Why It's Okay to Travel Alone

Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 memoir “Eat, Pray, Love” has sold over 9 million copies worldwide, according to Forbes, and this love letter to the soul has changed many people’s perspective on the virtues of traveling alone. What was once considered dangerous and not worth the risk is now being considered a rite of passage to getting to know yourself. I´m constantly setting out on my own mini voyages of discovery, because every backpacking experience I´ve had so far has helped shape me into who I am today.

For many people, the thought of saving, planning and embarking on an adventure alone is terrifying, an option that’s completely out of the question. But why let fear keep you from experiencing something incredible? You

End the Excuses

You don’t have the money? Start saving, putting aside a little money each week. You don’t have time to plan a trip? Read a novel that’s set in your dream destination and try to take notes about everything you want to see when you go. Are you worried about leaving your dog or or partner while you’re away? Find a pet sitter, and invite him/her next time or tell them to go on their own solo trip too. Are you afraid you’ll get lonely? Matador Network travel contributor, Katka Lapelosa, said it best in a recent article about solo travel, “You can feel just as insecure in your own backyard — if you’re going to feel sorry for yourself, do it somewhere cool.”

Most reasons not to go are simply excuses. If you want to have a life full of adventure you can’t let excuses cramp your style. There are some valuable life lessons to learn on the road to self-discovery.

Learn to Rely on Yourself

Solo travel can help you become more decisive and confident in your decisions. You learn to deal with the positive or negative consequences of every decision and have no choice but to accept full responsibility.

Sharpen Problem-Solving Skills

Nothing develops problem-solving skills like getting lost in a foreign country, especially when you barely speak the language. Whether you’re attempting to navigate the Paris Metro system or climb glaciers in Patagonia, you’ll keenly develop your problem-solving abilities out of necessity.

Turn Up the Volume of Your Inner Voice

Often that little voice inside you has trouble being heard over the din of daily life. Between rushing to work, attending meeting after meeting and tending to friends, family and your kids, it can be tough to hear yourself think. But when you eliminate all of the obligations and focus on doing things for your own enjoyment, suddenly that inner voice finds its volume.

Don’t Worry About Anyone Else’s Feelings

Have you ever taken a trip with a companion who did little but complain? Do you feel guilty indulging in your own interests instead of catering to the group? When traveling alone, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Enjoy not making apologies for sleeping in to cure jet lag. Eat whenever you want to eat, whatever you want to eat, and wherever you want to eat. You can finally feel warranted in being incredibly selfish and let your own wants and needs guide the way when you travel alone.

Coldnoon: Quarterly of Travel Poetics

Article published in Volume I, Issue III

Lotourism: Low Impact, Low Cost, Localized, & Lonely – The Ecotourist on a Budget and Redefined.

I studied ecotourism and wrote my masters dissertation on the discrepancies between defined and actualized ecotourism since I have always battled with the ‘ecotourist’ identity. I liked to think I was an ecotourist, also called an alternative tourist, sustainable tourist, or an environmentally friendly tourist. But then these terms lead us to more definition inconsistencies, since “eco” and “environmental” and “sustainable” are all buzzwords overused and often misunderstood.

After completing my thesis, I realized the term ecotourism is a vague, green-washed term, whose definition is undecided among academics, and sometimes unidentifiable in practice. I like to travel, and I love the natural world we live in, but often times by carbon emissions and ecological impact contradict my obsessive compulsive desire to go all over the place, taking boats, planes, cars and buses at an unsustainable rate. It’s easy to feel guilt about my carbon footprint but also unclear where I can accept accountability for planes and buses that will take their routes with or without me.

However, it is possible to have an ethical travel consciousness without identifying as an ecotourist. Ecotourists pay more for greener experiences and off-set their flights by planting trees, but for sustainable tourism to become a thing of elitists is not fair. Ecotourism has also been set aside from culture tourism, offering strictly nature and adventure getaways in wild areas, but humans are an intrinsic part of nature and the true ecotourist should still be touring the cities and villages people call home. Mass tourists take their flights and book their all-inclusive hotels or cruises but travel intensively for only one or two weeks. My travel style has fused and forgiven aspects of both styles of tourism, into something I have coined “lotourism.” It is a philosophy of travel for the weary backpacker who wants to see the world and everything in it. They do not pay more, but pay less, and see more, over longer periods of time, with fewer modes of transport taken by traveling locally and avoiding long-haul flights.

