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Thoughts of a Solo Traveler

(Reprint from News: April 7, 2002)

April 5, 2002


I had only a few more days in Australia before I was going to fly back to America, and as I drove out of Coffs Harbor heading south on Highway One, I thought about my travels during the past few months.  Overall I had a really great time seeing Australia for the first time and I was definitely glad I came over here, as I've mentioned several times.  However, my trip wasn't always rosy.  As I discovered, there's a big difference between traveling alone in your home country and traveling alone in a foreign country.  


If you've been reading my website, you know that I really enjoy traveling alone.  That's because I enjoy doing what I like to do, when I like to do it, and I don't like being tied down to someone else's schedule (yep, I'm a crusty ol' curmudgeon and I'm damn proud of it).  I especially love driving alone around the U.S., because I'm familiar with just about every region, having traveled through all the states and having lived in many of them.  Wherever I go in the U.S., I'm within a day's drive of a friend or relative.  Indeed, visiting friends is one of the reasons I love to travel around America. 


In Australia, though, I was totally on my own, things were a bit different, and I didn't know anyone.  This past fall before I left Bellingham, I spent several weeks preparing for my overseas trip:  getting film, clothes, books, etc.  What I didn't prepare for, though, was the prospect of being completely alone and having to be totally self-reliant for the next four months.  While I really enjoyed my trip overseas and am glad I went by myself, I was surprised to discover that traveling alone, overseas, and for a long time was a bit of a challenge for me at times.  Fortunately, though, I'm a person who definitely enjoys his own space, so I dealt with the solitude better than most folks probably would have.  


Traveling alone definitely has its advantages, because it exposes you more to your surroundings, since your focus is on the place you're traveling through and not on your partner.  Furthermore, I think solo travelers are more approachable than pairs or groups, and consequently I met a lot more people than I would have otherwise. 


In those respects, then, I definitely learned more about Australia and New Zealand than I would have if I'd gone with someone else... and that was the point of my trip.  Yeah, it's nice to travel with someone else so you can have a "shared experience," but on the other hand, I figured that I was "sharing" my trip with my website readers. 


I actually had a chance to visit Australia with another person -- a cute woman, no less, whom I met shortly before I left Portland last spring.  Traveling with another person (and a person I didn't know very well) would have been interesting, I'm sure, and the experience would've been a lot different -- for better or worse!  She was a nice person and I think we would've gotten along all right, but overall, I'm glad that I decided to come over here alone.


In general, I had a great time traveling alone overseas, and that was largely due to two things.  One was e-mail.  The messages that I received from my friends and from people who stumbled across my website, taking a few minutes out of their day to send me a note made a big difference, and those encouraging notes kept my spirits up during the whole trip.  I won't forget the kind messages that folks sent to me while I was overseas, or the people who sent them.


Second, the hospitality of the people I met during my four months in New Zealand and Australia was overwhelming.  I'm thinking back now on many of the pleasant conversations that I had with folks in both countries, and there are just too many to list.  I was constantly amazed at how often total strangers would go out of their way to help me.  I don't know if that was because I was a solo traveler who looked like he was lost (which I often was), or if that's just the way folks are there.  Either way, I'm glad that I chose New Zealand and Australia as my first overseas countries to visit.


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