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The benefits of traveling alone

stories from the road

sunny 85 °F
View Summer - Fall 2009 on efstein's travel map.

As I mentioned a few posts back, I am, per the norm, divided on the concept of the travel buddy when on the road alone. Obviously its nice to have a partner in crime to eat or drink with, but after these social occasions I find myself generally regretting my decision to take on a travel mate. I should add that I meet many backpackers who consider the act of finding traveler partners as an integral aspect of independent travel. To each their own, some people see the random act of pairing with a stranger as an added adventure. I normally see it as an inconvenience.

With that lead in, I took the overnight train with Blake from Bangkok to Chaing Mai. We had by now discovered that in our heads we had very similar itineraries for the upcoming weeks. Unfortunately, by the time I boarded the train my immediate itinerary was finding away to 'break up' with my travel partner. He took it well, I think he could sense I was itching to get out on my own, so it was a fond farewell and we parted ways when we got off the train. He is a nice guy, an independent traveler, and its not as though he was holding me up or required a dependency that bothered me. Its just that we were looking for different experiences. Additionally, I got used to enjoying afternoons by myself reading a book at a restaurant or planning a walking tour of a new place. With Blake, an afternoon meal meant more redundant conversation where I would have preferred reading my book. I have traveled with a good friend of mine from home and it went great. I am not against traveling with people, its just that the odds of finding a backpacker on the road that gels with me is evidently hard.

But a great example of life without a travel partner occurred these past few days in Chaing Mai. Blake was heading to the first listing in Lonely Planet (sigh). I took a taxi into town. I ended up viewing several rooms before staying in Libra Guesthouse, a family run place with english speaking hosts in the old city, a neighborhood I had previously researched. As I was perusing the neighborhood that evening a guy in a local bar complimented my t-shirt, a new one I had just purchased in the Bangkok market. And just like that I met a group of Chaing Mai residents, both expat and local Thai who turned out to be my social companions for the next four days. These were not backpackers and the experience of meeting locals and/or permanent western residents is far and away different from going to the Lonely Planet touted hostel and making the usual small talk. Dinners, drinks, motorbike rides to neighborhoods I'd never have found on my own and stories about life in northern Thailand with these people are the types of experiences I enjoy because it is never sought out, it just happens.

Speaking of which, today, I awoke with the intention of getting a bus ticket to Chaing Khong, a border town and gateway to Laos. At the bus station I am told the tickets are sold out. Back to town, I am agitated. I love Chaing Mai, but with less than a month to go on this trip, a wasted day is a bitter pill to swallow. I head straight to a travel agency and book a minibus that will get me to Chaing Khong at two in the morning. More expensive and terrible time, but it gets the job done. The booking agent is a guy named Noi. I walk up to him at 1230 in the afternoon. He is passed out on a chair with no shirt on, and he has an impressive collection of tattoos. To me, the perfect guy to get me a ride out of town. We start talking and before I know it I spend the afternoon in a bar playing pool with him, he takes me on the back of his motorbike to the local thai only market for lunch, and I am given a Tibetan necklace as a memento of our day together. He is a great guy, a serious Buddhist, a former Muay Thai boxer, a father, and now, on most days, he is a hungover tourist agent.

This is what I will remember. Days of traveling with another guy from America, going to western bars and having the same conversation over and over again - where are you from? Where are you going? How long have you been traveling? --- shoot me in the head, I dont need this conversation anymore

Mr. Blue, one of the characters I met in Chaing Mai advised me that the questions you can not ask on the road are the 'where are you going' where are you from varieties. Open ended questions, as all lawyers know, are much better if you want to get someone talking. Again, to each their own. There is no one way to travel, and no right way to travel. If my tone is condescending, I apologize, but its simply my attempt to celebrate what I enjoy on the road and should not be misconstrued as criticism of how others live out their travels.

Posted by efstein 02:23 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking

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Most people are reluctant to travel alone on principle alone. I'm very glad to hear your choice to roll solo is working out well for you.

Hoping you find a Laotian thinking circle. Much credit for going East, Fink

by Drew B.

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