Six years ago, it was my first time backpacking on my own and I thought I would like it. I was visiting my brother in Manila and since he was busy with work for a couple weeks, he spotted me some cash so I could venture out and explore the Visayan Islands by myself.
“Ooh yes, this will be a great way to see more of the Philippines, get in touch with my inner self, keep a journal and do a bunch of reading,” I thought. Indeed, it ended up being all of those things, but it wasn’t the same. I was lonely.
I just dug up an old e-mail I sent my friends on that trip. It read:
I’m in Cebu City right now in between island hops and not getting laid. Haven’t yet met many tourists, even at the resorts. Just disgusting old men, strolling the beaches with young Filipinas who wouldn’t normally be caught dead with these scumbags. I’ve heard Thailand is even worse for this. But the Visayan Islands are awesome and I’m thoroughly enjoying the last bit of my vacation/lazy-bum-stuck-between-finishing-school-and-finding-a-real-job-and-getting-a-life stage (see 44. Gap Year).
I always thought traveling alone would be a fun exercise in self-discovery, or some cliché shit like that. Some people actually prefer traveling alone. After about a week of doing so, I’m convinced I’m not one of those people. I find myself taking in awe-inspiring landscapes and gorgeous sunsets by myself, without anybody to appreciate them with me, nobody to simply look over and say, “Fuck, is that ever beautiful.” Instead, I’m smoking a lot of Marlboro Lights.
Was I bitter that fat old sexpats were clearly getting more tail than I was? Certainly. But there was more to it than that.
Here are a few reasons why rolling solo isn’t for me:
- I’m socially dependent. It’s who I am. I’m not the quiet guy brooding in the corner. I’m not wired like that. I’m drawn to people and people are drawn to me (beenou). Even when I set off on my own to travel Southeast Asia a couple years later, I made it a total of four days before latching onto a group of Chilean dudes, two of whom I proceeded to travel with for six fun-filled weeks. My Visayan trip was different because I really didn’t meet ANY other backpackers. I suspect it’s different now and more young people are traveling to the Phils, but it’ll never get the kind of traffic that Thailand gets, which is kinda nice.
- I’m always on a tight budget. Hopefully that will change in the future, but on all my overseas trips to date, I’ve been scraping by day to day. That’s not to say you can’t have fun if you don’t have money. But had I a bit more cash to work with, I could have done more than simply reading in my nipa hut, tanning on the beach or smoking cigarettes. I could have learned how to scuba dive (more on that in a later post), gone on a group tour/jungle trek or gone zip-lining. More importantly: activities like these are ways to meet people.
- Great experiences are worth sharing. Like I said, I’m a socially dependent person. Still, having seen and experienced some unforgettable things by myself and with friends, the with-friends memories are better. The food tastes better, the music sounds better, the sporting event is more exciting, the sunset is more breathtaking. And the next time you see that co-traveler, you have something to remember together. Looking back, the disasters are funnier and the redemptions are sweeter.
- Safety. Do people go camping or go on remote hikes by themselves? No, because it’s just plain dangerous. Unless you’re a complete nutjob like Grizzly Man or the dude on Into The Wild. Neither story ends well.
- Keeping up appearances. Try going to a bar by yourself some time. It’s terrible and you look like a total loser. But at least it’s introspective.