The normal, saner members of our society travel with family or friends. The more daring ones travel with strangers and then there are some wanderers like myself, who at times prefer their own company over the company of others.
My first solo trip was out of necessity. I was working in Japan at that time and wanted to visit Kyoto to see the Shinto Shrines in their autumn splendour. None of my friends had any inclination to "spend our time shivering in the cold, watching the leaves turn red" as they put it and so I just decided to go on my own.
That trip was a revelation. I was amazed to discover how much I enjoyed being by myself.
Perhaps out of anxiety because I was travelling alone, I had planned my Kyoto trip meticulously - right from where I wanted to stay to exactly which shrines I wanted to see. But for some reason, as soon as I got off the train, I decided to throw caution to the winds and just follow my whim. I wandered all over the city on foot, stopping where I wanted for as long as I wanted. I whizzed past the more popular and crowded temples that were on my itinerary and instead spent hours walking through smaller lesser known temples deep in the woods where the beauty of the autumn colours had to be seen to be believed. I ate at odd times at the small kiosks selling traditional Japanese food without having to worry about the food choices of anyone else.
It was an exhilarating experience.
Usually when we travel in a group we tend to fit ourselves into the company we keep. We adjust to the likes, dislikes and wants of others. And I suppose this is how it should be. But at times, I also like to revel in my "selfishness".
"When you travel with others, it is not truly travel, it is simply a holiday."
Travelling alone gives you an incredible sense of freedom. Stay in a hotel or a quaint B&B. Walk when you want, or take the train. Skip a museum or spend your whole day wandering in them or simply sit in a café watching the world go by. Indulge in fine dining or eat the local food off the street. Get up at five in the morning to catch the sunrise or sleep till midday. It's all up to you!
The biggest myth about travelling solo is that you will feel lonely and get bored. No you won't! There is a great difference in being alone and being lonely. I have spent many perfect hours simply being with myself but not feeling lonely even for an instant. And no one who has a soul of a wanderer can ever get bored while travelling.
Travelling solo is a chance to step away from our daily life, away from the people we usually interact with. When you travel alone it is not just a journey to a new place, it is a journey within yourself. You will discover things about yourself that you never thought existed. Being on your own changes you, makes you a different and I dare say a better person. It gives you that sense of space so lacking in our lives.
You also become more aware of your surroundings, more observant. I really believe true appreciation of nature needs solitude. I have seen wonderful things while travelling with others but the sights and sounds that have stayed with me the most are the ones I saw alone. When you are on your own, you learn to savour the moment, discover your own piece of happiness.
I went to Ladakh with a group of friends but decided to steal a day to walk around Pangong Lake on my own. The time I spent there in utter solitude just watching the play of sun and clouds over the water will stay with me forever.
When you travel with others, it is not truly travel, it is simply a holiday. To wander about a new place with just your thoughts for company, with no compulsion to follow a plan, to conform or adapt to anything - now that is travel!