Sunday, March 21, 2010

I think I'm alone now

For the first part of this overseas holiday, I'm travelling through Eastern Europe by myself. It's only for three weeks, but I'm finding it to be quite challenging.

As I mentioned in this post last year, I'm comfortable with my own company. But there's something about travelling... I find I prefer to share the experience with at least one other person.

(Note: For once I'm not complaining about the lack of a "significant other" here. I'm talking about any travel companion - lover, friend, relative, whoever.)

For example, I find getting from the airport to my hotel to be quite stressful, especially in a non-English-speaking country. I've been emailing my hotels to get detailed public transport transfer instructions from them (so far, they've been brilliant), but instructions don't help when you're trying to carry a 20kg suitcase up a flight of stairs in the snow in Berlin, or cramming said suitcase into a packed trolley car and then dragging it through the snow/ice-covered streets in St Petersburg. After my traumatic St Petersburg experience (made worse by having to decipher Cyrillic characters), I've decided to stick to cabs unless I know the language and the commute is not too complicated (that leaves Paris and London).

Getting lost is part of travelling. I'm excellent at reading maps (I would KILL as navigator on The Amazing Race), but inevitably one ends up somewhere unexpected. I don't find this to be stressful, but it would be a more enjoyable experience if I could laugh about it with someone else, or bounce ideas off someone else. Meals are also more fun when shared.

It's very easy to be ignored when you're travelling alone. When I go on organised tours, I make sure to stick very close to the guide, and arrive early at meeting points, for fear of being left behind. (Yes, I'm aware that this may be overkill.) I'm currently in Krakow, Poland, and I had an experience at breakfast yesterday that bugged me. I walked into the room with the buffet set up, and one of the waitresses looked at me but didn't approach me, so I did the same as everyone else - grabbed some cereal, bread rolls, and a cuppa, and found somewhere to sit. I was thinking, "Geez, it's a bit of a dodgy buffet with no hot food", but then I looked around the room and noticed people eating bacon and eggs and other hot meals. A little later, a couple walked into the room - the waitress greeted them, marked their names off a list, and offered them a choice of hot breakfasts. What the hell? I called her over and mentioned that I'd been there for a while, and that I'd like to order my breakfast. I don't even like eggs that much, but I ordered scrambled eggs and toast, just for the sake of it. It really bugged me.

Obviously I don't really have the ideal personality for travelling alone. I don't want to stay in hostels, so I'm never going to meet people that way, and I'm not the type of person to just rock up to random bars and talk to strangers. That said, my intention for going on this holiday was never to meet new people. (If it happens, well and good, but I'll live if it doesn't.) I've got specific things I want to see and do in all the cities I'm visiting, and that's my main objective.

When you're alone you have a LOT of time to think about things, and to overthink things. For example, I sent one of my best friends an email over a week ago, updating her on my travels. I would have expected a response within one or two days, but I've heard nothing. What's going on? Did I say or do something to upset her? Is she OK? Surely I would've heard from someone else if something had happened. Maybe she's just busy? As you can see, it's easy to make mountains out of molehills. (It's also very difficult to cultivate a potential new relationship that inconveniently started just before I went away. Why didn't he answer my email? Did he see my DM on Twitter? What about that message on Facebook? Aaaaaghhhhh! The internet can be a blessing and a curse.)

The good thing about travelling alone is that I'm answerable to no-one. I can kick back in my hotel each evening, watching DVDs on my laptop or surfing the web (free internet was essential in every hotel I booked). I can get up when I want. I can have afternoon naps if I like. I can eat whenever/wherever/whatever I want, and no-one will know or care. I can wear whatever I like, and no-one will see me. It's like I'm invisible, which can be fun, but also demoralising at times.

Tonight I'm getting an overnight train from Krakow to Budapest. I'm a little bit nervous about it. Hopefully I can get some sleep and not get robbed. And hopefully the other people in my three-berth sleeper cabin are normal. Actually, hopefully the train won't be full and I'll have the sleeper cabin to myself.

So I'm counting down the days until I meet up with my sister, brother-in-law, and Mum in Paris (12 days to go). In the meantime I'm loving Skype, instant messaging, Facebook, email, and Twitter. And sleep. I'm loving sleep.

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