Travel only with equals or betters; if there are none, travel alone. - Buddha
Generally speaking, most of my travel has been done solo. Egypt, Vanuatu, Ireland and the UK. Europe. The US, Asia and Africa were all trips that I did on my own.
I’d spent a week or two here and there with others, but nothing to the extent of what I was about to embark upon. Despite countless attempts to get unmotivated friends to join me on 'an adventure of a lifetime' they never eventuated, or whatever we planned I ended doing alone as they would pull out last minute. I was rather excited to see what it would be like to travel with someone for the first time ...
And not for the safety and security. The safety of traveling in groups can actually detract from the experience of going out on your own. Protected in your little group bubble you act as a collective, a group. You are not forced to reach out to others and are seldom spiritually challenged to see who you really are, alone and unprotected in a foreign country.
I have friends who boast that they've travelled. I have to bite my tongue when they regale me with stories of a whole week away from home, spending their time with group on a tropical island resort. Sorry buddy, but that ain't traveling - you just went on vacation.
As most solo travelers will know, you're never actually alone anyway. Travel opens up a social part of your mind, one that seeks the presence of others. Alone you meet other solo travelers, quickly become friends for the next five days, until you move on to the next city or adventure and find yourself looking for friends again. It can be a never-ending carousel of meeting strangers from all over the world. Fast friends as I like to call it.
Every week brings a new friend, each turn a new experience. Then you move on to find new ones. Some you stay in contact with, others you never hear from again, some you’ll get an Instagram message from seven years later commenting on how that new car you just bought ‘looks amazing bro!’.
The one thing you don’t get solo is that ability to really get to know someone at the deeper level, to share something with someone, in a way that no other worldly situation would afford.
Partners often live together for years learning the intricacies of each others personalities. Over time they even learn to tolerate each other. Yet I know several long-term partners who’ve broken up spending no less than a few weeks together on the road. The travel road is the ultimate test of a relationship.
I was lucky. I will say for the most part it was incredible to have someone by my side for all those experiences, to share the joys and wonderment of the road we travelled. Not only did I get the ability to experience it myself but also through their unique perspective.
In the words of Charles Schultz ;
In life, it's not where you go - it's who you travel with.
A true bond forms when you share the road with someone from your life back home. One that can never be broken. And though times were tense between us at various points, once the dust settles on your annoyance of each other you remember how special it was that a part of your life was experienced with another, as one.
You are friends for life.
And whilst you may form similar such bonds with others on the road, the one that lives in the same city as you, the one you see back home changed because of the trip, along with you, is something very different. Nobody else understands the bond, unless of course they’ve been through the same thing themselves.
You saw the world through each other’s eyes, living through each others dirty smells, bad habits and annoying quirks. In addition, you had someone to take a photo of you; someone to carry your backpack when you were too tired; someone to drag your drunk-ass home after drinking too much absinthe and someone to say - 'that was fucking amazing bro, thanks for sharing that with me.'
A few of the things that I best remember from my travel mate are ;
▪ Whenever I asked him a question that required a yes or no answer, his response – ‘If it’s not a no, then …’
▪ If in doubt about trying something different. - ‘Try everything once bro, some things twice.’
▪ When asked ‘how do you say cheers in Australia?’ - ‘Cheers kunt.’ (apologies)
▪ When deciding on food - ‘I bet she tastes alright!’
Prior to this experience I think I created this egotistical stigma about solo travel, that it was the best and only way to travel. Testing your wits against the world and really seeing what you were made of. Well I was right, it is a true test of self and solo, long haul travel is something everyone should experience. You'll get to know what you are truly capable of, alone.
Companion travel is a test of a different kind. For it tests your ability along with another’s and when the fun of travel begins to wear thin and annoyance sinks in, you test your ability to be able to work with someone when frustration is at a peak.
Try both, experience both, endure both. You’ll hopefully come out the other side a better person and, you’ll get a best friend for life.
Side note : If you find yourself never hearing from said travel buddy again, don't be alarmed - that's perfectly normal too!