For months, I had been planning an international trip for my school’s extended winter break. It would be my first time traveling overseas alone- something that rose a bit of concern from my parents, who were not super familiar with my destination of choice.
To find compromise and ease their nerves, I decided to recruit a friend to travel with me. We got along pretty well at home and he was just as eager as I was to escape a few cold weeks of winter. The plan seemed perfect…
…Until it wasn’t. Once flights were booked and most accommodations were made, I began to see issues arising. It started with simple things- a disagreement over hostels vs. hotels; a time lag between when I thought he should have this decision made vs. when he actually did.
As small disagreements kept forming, I became worried that the trip might not go as smoothly as planned.
My worries manifested themselves almost immediately. We argued about borrowing each other’s things, our travel smarts (or lack thereof), how we spoke to one another, even about the length we took to nitpick such matters. Two weeks in and I was ready to pull my hair out, as I’m sure he was as well. Being together close to 24 hours a day and making most decisions together is far beyond what typical friendship entails. It brings with it many difficulties that are hard to anticipate before being thrown into that unfamiliar situation.
How could he be so insensitive? Disrespectful? Foolish? Naïve?
These thoughts crept up regularly. It makes me cringe admitting that each judgmental opinion running through my head gave me a sense of pride.
I am a more skilled traveler. I am more conscious/aware.
But despite the payoff that I received from these validations, I felt an even greater sense of stress and frustration. It was putting a damper on my mindset, which ultimately put a damper on the trip. And that’s when I began to change my perspective.
Because what I realized was that the common denominator in all of these conflicts was myself. Looking back, my friend didn’t seem to have any issues with the other people we were interacting with throughout the trip. Granted, they weren’t living in such close quarters with him, but they also seemed to take life less seriously and appreciate the “eccentricities” within all of us- two traits that I struggle to embody.
“You can’t control others- the sooner you learn that, the happier you will be.”
This advice, which I had hypocritically given to my friend earlier in the trip, soon became my own mantra. It is very hard for me to go with the flow, to let others take the lead or to trust their instincts as much as (or more than) my own. This is partly why solo travel appeals to me in the first place. But as appealing as it seems to be totally in charge of the way your trip pans out, such idea of control is an illusion.
Things always come up: a flight is delayed, a stomach bug is caught, a “fancy” hotel turns out to be a bust–even if you are traveling alone. Such is life. The great thing about traveling with a partner or a group is that they will challenge you. It is through challenge that you will gain new experience and perhaps do some soul-searching. These are the reasons I travel in the first place. Having someone very different than me by my side reminded me of this–to learn to let go and remain open to new experiences. And that lesson doesn’t go away when you come home–it’s this letting go that stays with you when you come back to your “normal” life.
Have you ever traveled solo or with someone, and had an experience that changed your perspective?
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What I Learned from Communal Living
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Also by Quincy: 6 Not So Obvious Stressors to Avoid in the New Year
Photo: Martinak15 via Flickr