I had the idea to invent a new word to describe the way I travel since it doesn’t suffice to say I’m a backpacker, just a traveler, a tourist, or an ecotourist. I want a word that describes my travel mentality and approach to seeing the world in a more sustainable way. I have a dialect of English my friends call Katrin-speak, but this is isn’t a word I’m pulling from my bad English vocabulary – its more like a philosophy of travel that I’ve adopted and want more people to share. “Lotourism” is a theory of tourism that isn’t captured by any other, one word.

I like to think I travel sustainably, but not just natural resource sustainably – I am financially resourceful, traveling with minimal luggage, staying with locals, and traveling slowly but steadily over short-haul distances. I can live off $10 a day or less in some places. I never stay in hostels or hotels, but couchsurf and make new friends everywhere I go. I have one small backpack and all my possessions and necessities for 3 months in it, a 35L 20kg bag.

Im not really a backpacker, since I avoid backpacker hostels and hate being defined by the stuff in a bag on my back. Im not always a tourist, since I try my best to camouflage into my surroundings and see things from a local perspective. I adopt the local way of living, eat where locals eat, dance the way they dance, dress as indiscriminately as possible, and don’t say much unless I’ve learned the local language since I never want to be that white girl screaming English in slow motion to someone who has no idea what I’m saying. I’m definitely a traveler, but so is the American guy sitting in business class flying to Dubai for a 2 hour business meeting before returning to London via Dakar for dinner in England’s most authentic Turkish restaurant. So I’ve realized there are different types of travelers, doing different types of travel, and when asked how I travel, my new answer is “I’m a lotourist.”

Lotourism is, in a nutshell, is kind of like ecotourism, but redefined and on a budget. It is travel that is low-impact, low-cost, localized, and lonely. So, for any other lotourists out there, get the word out on the new word. And, if you understand the idea, agree with the philosophy, and like the way it works in travel, spread the word so more lotourism can exist in this globalizing, traveling world of ours.

see the rest of this article at http://www.coldnoon.com/March-2012/Katrin-Einarsdottir.php

Lotourism: a new philosophy of travel

My friend Tom who works with the London Zoo created a new word that recently got added into the English Oxford Dictionary. He’s a post-doc researcher that works closely with penguins and became a self-acclaimed “penguinologist.” If you google the term, he’s the second hit.

Likewise, I had the idea to invent a new word. I have a dialect of English my friends call Katrin-speak, but this is isn’t a word I’m pulling from my bad English vocabulary – its more like a philosophy of travel that I’ve adopted. “Lotourism.” Its a theory of tourism that isn’t captured by any other, one word. After completing my MA thesis on the discrepancies between defined and actualized ecotourism, I realized the term ecotourism is a vague, green-washed term, whose definition is undecided among academics, and sometimes unidentifiable in practice.

I liked to think I was an ecotourist, also called an alternative tourist, sustainable tourist, or an environmentally friendly tourist. But then these terms lead us to more definition inconsistencies, since “eco” and “environmental” and “sustainable” are all buzzwords overused and often misunderstood.

I like to think I travel sustainably, but not just natural resource sustainably – Im financially resourceful, with minimal luggage, staying with locals, and traveling slowly but steadily over short-haul distances.

Im not really a backpacker, since I avoid hostels and hate being defined by the stuff in a bag on my back. Im not always a tourist, since I try my best to camouflage into my surroundings and see things from a local perspective. I’m definitely a traveler, but so is the American guy sitting in business class flying to Dubai for a 2 hour business meeting before returning to London via Dakar for dinner in England’s most authentic Turkish restaurant. So I’ve realized there are different types of travelers, doing different types of travel, and when asked how I travel, my new answer is “I’m a lotourist.”

Lotourism is, in a nutshell, is kind of like ecotourism, redefined and on a budget. It is travel that is low-impact, low-cost, localized, and lonely.

1.) Low-impact: your footprint on the natural environment is minimal, which means your carbon footprint is low, your use of exhaustible or non-renewable resources is low, you create minimal or no waste, you dont contribute to the degradation of natural environments, your touristic activities and choice of transport/accomodation/or anything else travel related is based on an educated, informed decision to be as low impact as possible. Your footprint on the local culture or host is minimal, which means you learn and engage in cultural exchange so far as you do not negatively impact any local traditions or customs, you are a low-profile and low-maintenance guest, imparting little change or judgement except for what is beneficial or desired.

