As some of you may know, I set out on one of my biggest backpacking adventures this summer. After 5 weeks working summer camps in Italy, I embarked on a 6 week backpacking trip around Malta and most the Balkans.
This trip was unlike any other. It was longer, I visited more countries and I did it all alone.
All in all I had an amazing time and was so grateful to be able to see so much, but there were moments, admittedly many, where I rethought my ideas on travel.
Solo backpacking brings about a sense of accomplishment. You depend entirely on yourself, and so when you do manage to make it to a new city in one piece or talk with the Romanian-Italian cabbie in broken Italian to get to your hostel, you get to give yourself a big ol’ pat on the back. Not to quote Scarface, but the world is yours.
The sense of pride that comes with being a solo female backpacker is inescapable. People will look at you wide eyed as you tell the story about how you hitchhiked in not one but two cars to get from Albania to Montenegro. Other backpackers will give you high fives and tell you you’re brave. And you are brave.
But there’s more to solo backpacking than adventure and praise.
During this trip I felt the loneliest I’ve ever felt in any of my travels. I was moving too fast and impersonally. Every two days I changed cities and had to start all over with the “Hi I’m Brittany. I’m from Northern California, but studied in Santa Barbara. Now I’m living in Madrid but at the end of this trip I’m moving to Ibiza.” I got so sick of giving my little elevator pitch that in some hostels I opted to be that antisocial girl and explore the town alone. Waiters eyes bulged when I’d ask for a table for one and they’d hang around and try to make small chat in what I imagined was sheer pity. I’d smile order a glass of wine and then tuck my head into my kindle.
Another reason I felt so alone was because of some of the people I met while traveling. At times I avoided making hostel buds because I just plain didn’t want to befriend some of the people I met in the hostels. From the Australian boys who were already wasted in the common area in Bucharest to the Canadian girls in Mykonos who talked like wannabe valley girls that OMG sooooo couldn’t miss Afrojack his sets are the sickest!! I just couldn’t force myself to talk to these people even if it meant riding solo.
Another negative of my trip was the pace I kept. I got greedy with my planning and wanted to squeeze nearly all the Balkans in less than two months. This meant that I averaged only four days in each country. Moving so quickly I wasn’t able to appreciate the countries the way they deserved. I was worn out and quickly losing the energy to climb fortresses or take that extra bus to the really amazing beach fifteen minutes out of town. After seeing so many beautiful sights I became hard to please and by the end of my trip not much was getting my camera clicking. I actually skipped out on seeing the old town of Split to spend some time relaxing in my empty dorm room. (Funny I felt so lonely considering this was one of my few moments of solitude) I yearned for clean clothes and a home cooked meal. Sadly, by the end of my trip I was counting the days to go home.
So, will I ever backpack alone again???
I really can’t give that question a straight answer. Overall I’ve learned that backpacking isn’t my travel style. I like to set down temporary roots, meet locals, learn a bit of the language and call the country home (even if it is for a few months). My time in the country needs to have more purpose than taking pictures and going on a pub crawl. Whether it be work, volunteering or studying I want my travels to be experiences and not just pins on my tripadvisor city map. I can’t say I’ll never backpack alone again. I definitely prefer to travel alone than with an annoying friend that wants to plan our meal times. I’ve gone on a few amazing trips with wonderful people that I synced well with while traveling. For now I can only hope to spend more time in the countries I travel to and either make a strong connection with someone there or bring along someone with whom I already have that connection.
No backpacking trips are planned….at the moment.