Since last week and for the rest of the month, I am travelling alone across Canada. It has been something that I’ve always wanted to do since I was a tiny kid. Especially after my 6th grade and 8th grade teachers fanned the flames of curiosity and imagination.
So as I write this right now, I’m sitting in my host’s house in Vancouver BC. Today is a rest day because as of right now, my legs hurt, my arms hurt, and yes, my butt hurts too. In the past 3 days, I’ve hiked up two mountains (Whistler and Grouse), kayaked 7 hours total, and spent the rest of it wandering around downtown Vancouver. Living the dream (but everything still hurts).
I am definitely having the time of my life, but uh not everything has been what I expected. My 8th grade dreams of being able to run around Canada on swashbuckling adventure has been slightly altered by a few things from my heartbreaking friend: reality.
So for future reference (because I have terrible memory) and for anyone looking to travel alone, here’s my dump of the ups and downs of travelling alone.
Down: Not Having A Car
Not being able to rent a car sucks, because that means that I’m stuck taking public transit everywhere. Not that this is anything new.
But it does mean that I regularly have these 1h commutes where there is… nothing to do.
And just like anywhere else, when you travel, there are still rush hours, crazy people, and a lack of places to sit down.
On the bright side, I have never been able to burn through so many podcasts episodes in such a short span of time 😀
Down: Not Having Anyone To Talk To
This one is weird, because I’m not that big of a talker. I rather ask a really good question and let the other person do the talking.
But I miss being able to shout out a discovery or random thought and have someone be there to confirm that my voice exists and matters. I’ve caught myself talking to myself a few times.
Example of what I miss:
“Hey that’s a really nice view.”
Up: Meeting Strangers and Having Good Conversations
This is the flip side of not having anyone to talk to: you end up talking with strangers. When you’re with a friend, it’s rare that you would ever go out of your way to talk to anyone else. Have questions? Ask a friend. Not sure what to do? Ask a friend. Bored out of your mind? Talk to a friend.
But when there’s no one else to talk to, you have to turn to strangers.
It’s pretty cool actually.
When we’re smaller, we’re told not to talk to strangers, because all of them offer candy and drive scary white vans with tinted windows.
But strangers are by and large, very nice people (at least in Canada). I find asking them for opinions, advice, or talking about travel a great way to pass the time. Through conversations with strangers in the past week, I’ve learned / talked about:
- An Aboriginal Centre in Whistler, one of the best of its kind, that I had no idea about. Ended up visiting and had a blast.
- Why I should learn Mandarin because China is where all the business opportunities are
- Places that I “simply must” go to in Seattle, which informed my plans for my little day trip there.
- Why one lady doesn’t want to go travel internationally: “Canada and BC are so beautiful, why would I want to leave?”
- What Cuba was like 40 years ago
- Development in Vancouver and surrounding areas
Another thing that I enjoy a lot more than just the topic of the conversation, is just being able to learn more about each person’s story and life through those few minutes of conversation. It’s a fleeting thing, because most people have to run somewhere. A bus will come. The train will stop. They give you a smile or a handshake, then you never get to see them again.
Down: Money and Budget
You’re on your own buddy. No parents or relatives to give you money, buy you food, and book all your tours for you.
When you plan to travel solo, you have to learn how to save up, make financial choices, and budget.
Not going out for a week can save me 20 or 30 bucks. That’s enough for public transit for my entire stay in Vancouver.
Avoiding the desire to buy new clothes and books? That can easily save me 120 bucks. That’s how much the round trip Greyhound and Airbnb in Seattle cost.
The worst thing about this? Sometimes you see really good food when you’re travelling. Sometimes it’s affordable. Other times, when you have to drop 7 bucks for a tiny eclair, it’s not worth it, no matter how good you think it might be.
Up: Wandering and Doing Stupid Things
When you travel alone, you get… complete freedom. There’s no schedule you have to stick to other than one that you’ve made yourself. There’s no one pressuring you to do things that you don’t want to do. There’s no one to complain when you do the really weird things that you want to do.
After walking around downtown Vancouver, I was a little bit tired. I had been biking and walking all day and I needed a break.
I walked into the Vancouver Central Library, plopped myself on a chair, and proceeded to read comic books for the next 2 hours.
Down: Planning Ahead
If you want to have fun and survive when you travel, I have discovered that it helps a lot to have a plan.
Where are you going to stay? How are you going to get there? When are you going to leave? What are you going to do? What are you going to bring with you?
It’s a very big logistical nightmare, that takes up a lot of time and use of spreadsheets. But it’s a logistical nightmare that matters a lot because if you don’t worry about some of those details, you could end up sitting outside in the rain, desperately trying to find a box to stay in for the night because you didn’t call the host, were later than expected because you took the wrong bus your phone is now dead, and you didn’t bring a battery pack.
You also get a cold, because you forgot to pack a raincoat.
Used to always leave it to the parents, and then complain because the trip they planned was real boring. Now appreciative of the fact that they had a plan.
Down: Getting Lost
There was one point on this trip where I took a bus the wrong direction. That’s not so big of a deal normally.
But it’s a little worse when this occurs on a mountain, your phone is out of battery, you left the battery pack at home, it’s becoming pitch black outside, and you’re not 100% sure of how you are going to get back to the house. Oh, and you’re not sure whether the host is going to fall asleep and leave the door locked.
Do you have a travel partner in crime? Chances are their phone had battery, or they would have told you that you’re taking the bus in the wrong direction, or they would have warned you that it was getting dark earlier.
Nobody with you?
YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN BUDDY. FIGURE IT OUT.
Figuring it out involved swallowing my pride and… asking for directions.
Misc Sidenote: Taking Pictures
When you travel with other people, sometimes you get lucky, and they are a bona-fide, Instagram worthy photographer. They never go anywhere without a DSLR, and have a tripod ready for use. When that happens you get some pretty nice pictures like below.
Other times, if you ever need a photo, the only way you’re going to get one is by asking a random stranger to take them for you. You have to go up to them, smile, ask if they can take a picture, and then show them how to use a phone. Sometimes you have to be more strategic. You take a picture for them first, and they’ll ask you if you want a picture to save you the awkwardness of asking them first.
Then there’s always the risk that they suck at taking photos, and you get a blurry shot with a finger hovering over the camera. You don’t want to offend them because they’re so proud of the photo they’ve taken that you thank them, wait for them to walk away, then look around for another friendly stranger.
I’ve asked a lot of random strangers to take picture for me. But all I have is my phone. But hey, my phone is good enough 🙂 The real problem starts when there is no one around to take picture for you 🙁