And again I sit alone at the airport. I’m waiting for my connecting flight. It’s a long wait. But the coffee and croissant help me find to bridge the time someone. I see a crowd that is running past me to get the flight still on time. A little girl with her pink little shoes that just don’t want to eat and the young man on the other side of the table. He is finely dressed, with his business clothes and white ironed shirt. In one hand he is holding a newspaper, in the other one he is balancing his coffee. I love that moment when I sit at the airport. For me this place is the most fascinating one in the world. It stands for change, adventure, sharing and freedom. And it always takes me a trip down memory lane:
It was in 2012 when I had the crazy idea to go abroad. It shouldn’t be just a short trip. I really wanted to spend weeks, months alone abroad. I didn’t have any clue at that time what could happen But I wanted a new adventure. I had reached that moment as life completely devoured me and I just had to break out of my monotony. I made a conscious decision to travel alone. Even though I was scared. And I shouldn’t regret this decision any single day. Because what I didn’t guess back then: Travelling alone doesn’t mean that you are alone. Quite the reverse. My solo travels – later I was on a few other ones – have taught me many lessons. And they have given me an understanding of myself, other people and life itself.
Alone with my huge red suitcase and my purse I got lost at the airport of Hyderabad in India. My Pick-Up Service simply didn’t appear. And my phone network – how could it be differently – simply wasn’t without any signal. I was close to despair. The first time alone on travel and then something bad happened. But I summoned up all my courage and left the protective cocoon called airport. Already meters before the exit dozens of taxi drivers were waiting for me and talking to me obsessively. Of course I informed myself previously and I knew about fake taxi drivers, who rip their customers off or rob them. And somehow I managed to find a halfway decent driver. The price didn’t matter at all. The main thing was to leave behind fast this horde of madmen. I paid way too much, but I arrived unharmed at my destination. That was my first challenge all alone on foreign soil.
The more often I have travelled alone, the more certain I have become in dealing with such unexpected situations. Now I know how to bargain with street vendors and taxi drivers. I learned to eye my belongings always, really always. With great pride, I must admit that I have never lost anything. And now I am courageous, much more open to strangers. That’s a good thing. Because if you’re a solo traveller, you have only yourself, and your instincts. Things like asking for the right direction, ordering food and planning the next stage of your journey, all those stuff you have to do independently. This can be very tough at first. But if you lie in bed at night, recall the past day and you realize that somehow you could overcome all difficulties, you’re incredibly proud of yourself. And exactly this feeling boosts self-confidence.
But the most thrilling thing is when you tell others of your solo trip and you receive positive feedbacks: “What you were travelling alone? I wouldn’t have the courage to do that!” “Your photographs are so insanely great.” “I would also like to travel to that place one day!” Exactly those words are my engine and my drive. Then I am proud to say that I could manage everything alone and on my own – no matter how adverse the circumstances have been.
Enjoy the infinite freedom
It was so surreal, as I walked along the Rio Paraguay in the Pantanal. The sun set slowly and the first nocturnal animals came out of hiding. Armed with my camera I tried to snap a few shots before going back to the lodge, as a rare feeling permeated throughout my body. I felt balanced, happy and free. Somewhere in the middle of Brazil in scorching heat. This idyllic panorama seemed to elicit my own idyll and to chasten me. On my solo travels I needed to face that characteristic, my thoughtfulness, again and again. But it wasn’t that unpleasant. Because my inner monologue is like a friend to me, a constant companion who have had always supported me weighing up situations and making the best out of my travels. I still barely trust the help of strangers.
I have also taken some time to understand that being alone isn’t an isolation at all. Instead it is a personal freedom, a choice. It is hard to believe how much you make yourself conditional on others in every day without listening to your own needs. Solo travelling is a welcome change in this regard. Because you decide individually what you want to do where and when. This freedom overwhelmed at first because it was hard for me to make a decision. The thirst for adventure runs through my veins, and somehow I wanted to explore everything at once. But over time I have learned to fulfil my dearest wishes first and then I would also still have enough time for the rest. And if not, then I just have to come back. This healthy selfishness I treat myself!
