Solo No More?
Marc’s visit to France marked the first time that he and I have traveled together (for more than a weekend) in almost exactly three years. While he and I frequently take long weekend trips to reenactments, we haven’t traveled together in an extended sense, especially not internationally, in what feels like forever. While we traveled together, both with his French family and on our own, I did a lot of thinking about the way I travel.
To be honest, I’m not sure that solo travel holds much of an appeal to me anymore, at least not for extended trips.
While I do love the freedom to make my own schedule and “do my own thing” that traveling alone brings me, I’m beginning to doubt the value of that freedom. The freedom is nice, but I think I don’t use it well and I also have underestimated the joy I get from sharing the experience of traveling with someone else.
To be honest, most of the time when I travel I tend to just wander around aimlessly, taking pictures and I’m beginning to think that there is such a thing as being too aimless when traveling. Sure, I get good photos, but I also tend to miss out on a lot of things things. I rarely sit down to enjoy an actual meal, I rarely talk to anyone, and unless I accidentally stumble upon some site or attraction, I rarely actually go to see anything particularly significant. For instance, I lived in South Korea for a year but never visited the DMZ. How fucked up is that? While I was in Lyon with Marc, he allowed me to wander around and take photos, but he also made sure to do a little research about where to go ahead of time. Without him I would never have seen Fourviere, quite possibly the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen. I also would never have gone to Roman ruins, known about the 18th century clothing exhibit at the museum of fabric, and I definitely wouldn’t have known what to order in the traditional Lyonnais bouchons (answer: pork products).
I think that Marc complements me well as a traveler. Like me he doesn’t put a lot of value on soft mattresses and he can sleep through anything, he prefers the countryside to the city, and he likes a relaxed pace even if it means having to miss some things. However, he likes to see the “must-sees” that I often forget about (as he says, they’re “must-see” for a reason) which helps keep me from doing things like visiting Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. He doesn’t mind accompanying me while I take photos and is even getting good at snapping shots of me, but he also keeps me from making my days completely photo-focused (too much of a good thing, etc). We both notice things the other does not (he’s not detail oriented and I can’t see the forest for the trees), which allows us both to fill in eachother’s gaps. He’s also good at noticing when I’m hungry or tired, two feelings I often ignore and push aside when I’m on my own, and he knows when to shove a Nutella crepe into my hand. His experiences in the foreign service also help him to keep me from exoticizing the places I travel to. On the flip side, I bring a large degree of travel savvy to the table that he lacks, I’m confident traveling in places where I don’t speak the language, and I make sure that he doesn’t sleep through the alarm clock.
I’m also realizing that it’s really important to have a sounding board, as when my thoughts get stuck in the whirlpool of my own brain, they tend to become bigger than they really are. A delayed train or disappointing hostel that would have triggered rage if I were alone becomes a much smaller annoyance when I have someone with me to talk sense into me. As independently-minded as I am, I do need someone around who is willing to give me an occasional kick in the pants, especially when I start to get upset about something. Sometimes I need someone to tell me, as Marc did in Lyon, “shut up and go take a picture of that vintage motorcycle”.
While I do intend to continue with my solo travel, this trip has made me realize that I may actually enjoy travel even more if I bring someone along, be it Marc or a friend or even other bloggers. Having someone with me would help keep me focused, would bring dimension to the trip, and would even potentially open up doors that I was previously oblivious to behind my camera lens.