2.) Low-cost: you travel on a tight budget, which requires you to avoid tourist traps like all-inclusive vacations, hotels, and organized tours. You avoid shopping and buy almost nothing but necessities, spend your money on simple travel (preferably terrestrial, like trains or buses, going short distances rather than long-haul flights), and stay with locals that you know through friends, family, or travel communities like couchsurfing.

3.) Localized: you stick around in an area long enough to know it, see every corner (especially outside the city center or touristic attractions) and the surrounding suburbs or country side. You stay where you want to be, living a day in the life there. You spend your money in such a way that financial resources go directly into the pockets of locals (locally-owned businesses, local guides, surrounding farms instead of imported/mass produced foods) and you support the local economy (avoid international tour operators or foreign-owned companies in all your purchasing decisions).

4.) Lonely: last but not least, travel alone. Travel by yourself to be better immersed in your surroundings, alone with your thoughts and feelings to fully take in, process, and understand your new environment. Be vulnerable, meet local people, avoid speaking your own language, catering to the needs of a travel companion, or doing anything that you don’t feel like doing or going anywhere you don’t feel like going.Leave your Lonely Planet at home and just ask people for help as you go, talking to as many strangers as you can. Don’t stay in hostels where you’ll get swallowed up into a group of other tourists, don’t travel with a tour group or on a big bus with “rich tourists, coming your way” printed on the license plate. Travel more spontaneously, irresponsibly even, at the mercy of a local tip, with the adrenaline-rush of taking the wrong bus or the long bus, ending up on the wrong train, showing up in a place you have no clue about, learning from scratch and not a guide book. You can go for as long or short as you want, book one-way tickets, have undefined destinations, a flexible schedule, and a trip planned only one day ahead at a time.

So, for any other lotourists out there, get the word out on the new word. And, if you get it and you like it, spread the word so more lotourism can exist in this traveling world of ours.

 

Tips on Traveling Light

Photo by malias

Photo by malias

By “light,” I mean two things; first, you should try and reduce your ecological footpring from travel, and second, pack lightly. Trying to get away from mass tourism, over-consumptive all-inclusive, package deal vacations is something every responsible tourist should aim for. Long-haul flights to some resort in Mexico or Spain or cruising through the carribbean from tiny island to island on a floating city are some people’s ideas of travel, but this is quickly becoming an outdated, carbon-heavy form of travel appealing to people who think of a vacation as a time to party, buy lots of things (souvenirs, food, drinks), get escorted around on an air-conditioned coach bus, and be surrounded by common, western luxuries and english speakers. This has gotten us and traditional tourist destinations used to seeing sun-burnt, sometimes over-weight white tourists (retired elderly or young party folk), speaking english to absolutely everyone no matter where they are.

I would urge us all to be more responsible, immersed tourists; do not contribute to these types of waste-ful, energy-heavy, carbon emitting forms of travel. Get off the beaten track, travel slowly, see more places than just your hotel room and the beach, and, interact with the local community by learning more about their culture, traditions, and even their language if you’re brave. wander around, never stay at the same hostel or campground, take one way trips, and remember that the travel experiences is not always in the destination, but in the journey.

Being mobile is alot easier to do if you dont bring too much stuff. Its hard to bus, ferry, or drive from place to place with a huge, rolley suitcase, so stay true to the nature of “backpacking” and only bring a backpack. And, unless you are camping or hiking and need alot of equipment, simply bring an average, regular type of back pack (not a $200, 80L heavy duty bag that screams “im a tourist!”) with the bare essentials. You do not need more than a couple changes of clothes, basic hygene supplies, a camera, a good book to read or write in, and maybe a cell phone. I always find I get frustrated with having too much “Stuff,” a load of stuff I end up carrying around with me for the sake of having it, a disconcerning realization of the material dependency alot of us have developed. Remember to leave a bit of room for souvenirs, but dont buy exotic things that you suspect may harm the local environment (turtle shell jewelery, teak wood carvings, etc) and remember the best thing to take with you from your travels are simply memories.

Succingtly put, leave nothing but your footprints, take nothing but photos.