‘Did I hear it right? What is wrong with you?’ Quizzical expressions greeted me as I explained to my family with delight about my first solo international trip. Travel is fun. Fun is with friends and family. I must be an idiot to pay for an international trip and make it a solitary penance! Dare I quote that solitude is bliss. Group trip is fun; solo travel is bliss.
Solo sojourns pluck us from the comforts of familiarity and plant us in the cradle of a distant land. We are on our own, executing our plan, making our mistakes. No time to regret. No one to complain to, only quick action to correct the mistake.
In everyday life, we are tied down to a personality type. We are either classified an introvert or an extrovert by our known circle. This classification can be loosened up while on solo trips. Solo trips will push the extrovert in us even if we have kept it tethered to the innards all our life. It will also gift the extrovert in us oceans of moments where we can choose to be an introvert living in a bubble, watching, wondering and judging the world as it swims around us. We can choose to shed tears when they are expected to be held back. We can choose to be aggressive, leaving timidity in unknown bylanes. Sometimes it will make us wonder: is it the same me? Which one is my true self, the reticent one back home or the louder, free-spirited one in a foreign land, or vice versa?
Solo travel isn’t easy. To wake up and explore a new place all alone, the spirit will struggle like a kid attending the first day of school. As we hit the road and often depend on the generosity of strangers, we start to wonder if the universe was paying us back for an earlier goodwill gesture or making an entry in its due to be paid column. Incomprehensible language will teach us the language of smile and sign. The scary stare of the stranger will deepen the pangs of our guts.
Solo travel is never about loneliness. Even if we willfully choose to sing the sorrowful song of loneliness, the smiles of random faces on unfamiliar streets will wipe out the sadness. It’s not always about catching life by its throat. Sometimes, it’s the route of cowardice, to take a break from the lemons thrown at us. Solo travel is the best lemonade to make. It is not a quick getaway from the fast-paced life. It’s the slow capture and release of each moment. We can stand still and watch a butterfly flap around with no one to tug us off this silly behavior. We can stare at the same sunset we have seen a thousand times and ask the question – ‘who made you so breathtaking’, and wait for a response.
When the chatter of travel-mates is absent, the verdant hill will speak to you. When there is no one to hurry us, the ghosts inside the historical palace will show themselves as you look inside the dark corners. When you aren’t under the army of adult friends, a childish bird-show can make you giggle and clap. The private moment of inspiration you were about to have when the clouds shadowed the lake can’t be disturbed by a snappy comment from the group.
Solo travel is about all these moments slow-cooked within you. The memories saved in solo travels aren’t just pictorial images; they are live memories that when triggered comes back with the same verve as when it happened with all five senses flourishing.
When we travel with friends we remember our moments with them, the destination playing in the background. When we travel solo we remember the destination. Solo trips might fit a person easily like leggings, or with a bit of wriggling, like slim-fit jeans — depending on a person’s personality. But it will fit anyone who tries it.