Had lots of random thoughts on my two week trip. But two kept floating to the top:

1) I feel like the essence of travel is really captured when it’s done alone.
2) It’s the details and context of the places you visit that matter.

When in a group, I’m so likely to fall into old habits. I’m more likely to ask for directions or help in English. I’m more likely to engage in my traveling partners’ company than in observing and immersing myself in what’s going on around me. Etc.

I spent my time pretty evenly between tagging along with random groups of people that I bumped into and true solo exploration. As much as I enjoyed the comfort that came in numbers and having fun people to talk to, this experience a world apart from being alone. I got the most out of my travel experience when I observed the random details of the city I was in. When I badly stumbled to ask questions in a foreign language. When, generally, I was keenly aware of my ‘foreignness’. It was the most uncomfortable, but also the most enriching. This was the feeling that I treasured most from my travels: a feeling light years away from my everyday life.

Traveling in a group is very comfortable and fun. But most of us are pretty comfortable in our everyday lives, already. A little distance from it does us good. Of course, many people travel for the primary purpose of escape and enjoyment. Traveling with a best friend, girlfriend, spouse or whatever, totally provides a really fun, enjoyable experience. But that’s a vacation not traveling.

The other thing I noticed were the absurdity of photos. The Eiffel tower. The Brandenburg gate. The Coliseum. La Sagrada Familia. One would think that these poor monuments lacked meaning or beauty without a tourist’s smiling face in the foreground. It struck me as kind of bizarre how without fail, people scurried to get photos of themselves in front of these beautiful, historic sites. Often they’d rush, wait in line, and then spend most of their time taking photos. Early on I was very guilty of this, too. And then seeing myself doing the same thing as everyone else, made me wonder what I was going to get out of all these photos. There are tons of these photos online. I think it’s because we’ve been trained to take pictures. We’ve also been trained to think in terms of “I can say I was there” or ” I can say I saw this”. But I really questioned why that really mattered, and why I really cared about having a photo in front of the Coliseum. So I focused more on trying to suck in the details of the various places I went, and more specifically, I tried to learn details about why these places actually matter.

Two random thoughts, but before I left I hadn’t given a seconds thought to either.

5/11/13 – It’s nice to see any entry that held up well through the years and that I’m not a little ashamed of. During my summer travels last year, I spent a lot of time in groups. That feeling of connection is pretty powerful. By virtue of being gone for months meant there was plenty of solo-time. Reading this makes me wonder if it would have been an even richer experience if I had spent even more time alone. I did take a ton of photos on both trips, but I’m glad to say I’m barely in them. It’s much more of the surroundings to help me remember or in a vain attempt at artistry. Similar to the above trip, the number of photos I snapped, declined as the trip went on.

3 Responses

  1. I feel the same Surya. Travel has to be done alone if one wants to soak in the new place and the people. In a group or even with family one will spend considerable time more in interacting with the members than soaking in the details. I like walking in any new city and if great distances are involved negotiating the city with the help of the map and local public transport gives a far more pleasure to me than driving along comfortably in a private vehicle.
    Regarding taking pictures, I think we are more conditioned to do so than to say" I was there". People want to have memorabilia with their own personal stamp to readily reminisce at a much later time.

  2. On the topic of the pictures, I can't say how much I second your argument. I too often find myself cursing "picture time" while on vacation with a photographyholic! I have enjoined my time in new places the most when I seat down at a cafe or a local eatery and I just people watch. So much can be soaked in when locals interact and act up their daily lives.

    Keep writing Surya, and I''ll keep enjoying


  3. When I was younger I didn't care much for the pictures. As if anyone I cared about wouldn't believe me if I said "I went to suchandsuchaplace" to the point that I needed proof. Also, the time spent getting a good picture when a postcard would do the samething is not time I cared to spend. However, since have a kid I enjoy taking pictures of her because I care about here, she and does like the proof, and the time is well spent. So, just saying that things will change.

    I don't like traveling alone. I do however like the off-beaten track, the leisureness, and the calmness that comes without others. However, I don't really "travel" more so as I go somewhere to visit. We generally go somewhere, set up a home base, and then roam.

    Great observations though. Glad to hear you had a good time.

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