I was talking recently to someone I work with about the Trans-Siberian and how it’s the seed my solo trip is growing out of.
He said, ‘I have a friend who did it once but I don’t see the point.’
To which I asked, ‘of doing the Trans-Siberian or doing it on your own?’
And he said, ‘both.’
Then I tried to explain myself, but I’m not sure it made much difference.
I totally get that sitting on a train staring at a frozen landscape for the better part of a week is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. I like trains. But what’s more I like seeing the planet, because it’s pretty amazing. I’ll be more than entertained watching the Siberian wilderness chug by because who gets to do that every day?
Plus, being confined to a space where I can do little more than read, write, eat, and talk to people is like a creative mission. It’s like life editing – putting constraints on a situation forces you to get much better things out the other end. And with what I imagine will be zero mobile or data reception plus low hope of recharging any kind of electrical devices, I’ll be left to what I’ve got in my head and on paper. Which is precisely what I want.
So, not for everyone, but that’s the appeal to me.
As for the doing it on my own bit – that’s trickier. Ten years ago when I was like ‘YES, this Trans-Siberian Railway? THIS I MUST DO.’ I wasn’t thinking, ‘This I must do. ALONE.’ No. Never. In fact, nearly none of the traveling I want to do is conceived as something I want to do by myself. It’s more a matter of I don’t have much choice.
Everyone’s got partners and babies and careers and commitments and other priorities, especially the older I get. It’s ridiculous to expect anyone else to drop their life in favour of accompanying me on a trip of my own mad design. If I had some fantastic boyfriend who magically had the same travel wishlist as I did (applications open, *ahem*) or a friend whose holiday allowances and budget and circumstances aligned perfectly with my own, hell yes I’d be going on this trip WITH THEM. But these things are a tall order.
I could wait another ten years to find a plus one, or I can just get on with it.
When I got home the night of this particular conversation, as if the universe knew I needed more writing fodder, a link to this article popped up in my Facebook feed: IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Traveled The World Alone And It Sucked
I think it’s totally important to have this point of view available online, that you can go do something like take a massive trip alone and decide you kind of hate it and that’s absolutely fine. You don’t have to love everything you try, and a solo trip around the world is difficult stuff. But she put all this crazy pressure on herself and her trip. I’m going to be brave because I feel like I HAVE to. I’m going to find my own artsy subculture clique and become the next Kerouac (which, ugh, why does everyone want to be THAT ASSHAT, but whatever).
No one lives in a novel or a movie. Meeting people takes time. Coming out of your shell takes adjustment and work. More of this for some than others, but it doesn’t just HAPPEN. I don’t remember being particularly scared before I went backpacking when I was 20. I think knowing less about the world meant I didn’t think about all the crap I think about now. But it was hard and lonely at some points, and I didn’t really hit my stride with the being alone and figuring out how to talk to other people thing until about 2 weeks in when my trip was nearly over. I had a lot of nights in, reading alone in bed or in the hostel bar.
But I also didn’t have the expectation that I was going to waltz into Europe and make all the friends and have all the stories to tell. If you’re not doing that shit in your normal life, like hell you’re going to suddenly do it in multiple foreign environments where you have to spend a lot of energy on basic things you barely give a second thought to at home.
So. Less pressure on yourself helps. And perhaps being good at being alone to begin with before you go do it in the big bad world.
This trip is going to be a lot like the rest of my life, just condensed and sometimes slightly more confusing. It takes me a pretty long time to adjust to new situations. But in the confines of an existence focused on travel, that timeline will shrink a little. I will force myself to make awkward and uncomfortable steps a little earlier than I normally would because what the hell else are you gonna do when you’re sitting in a train compartment across from a Russian lady who’s gonna be your roomie for the next 2 nights?
I’ll get used to it. Sometimes I’ll be restless with loneliness and that will suck just as much as when it happens at home. Other times I’ll meet some awesome new person who is bizarrely easy to talk to and it will rock just as much as when it happens at home.
It’s not for everyone. But maybe you can see the point.