Adam Jarret

Independent Cultural Immersion Project

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Traveling Alone


Before I left for England I was repeatedly asked if I was nervous and answered everyone honestly when I told them that I was not. I was excited, exhilarated, electrified and jubilant, but not nervous. Studying abroad for me was going to be an adventure, and I was very much looking forward to it.

Flying, for me, is always a bit of a hassle. No matter which airline or destination, I always get the full treatment from airport security. I have long since grown accustomed to prolonged glances from authority figures; it is a bias that comes as a package deal with youth, long hair and a scruffy beard. Looking how I look and getting around in Europe was not overly burdensome. The only real prejudice I encountered was demonstrated in little things like always being the first to get my ticket checked on a train, or being watched a little more closely than others in stores and restarants. Age bias is very real, but I cannot see any hope of stopping it in the future because no one stays young long enough to do anything about it. The problem is usually exacerbated in my case because I do not put an undue amount of effort into my apearance under normal circumstances. To further strain the issue, I tend to get pretty disheveled when I travel because I rarely have a solid plan and have slept in my fair share of airports and bus stations due to logistical oversights. It is almost impossible to get people to treat you with respect and dignity when you look like you slept in a bus station. Unfortunately, there is very little you can do to disguise your state when you actually did sleep in a bus station the previous night. On that note, all romantic notions of backpacking through Europe were shattered for me one night in Victoria Staion when I felt colder than I ever hope to feel again.

Frostbite fears aside; traveling without a plan, in my opinion, is the only way to travel. On my travels in Holland, in contrast to trips I have taken with my parents, I find that I can really get to know the feel of a place when I arrive not knowing where I???m going to sleep that night. I discovered this by never once booking a hostel before I was in the city needing a place to stay. It wasn???t any sort of challenge that I had posed to myself, it just felt like the right way to tour The Netherlands.

The key is to not panic and not make it a race. Of course, finding a bed for the night is a priority, but one that should be at the back of your mind as you see where the city takes you. The reason it???s a priority is twofold; beds obviously tend to fill up as the day goes on, but more importantly it is infinitely preferable to wander around the city without your luggage. My plan of attack was usually to wander until I found an internet cafe and check for close by (and cheap) accommodation. Nine times out of ten, if you are trying to find a cheap room online for later that night, the site will tell you that all the rooms are fully booked. In this case, actually being in the city gives you the huge advantage of actually walking to the hostel and asking for a room in person.

Obviously this can be a bit risky but it served me well through Breda, Amsterdam, Den Haag and Rotterdam. This method also leaves lots of room for happy coincidences. I define a happy coincidence as being any time you can say "hey, that worked out well." Often times you had minimal control over how the said happy coincidence came about, and very often some horrible complication would have arisen, had things resolved themselves differently. So it goes. Happy coincidences manifest themselves strangely and I do not in any way mean to imply that I get away with flying by the seat of my pants without any sort of turbulence. In fact, things rarely progress as I picture they might; distractions and set-backs often turn me around a few times, but it's all part of the fun. One fairly low impact happy conincidence that was nevertheless appreciated was when I was wandering around Barcelona wishing I would find a museum devoted to Salvador Dali. I had seen the Picasso Museum and had always preferred Dali's work of the two Spaish native artisits. After consulting Frommers and finding nothing, I was surprised and delighted to walk past a huge red sign that said ←DALI.

On my travels over April vacation, the big question on everybody's mind back home seemed to be how I was holding up traveling by myself. Traveling alone and traveling without a plan are two separate states of being, but they do go well together. In any attempt to travel together and without a plan, chaos can ensue. With no plan and a fellow traveller you are constantly bouncing ideas off each other, never really doing anything decisive. This can work out great if you are just enjoying each-other's company, but can get quite annoying when you and your travel companion are closer to acquaintances than good friends. I enjoyed my time traveling alone, but did occasionally find myself wishing the company of some of my best friends from home (and actually some of the people I had only known for a few months in the UK). Seeing a random sign that fit into and inside joke, or hearing a song or even just thinking of something funny out of the blue, I can always picture exactly who I would want to share it witth, how I would say it and even their response. Logistically, being alone is ideal for unrestricted travel, but you really start to feel the void at mealtimes. Eating alone is always a bit sad. I met my fair share of interesting people in my lone wanderings, but at the end of a tiring day of walking around, you don???t always have the energy to put into the effort of meeting people. A lot of times all you want is someone there who you are already comfortable with to just hang out, but the price of experiencing new things is occasionally missing some of the old.

In my mind, I regard traveling on a student budget (and sans-plan) and traveling with my family on a structured vacation as two completely separate things. On a structured vacation it can be very nice to see all the grand architecture and magnificent churches and actually know the names of everything and why it is important. Also, entry into art galleries and museums that would otherwise be outside my budget certainly enriches the trip for me. On these types of tours there is also no pressure on you to organize anything, with these responsibilities usually falling to the parents. On the other side of the coin its unbelievably liberating to be by yourself in a train station looking at the big board and wishing you had a dart to throw.

It seems to me that I have taken a very convoluted path to say what I had wanted to say, so I would like to pose the following. Traveling is the healthiest and most beneficial thing you can do. With good friends, a trip transitions into the best days of your life, and alone you learn all that you never could from a book. Experience makes cultural impressions that expand your mind and broaden your frame of reference, making you a more well rounded person. I pray I never stop traveling and can only try to not sound greedy when I hope that the future holds a life for me with more opportunities to explore.

©2007 Adam Jarret. All Rights Reserved.