The Dignity of Traveling Alone

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Introduction

Many years ago, I was at the sadly now-closed Holmes & Watson, (Sanzone, 2012) an upscale bar in Troy, New York, and noticed a man sitting alone at a table. He was well dressed, reading, and sipping one of the superb imported or micro-brewed beers the establishment was well known for. He had an air of dignity and confidence, and looked perfectly comfortable sitting by himself. This was in stark contrast to a woman sitting alone at a table at another bar in upstate New York. She sat alone, holding her drink tightly, and looked very unhappy. At one point she timidly asked a waitress if it was OK if she sat there for a while, and the waitress kindly assured her it would be fine. She looked very out of her element. The setting between these two was similar, but the contrast was striking. The man was an introvert; the woman was shy and withdrawn to the point of social phobia.

Introverts are neither shy, nor timid.

Introversion is a personality trait which encompasses a preference for solitude, quiet, deep, meaningful conversation, sharing ideas, taking pleasure in small things, and noticing things others miss out on. We gain energy and are restored by being alone, reading or thinking, or with a small group of other introverts, discussing deep ideas. Parties, clubs, gatherings, and small talk are draining, exhausting, and make us cringe.




I am an introvert. I enjoy silence, quiet, solitude, my own thoughts, and observing, and learning. I love good food, sitting in cafes for hours, reading, and I love the outdoors- walking, running in 90 degree heat, or snowshoeing when it is 20 below, fly-fishing, picking wild berries, exploring old abandoned buildings, and taking photos.  I like these things even more outside of my own neighborhood. I enjoy picking a point on the compass, hopping in the car, and exploring. I embrace doing this by myself.

 “That is so cool; I wish I could do that…”

This is the statement I got from one of my young, female criminology students when I mentioned I was going to stay in Quebec for a week on vacation, alone. As a single young woman, she indicated she did not feel safe enough to travel alone, particularly to a foreign country (although we only 15 miles from the US/Canada border, it is still a foreign country). Granted, the course section on serial killers probably did not set her at ease.  I had slid into the extrovert-normative perspective that what I was planning was boring and dull. Loser-traveling alone?  You want to wander the aisles of grocery stores, sit in a café for hours, visit bakeries; take pictures of old stone churches? Then write about it in a journal while you sit in a hotel room alone that night? Get a life. Umm, yeah, I like doing those things.  That is having a life. My student reminded me of the reasons why I do this.

  • You can be anonymous. You can talk to locals or others travelers if you choose, or be left alone.  You don’t have to have the quiet interrupted.

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  • You can explore where tourists don’t go. Two of the most memorable afternoons I have experienced were in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, and Farnham Quebec. Hyacinthe is the most French speaking city in Quebec. More than 96% of the people speak French (Government of Canada, 2015). I did not see another American or hear English spoken when I was there. I was exploring the Centre Ville (Downtown) on foot when I stumbled on to a farmer’s market. For a few dollars, I got a book of tickets that I could present to the vendors for samples of their produce, jams, olive oils, honeys, or pastries and breads. People were delighted and surprised to have an American visit their city, and we attempted to converse in their broken English and my far more broken Francais. Another day I had to take a detour due to road construction, and came upon an abandoned factory. As I did not see any Défense de Passer (No Trespassing) signs,   I entered and explored with my camera for hours, fascinated by the beautiful decay all around me, in an activity called UrBex, or Urban Exploration (Forbidden places , 2014; WebUrbanist, 2015).  Photos, video, or sketches only, disturb nothing, remove nothing and no graffiti, are the code of ethics of Urban Explorers.

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  • You can experience new things (I mostly experience food): Smoked cheddar, and salted caramel fudge from the General Store in Bath, New Hampshire, the best hot sauce, Pick-a peppa, from Wild Oats, in Williamstown Massachusetts, Poutine (French fries, melted cheese curds, and gravy) from Valentine’s, in Quebec, and the freshest, cleanest tasting ice cold water in the springs at Congress Park, Saratoga Springs, New York. There are the fish cleaning stations in Oswego New York. Drop in some quarters, and the hose turns on, so you can clean your catch on a table and hose it off. These are things I don’t have in my area; elements of a local culture that make a place unique.

 

  • You can take your time. You don’t have to rush to accommodate others. The things I like will try the patience of most people. I like grocery stores, natural food co-ops, bakeries, roadside food stands, waterfronts, bike paths, and café’s.  These are the places I look for when traveling alone, and I can spend hours there. Before I ever heard of Anthony Bourdain, of the Travel Channel, (love his show, and I thought his book No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach. (com, 2015) was written for me, as I love doing the very thing he does- traveling and eating). Granted, he goes to much more exotic places, and is accompanied by a camera and support crew. I have to carry my own camera, and I have no support crew, which leads us to:

Tips for traveling alone.

Safety First:

  • Start educating yourself on personal safety (Machine, 2013), a topic way beyond the scope of this article. I admit that many years of making a living counseling criminal offenders and their victims has skewed my view of the world as a safe place.
  • Let others know of your itinerary. Send at least three emails and make at least three phone contacts with different people before you depart, letting them know where you are going, when you are returning, and the appropriate response if you are overdue/off the grid.
  • Carry reserve cash. Always keep some extra cash in your wallet, car visor, and one or two other places.
  • Always have water with you- carry two times as much as you think you will need.
  • Make certain any medical conditions are well managed, or injuries healed before taking off. Bring prescription meds with you; double the amount you anticipate needing during your trip. If you have allergies, carry an epi-pen and oral antihistamines, as recommended by your physician.

Maximizing the experience:

  • Keep a journal. As I noted above, I keep an E-travel journal on my laptop, where I record my memorable experiences, and observations while exploring.
  • Bring a camera to capture the essence of the location.
  • Eat the local food, where the locals eat. Why eat at a chain restaurant like you have in your own town, when you are away? Be adventurous and try something completely new.

Conclusion

Traveling is a life enriching experience. Don’t be afraid to do it alone. Go soak it up.

References:

Amazon.com. (2015).  No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach Amazon.com. Retrieved June 27, 2015, from http://www.amazon.com/No-Reservations-Around-World-Stomach/dp/1596914475/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1435433215&sr=8-5&keywords=anthony+bourdain++books

Forbidden places. (2014). Everything about Urban Exploration. Forbidden Places.net.  Retrieved June 27, 2015, from http://www.forbidden-places.net/why.php

Government of Canada. (2015). Census agglomeration of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec. Statistics Canada.   Retrieved June 27, 2015, from https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/as-sa/fogs-spg/Facts-cma-eng.cfm?LANG=Eng&GK=CMA&GC=452

Machine, D.A. (2013). Personal Safety for travelers and photographers. JPG.com. Retrieved June 27, 2015, from http://jpgmag.com/stories/19235

Sanzone, D. (2012). Holmes & Watson sold to new owners. TroyRecord.com. Retrieved June 27, 2015, from http://www.troyrecord.com/general-news/20120321/holmes-watson-sold-to-new-owners

WebUrbanist. (2015). Urban Exploration: Beginner’s Guide to Building Infiltration. Weburbanist.com. Retrieved June 27, 2015, from http://weburbanist.com/2007/08/05/urban-exploration-beginners-guide-to-adventures-in-building-infiltration/

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David A Porter

David A Porter

David A. Porter is a licensed clinician, specializing in addiction and criminal behavior, an adjunct instructor in psychology and criminology, and an introvert. He enjoys being left alone sometimes to go on fishing, photography, and eating trips.

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1 Comment

  1. Mary Dolan says

    Your article is inspiring. I have never travelled but hope to do so now.

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