The pros and cons of travelling alone
08.07.2016 - 08.08.2016 28 °C
Astrid has left me and returned to Denmark. I am, once again, “alone” in West Africa. All that time not spent drinking beer and laughing with Astrid has given me some hours to reflect on the differences between travelling alone and going together with a friend.
The biggest difference is, of course, the company that a travel companion brings. Since people are different, that is a very individual quality. So, it’s naturally difficult to say anything very specific about. Astrid, in particular, is well-travelled and no stranger to roughing it, having lived with rural families in both Nepal and Kenya on previous adventures. So I didn’t have to worry about complaints of roughing it too much here in Africa. On the contrary. Astrid actually noted, on a couple of occasions, that it was surprisingly nice and civilised to travel with me. (She had heard some horror stories from common friends).
Further, Astrid seemed to have taken a very casual approach to travelling with me – almost along the lines of just ‘following along’ wherever I went. Since I tend to over-plan (and then continuously change those plans), Astrid’s casual approach simply meant that we wouldn’t crash over different wishes or ideas. Apparently making everything a lot easy. Having somewhat designated roles between two people makes more of a team – making it a whole lot easier to travel together.
The one big con about company is that I suddenly lacked the privacy of travelling alone. Solo travelling means that I can always take a step back from the world. Just spend a night reading a book behind a closed door. And solo travellers are often loners, who like to make it on their own. Asking Astrid to leave me alone for a night would not have been a problem, but my expectations for myself would be to keep company. Since Astrid was only down here for a month it wasn’t a big problem at all, but had it been, say, two months; it might have come up. Simply because I don’t really travel for extended periods of time with other people.
Back on the pro-side of things, travelling with a friend is certainly more fun and less boring that travelling solo. There’s always someone there to chat with, play cards with or laugh at (sorry, Astrid). It’s also possible to mirror your own style of travelling with your companion’s. All those things I might want to do different (be more engaging with local kids, be less in control all the time, etc.) is easier to see when travelling with someone who approaches travel in those ways. It shows you that it can actually be done.
However, boredom isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yes, back home in the West, boredom is probably one of the worst feelings someone of my generation (or younger generations) can experience. Just think back to last time your internet connection failed. Boredom on the road, however, leads to reflections and often a better understanding of oneself. Only because the mind tends to wonder when there’s nothing else to do. The ritual of thinking, finally have time to flourish when boredom sets in – and since there’s nothing else to do, why not welcome it.
After the give-and-take of the company itself, it’s time to look at the biggest con of not travelling alone: the lack of local interaction. There are some reasons that explain this. First, when you’re by yourself, you’re simply more approachable for locals who want to have a chat. Because we were travelling in a pair, there would simply be fewer people who started conversations with us. Secondly, those local people who did engage with us, it is hard to keep our attention. Astrid doesn't speak any French, so I did a bit of translation. Breaking up the conversation constantly to talk to Astrid in Danish makes it a lot less fun for the poor person who engage with us. Not surprisingly, conversations end quicker as they would otherwise have done. Thirdly, sometimes it’s a matter of competition. When an interested local, say in a shared taxi, starts a conversation with one of us, the other could easily take attention away from that conversation by starting a new one (or just pointing to something interesting outside the window). That is a competition the locals will almost always loose. If for no other reason, that travel companions have to pay attention to each other.
But why are those local conversations so important? Because they are the conversations that lead to home visits, dinners and overnight stays. We had one or two offers of this sort doing the entire month (we declined both because we wanted mosquito proofed sleeping arrangements) of travel. Normally, I would have many more.
That isn’t to say that travelling in one way or the other is better. It’s just a different choice that ultimately leads to various experiences on the road. Just like there’s a difference to the experience between dragging a backpack on public transportation trough West Africa or to drive a bike through the same region. Any seasoned traveller should be aware of this, and I’ve made my choice of preferring solo-travel long ago. That doesn’t mean that company wasn’t fantastic. Seeing Astrid leave suprisingly gave me some very real thoughts of going back myself. Back to friends, family and the comfort of life at home. And for a few days, maybe even a week, my travel spirit had taken a severe blow.
I’m back on my feet now, happy to hit the road again. Something that is needed, since I’m getting into Guinea next. From here, the real difficulties starts. Beyond-poor infrastructure, next to no tourist facilities and even more rain than we’ve had previously...
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