Standing up to storms
Yes, and solo trips also harbour some dangers. Because what do you do when you have to go to a tiny bathroom totally jam-packed? Or how do you behave at night? Do you go alone outside or will you always be at home? And what happens if you spend hours going around in a circuit and you just can’t understand a single word of the local language?
Questions upon questions, with which I was confronted on my travels. But my worst problem was when I had to force my way through the Indian bureaucratic jungle. The Foreigner Regional Registration Office is for many foreigners, who stay long-termed on the subcontinent, an absolute horror. You go to a counter, explain your concerns and then you get a ticket with a number. Only with that number you are allowed to enter the waiting hall where you will stay for hours, until you come up against a more or less competent employee. I had to go to the FRRO repeatedly because there were some problems with my registry. Any document was always missing, whether from my company, from my landlord or from the student’s organization which was responsible for my stay. No one took me by the hand and felt responsible for completion of my registration. And so it happened that I signed up too late and had to pay a fee. I don’t know anymore how much it was, but since that day my passport is disfigured with the words “late registration”. A blemish which weighs heavily on my mind.
On my solo trips I have learned how to deal with such difficulties. Because when I get on the wrong bus, walk in the wrong direction for hours or something gets lost, then there is only one person I can blame: myself. You have to learn to forgive yourself such “mistakes”. Frustration is no good thing in such situations. It is better if you look for a creative solution, because otherwise you will lose minutes, hours, even days. And that would be such a pity when you travel.
Appreciating your home
After three months in India there was one thing that I missed badly: German bread. How gladly I would have been just to bite into a slice of sunflower seed bread with jam. What I would have given for this. But there were only cornflakes, Indian breakfast or sandwich bread. And of course you miss material things not alone, but also your friends and your family, especially if there are some problems, if you sit alone in your room or if you just need a hug. There is no one you can communicate with face-to-face in your mother tongue. At least not at the beginning because over time you will get to know new people, make friends with them and somehow they become companions on your solo trips. And no matter where I have been: I have always met a German tourist. Some of them were only on a short trip, others were crazy like me and spent several months abroad.
On solo trips, you realize who and what are near and dear to you. And you understand how much luxury you have at home, even if you often can’t see it because of all the daily stress. And you are grateful for little things: a stable internet and power connection that you could search vainly in India, a soft, cosy bed if you slept on a mattress for weeks and just considering that you are a German citizen. Because which country can offer such an intact social and supply system? You wouldn’t believe how many Indians regard Germany as the ultimate country for living. And somehow it makes me proud. Especially if once again a bomb blast in Hyderabad (India) was committed and I witnessed it or if an acquaintance from Afghanistan tells how many of his relatives already lost their lives in the war.
The wanderlust fever
The problem of solo travels: People become hooked on them. You are addicted to adventure, to the new or just to leave your four walls again and again. For me, every solo journey is always a journey to myself. I discover myself better and better. And that is a thousand times more important to me than spending all my money in ephemeral things like stuck cars, clothes and jewellery. I am convinced that there is more in life than just work and earning money. Sure, I work to finance my travels. But I try to find a balance in order not to suffocate in my daily routine.
The generation Y is full of dreamers like me. People who – thanks to the globalization – know no geographical boundaries anymore and like to learn from life, from their own experiences. I want to discover everything, see it with my own eyes and store it in my memory forever. For that reason I leave some RAM over in my mind which – from rational perspective – I should better release for my studies.
And to be honest: I’m afraid that one day I will no longer be able to travel. Therefore, I allow myself that luxury now before I will be caught up in family and working life too much and can’t escape that easily anymore. But as long as you have the opportunity and some money for a rainy day, I recommend everyone to travel around the world. You can learn so much about yourself, your desires and goals which you probably would never realize otherwise.