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Traveling Alone: Pros & Cons

Saturday, October 29, 2011


*This is about “traveling”, as in, short stops in many places for the purpose of pleasure, different from “living in a another country”, where you settle in for an extended stay to work, study, etc.  I am not “traveling” in Palena (and I don’t think I would particularly like it if I were).

  1. Some people think you’re eccentric, and/or have no friends.  Sometimes people ask, “Anda sola? [You’re going around by yourself?]” in bewilderment, and though I usually don’t mind, sometimes I get defensive: “Well, I really wanted to go to Chiloé and no one else had the same vacation time, but I’m meeting up with friends in Puerto Varas on Sunday [true, by the way]”.  
  2. No one to share the work.  Traveling is work, especially planning an itinerary, calculating bus schedules and fares, planning around Sundays and finiky museum hours, etc.  When I’ve traveled with other people, sometimes I take the lead on planning, but on days when I’d rather not, I can sit back while my friend or my mother flips through the Lonely Planet.  I’ve learned that when traveling alone, it’s possible to check out when you need a break, it’s just that the planning (i.e. being a grown-up) gets put on hold while you eat chocolate and watch TV.
  3. No one to watch your bags.  This goes with #1, but when you travel with someone else, one person can sit with the luggage while the other buys bus tickets or shops around for a place to stay.  When you are alone, you have no choice but to constantly tote around all your luggage until it is safely tucked into your next room.  Though I have done some shopping around for lodging, lugging my suitcase has definitely dampered my enthusiasm for bargain-hunting: I am much more likely to go with the closest option if it seems reasonable.
  4. Sometimes I feel unsafe.  Hello, young and female.  I try to stick to well-populated areas, especially at night, keep a close eye/grip on my belongings, and mostly I feel fine.  But there are times when I feel sketched-out.  Sometimes I think, “Wouldn’t it be nice to stroll around at night?” which I would feel much more comfortable doing in a group, particularly with a man or two.
  5. No pictures of me.  Well, unless you ask someone else to take on of you (which I’ve done on previous trips after someone else has asked me, usually a couple), or you take it of yourself, MySpace style.


  1. No judgement.  There’s no one to raise their eyebrows if you order a licor de oro at lunch (Lonely Planet said I had to try it!), eat desert three times in one day, or watch the Simpsons in your hotel room (abeit in Spanish) instead of going out and exploring.
  2. Master of your own destiny.  You get to determine exactly what it is you want to do — to catch this bus at this time, to sit on a bench and people-watch, to curl up with pastries in your bed.  The best part?  Strolling around without those (sometimes) annoying conversations at every intersection — “Which way should we go now?”
  3. Conversations with locals (and other tourists).  This is probably the biggest pro of traveling alone, especially because here it is combined with the fact that I am traveling in a country I live in.  On this trip, I have had extended conversations with craft-sellers, corner-store owners, waitresses, bus-ticket sellers, the old woman next to me on a bus, an Israeli tourist, German exchange students, and more.  I know this happens more because I am alone– other people are less afraid of “intruding”, and I am (usually) more outgoing because I crave a bit of human interaction.  The only limit is my own initiative — 9 times out of 10, if I ask someone, “So, are you from [here]?”, a conversation gets rolling, one which usually includes compliments to my Chilean Spanish (guilty pleasure).
  4. Reading & Writing.  I’ve read almost 200 pages of Neruda’s autobiography in three days, a book I’ve been meaning to finish but never seemed to find the time, and I’ve got a Mario Vargas LLosa novel next.  And my trusty journal is a cornerstone of my traveling experience.
  5. Treating myself.  I’m going to splurge on after-lunch coffee because this place has an espresso bar (none in Palena), and I can!  You know who deserves to stay in a nicer place tonight?  You, Margaret!  What a treat — a big double bed, sea views, and a private bathroom.
  6. Intrapersonal intelligence boost.  There is nothing like being with yourself to force you to get to know yourself.  I’ve noticed that on this trip, I am tuning into my needs sooner then back in July.  Last night I got low, but not nearly as low as I did my first night in Valparaíso, and right away, I knew what to do: get some provisions (a good beer, cheese & bread, green pepper & a spicy pepper, chocolate with almonds) and curl up for a night in (Jon Stewart & Modern Family, thanks to the return of my wireless!).
  7. Just being, rather than narrating.  At first, it was really weird to me to travel and have no one to complain to about missed buses and lousy restaurants, but what I missed even more was someone to share the highs with, to look across at and say, “This is so beautiful!  This is so interesting!  Can you believe we’re really here?”  While I can replace this sharing to a large extent with journal-writing, emailing, and my blog, what I’ve also learned is to enjoy sweetness without talking about it.  To try, at least once in awhile, not to write an email to Mom and Dad and Alice in my head, but just to see the view, to enjoy the conversation, to eat the strawberries.

I took this picture because of "Happy Halloween", and then the store owner popped out and we chatted for awhile.


licor de oro, a big Chiloé thing


lunch in Dalcahue, with a little drink


I talked for awhile with this bus company guy after asking to take this picture (It is prohibited to transport seafood, fish and meat on buses)

My splurge room here in Ancud.

treating myself.

first fresh strawberries in over a year.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Saturday, October 29, 2011 10:30 pm

    Well done on reading Neruda. I loved visiting his place when in Chile – what a fascinating man. Glad to have had someone in his house sharing about his life. I have been meaning to read his book for ever, but tend to get distracted (somehow lonely planet and other travel books get in the way, as well as the occasional escape novel!)
    I thought I would add to your list – there is a benefit in traveling with another – bigger rooms in hostels! I traveled with a friend through South America, then Guatemala on my own. The first night in Guatemala was so sad -the room was tiny! I gladly got over it as I got going the next morning, making whatever decisions I wanted, but missed the bigger space.

    • Sunday, October 30, 2011 9:17 am

      I know what you mean about the small rooms — I have encountered that problem too. Neruda’s autobio is long and I’ve skimmed a few parts, but mostly it’s his travel stories, also a recap of early twentieth century history from a Chilean perspective. Give it a try if you’re interested!

  2. Saturday, October 29, 2011 11:01 pm

    I LOVE traveling alone, and your right on all of the above, but who cares what people think!

    • Sunday, October 30, 2011 9:16 am

      Thanks, glad to hear someone else who likes traveling alone!

  3. Jane Woodman permalink
    Sunday, October 30, 2011 1:26 pm

    Love your wisdom and humor Ms. Brave Margaret! Can’t wait to be that person with you at some point again, annoying you with direction questions and resting you with doing some of the planning, etc. I especially appreciate your comments about narrative… it is a whole different experience to just BE with the sweetness… xo.

  4. Sunday, October 30, 2011 6:39 pm

    I knew you would like that part (about narrating), and also, you are a good travel planner! xoxo.

  5. Jane Woodman permalink
    Monday, October 31, 2011 5:56 pm

    Well done again, Margaret. Event though i know your thoughts pretty well, each post still has ideas that are fresh. And the photos are a consistently great complement to the writing. I look forward to reading your next piece; I won’t let it take 48 hours like this reading has!

  6. Monday, October 31, 2011 6:54 pm

    Thanks, Dad! I would’ve know it was you even if Mom hadn’t already commented — your voices are so distinct, even in writing.

    • Jane Woodman permalink
      Tuesday, November 1, 2011 3:50 am

      Oops. I didn’t realize I was signed in as her. Sorry.

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