This is the final installment on how to travel alone. The first time we wrote about how to have fun, even if the idea of traveling alone seems boring or lonely. Our second post discussed how to be safe when traveling alone. This final installment discusses how to create memories of your trip that will stick with you forever.
Take Photos, But Not Too Many
It’s tempting to keep your Smartphone out all the time to document every single meal you eat, every tourist attraction you visit, and every foreign person you exoticize. I get it. You want to share these experiences with your friends, family, and 500 Instagram followers. But you need to slow down.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t take a selfie of you holding up the leaning tower of Pisa, or that snapping a few photos of the Taj Mahal is inherently bad. But when you document everything in photographs you’re more likely to forget the actual experience after it’s over; instead, you remember the photographs.
Hear me out: some of my most fulfilling travel experiences are the ones I didn’t document in pictures. They’re the small moments that don’t seem important at the time but end up becoming some of my most valuable memories:
Staying up all night in Bangkok and paying a woman on the street to do a miniature tarot card reading (I got the death card). Eating a samosa served in a greasy piece of newspaper from a boy manning a tiny food stall in Kathmandu. Sitting in a little apartment in Cádiz, Spain, playing the guitar and singing Joni Mitchell songs at the top of my lungs with a group of strangers from around the world.
By all means, take photographs. But leave your camera or Smartphone back at the hotel sometimes and soak in the experience.
There’s a Toni Morrison quote I love that captures what I mean: “At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.” And it really is enough.
Not to be too old fashioned, but there’s something to be said for pen and paper. Blogging is great, and it lets your friends and family know that you’re safe (see our “staying safe” post), but because you’re often writing with an audience in mind, there are experiences you’re leaving out.
I’m still a big proponent of writing in journals. There’s nothing quite like sitting in a coffee shop in New York City while the snow falls outside, writing in your journal all afternoon. Or, if you’re taking the Amtrak from Omaha to Chicago, you’ve got nowhere else to be but with your pen and some paper. Write down what you see. What strange characters are in the dining car with you? Are you bored? Write about why.
You can also use your journal to write about what on your trip inspires you, what disgusts you, what makes you angry, what makes you sad, and what makes you so happy your cheeks ache from smiling. These aren’t thoughts you want to share with your blog audience. They’re your own, and you should relish them. Years from now, when you look reflect on your trip, these journal entries will transport you back in time–not only to the trip you took, but to who you were when you took that trip.
Another writing exercise that I strongly recommend while traveling is sending postcards. If you’ve been on the receiving end of postcards, you know how fun they are to get. And if you take the time to do it right, they’re actually really fun to send too. I like to think of a postcard as a haiku (minus the syllable requirement). It needs to capture enough information that the person you’re sending it to gets excited about what you’re experiencing, but it needs to be short enough that it fits on half a 3.5×5″ card. Think of it as the original tweet. A tweet that goes to one special person.
I don’t care if I’m being cheesy here, guys. Sometimes you just gotta be cheesy. Cynicism doesn’t make memories.
This might run counter to what I wrote last week regarding staying safe, but the risks you take while traveling will create some of your strongest memories. Is a group of people from the hostel piling into a cab to go to dinner at a Senegalese restaurant in the Mission in San Francisco? For some people this might feel like taking a risk. For others it’s an everyday experience.
Maybe you should learn to scuba dive in the Bahamas or kayak in Puget Sound. Take a rickety bus from Fez to Chefchaouen, and buy your seat-mate a Coke. Get the Shinkansen tour package and see as much of Japan as you can–but only take one change of clothes.
Have you ever bungee jumped? Maybe it’s time you go to New Zealand by yourself and try it. I’ve heard hiking to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon takes about five hours. You should do it (but take plenty of water).
Eat new foods. Go to places you wouldn’t normally go. Feed pigeons. Spend 10 baht for a bag of fried bugs–and then eat them. Join a pickup game of soccer (aka football) in Costa Rica, and play barefoot.
While I absolutely do not endorse hitchhiking, it’s something many of us have done–especially abroad–and lived to tell the tale. This is safer when you’re doing it with one or more people, so please consider that before hopping into a truck with a stranger. Again, I do not endorse it, but my experiences hitchhiking are ones that I’ll remember forever.
While you’re traveling and meeting new people, ask them about their experiences. They’re sure to have some strange ones, and you can take inspiration from them. Many guidebooks also include off-the-beaten-path advice, and sometimes straying from the typical tourist path can be a big risk. People might not speak your language. They might laugh at you while you’re riding a bike through their town (this has happened to me in at least two countries), but don’t let that stop you.
We’ve had a lot of fun giving advice for solo travel. It’s something that I love, and if you do it right it’s something you might come to love as well. We’d love to hear your thoughts on travel, so join us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and sign up for updates in the sidebar.