On solo travel

Jan. 19, 2017, 8:50 a.m.
On solo travel
Traveling alone can be great for self-reflection, but it can also have its pitfalls, The Grind’s Xinlan Emily Hu reports. (LAURA MEDIORREAL/The Stanford Daily)

I have never traveled alone quite so much as I have in college; with each school break, I make the solo trek back home, which (including layovers, since no direct flight exists) requires at least ten hours. I realize that my own trip is far shorter than that of many international students; even so, I’ve found that the travelling has taught me far more than I anticipated.

  1. No, you can’t make the world your travel buddy. 

I started out very, very naive. On one of my first travel-alone experiences ever, I decided to purchase a meal at a food court and also to forget utensils and napkins. I thought it was a good idea to temporarily leave my luggage and food at an empty table, so I asked a friendly-looking person whether he’d be willing to watch my things for the approximately one-minute journey to the utensil station.

“No,” he said.

Okay. Well, thanks! Great conversation!

I stared at my suitcase for a few seconds while the “… if you see any suspicious or unattended baggage, please dial 9-1-1” blared on the loudspeaker.

  1. Bathroom breaks are so much harder than when you’re traveling with a group.

Dragging a suitcase and a backpack into a tiny, claustrophobic stall is a pain. Maneuvering said suitcase and backpack around a winding line of annoyed travelers and crying children is even more of a pain.

  1. You have to be very, very comfortable with your own thoughts.

There is something lonely about solo travel—perhaps it is the knowledge that you have just left something behind, or perhaps it is the long hours without speaking to anyone, standing in lines and sitting alone, soaking in the world but drowning in your own thoughts. In any case, you end up doing a great deal of people-watching, aimless phone-scrolling and general time-killing. For someone who enjoys talking to people, it’s nearly agonizing to spend an entire day in silence.

The slight upside, though, is that you have plenty of time for reflection. Since you inevitably spend the day inside your own thoughts, you might as well make good use of the opportunity.

  1. Gate changes are the worst.

I once trekked my way from Terminal A to Terminal C, only to realize that my gate had changed back to Terminal A. My flight then proceeded to change gates from A4 (one of the first gates) to A37 (one of the last gates) to A11 (back to one of the first gates). It was like an airport relay game, except with only one participant and very little fun.

  1. Actually, never mind. Delays are even worse.

Delays make you wonder why you woke up at 5 a.m. to go to the airport if your flight wasn’t going to depart until nearly noon. You can’t really allow yourself to fall asleep since you’re alone and have no one to wake you when boarding begins or when they announce delay updates. So you sit, irritated and unrested, attempting to text friends (most of whom are asleep due to time differences). And you post again and again on the Stanford class pages, switching from one Uber group to another, perhaps giving up altogether and ordering a SuperShuttle.

  1. You figure out the weird nuances of airplane Wi-Fi.

As it turns out, some airlines have Wi-Fi that allows free iMessaging. Others do not. Some allow you to read messages but not reply, thus leaving you in the frustrating state of knowing that certain important messages exist but being unable to respond to them.

Yes, airline, I know you’re probably baiting me into purchasing inflight Wi-Fi. And you are so, so close.

  1. You learn to appreciate others in new ways.

At the very least, when your journey alone is over, you appreciate the excitement of home with a far greater intensity.

After a few solo trips, too, traveling with a group of people seems like something between a luxury and a fun adventure. Sure, travel can be annoying, but the nuisances become bonding activities when you’re surrounded with the right people.

And the memories of better traveling days warm you, perhaps until the next time that you’re in the airport alone.


Contact Xinlan Emily Hu at xehu ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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