s mainly for that reason that I won’t be looking for one to join me on future trips anytime soon; I’m not sure the trip could reach the same heights of greatness.
Related posts: Choosing the Best Travel Companion