Last week I had some time off work and I knew that I needed to make the most of it by going somewhere. The only problem was that I was the only one with this holiday, I was going to have to go solo. The best way to describe how I felt about going it alone was nervous, I’d never travelled alone before and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. I’m an extrovert, I thrive on the company and conversation of others and when that’s not available I will often resort to talking to either myself or inanimate objects. Possibly not the best candidate for solo travel? But getting out of your comfort zone (dare I say bubble?) is part of travel and it’s not always possible to travel with someone else – although I’d still say it is always preferable. So with determination I set out to experience the joys and trials of solo travel in Chengdu, a not-so-brave choice as it’s actually a city that I’ve already been to once before.
The thing that struck me most about heading out on my own was that I was so rarely actually on my own, and all the other solo travellers I met said the same thing. You may be making all the decisions and have the freedom to do what you want, when you want but you don’t have to be alone – unless you want to be. In the infinite wisdom of my mother “alone is a state of mind” (I’m not entirely sure what she actually meant but it sounds profound).
On the first day I managed to strike up a conversation with my room mate and then that was it, the start of a 4 day friendship – who knew asking to use some toothpaste was such a good conversation starter?!
Once you meet one person it becomes easy to meet more and I spent the majority of my time as a group of five. The wisdom I picked up from the whole experience can be broken down into one simple idea,
“most people don’t want to be alone”.
That other solo traveller in the hostel probably does want to talk to you and probably would be grateful for the company to explore a new place. Even that group of rowdy travellers may have just met a couple days ago and be happy for one more person to be added to the mix. Most things are far more fun with someone else, and this is where hostel organised tours come into their own. Sure, you may be able to do it cheaper and more efficiently on your own but can you meet a load of like minded people? Maybe not so easily. Nick, a solo traveller from New Zealand and my first new friend, decided to go on a hostel organised your to see the Chengdu Panda Research Centre (while I opted for a day wandering back lanes and temple browsing), and it was on that tour that the majority of the people I hung out with were found. Lesson learnt: tours are a great way to meet people.
Overall, did I enjoy travelling solo? Yes, I think I did. But maybe more because I met people and wasn’t truly alone. Had I gone to a city with no foreigners or other tourists maybe I wouldn’t have had the same positive experience, but then again maybe I would have. It’s hard to judge. I would still say that travelling with a companion is always more fun but does it matter whether this companion is a newly acquired friend from your previous stop or a long-term friend? I don’t think so. One of the benefits of solo travel is that it forces you to talk to other people; people who come from different backgrounds, have different stories and different outlooks on life, and to me the people are one of the biggest and most exciting parts of travel. Well, people and of course the food…
I stayed at the Lazybones Hostel (羊市街16号) – it was pretty good. Very close to everything, I walked almost everywhere. Don’t take the airport pick-up service; there was no driver when I arrived and calls to the hostel went unanswered after I was told someone would call me back. Instead, take the number 1 shuttle bus from the airport and get a taxi from the final drop off point.