Whenever people come to me for travel advice, my number one tip is to go it alone.
Why? Because when you travel in groups, or especially in pairs, it is isolating. Part of the existential process of travel comes from meeting new people and sharing new experiences. When you travel with people who you already know, you are significantly less likely to seek out new friends and learn about other cultures. Group travel makes it easier to retreat into your comfort zone, thus missing out on opportunities to make new friends and fully immerse yourself in whatever surrounds you. By traveling solo, you are forced to open your mind, and to put yourself out there. You will have no choice but to meet new people, and these are the people you should want to meet!
Also keep in mind that, while traveling solo, you are instantly part of a larger community. Backpackers team up on the road, at hostels, and at transit hubs. You might find yourself traveling with someone you just met from halfway around the world, and spend the next eight hours exchanging great tips and stories. For example, I met a Danish girl at the bus station in Santiago de Cuba who rode with me all the way to Veradero. When we talked, it was interesting, and when we slept, we watched each other's belongings. For the most part, backpackers look out for one another because we're all in this strange world together. This means that when you travel solo, you never truly travel alone.
Don't use the fact that your friends can't or don't want to travel as a reason to miss out on a great opportunity.
Of course, there are those who dismiss all of this because they are scared, especially Americans. It is quite evident that international travel is not a prominent part of our culture, as it is for many Europeans and Australian citizens. According to CNN, only thirty percent of Americans even have passports.
"30% is still low compared to Canada's 60% and the United Kingdom's 75%. 'Not taking the leap is comforting, because this is the American life,' said Matthew Kepnes, international traveler and creator of NomadicMatt.com…'Breaking outside anything that is your norm is scary'" (Avon: 2011).
Fear mongering is most certainly a part of US culture. This is especially true when it comes to the media, as they bank on the insecurities of the American people. It seems that everywhere you turn; there is a story about terrorists, drug cartels, murders, and disappearances. I asked a few American friends to tell me why they found travel so frightening. Phil Cerza replied,
"[I'm] afraid of what i don't know." In response, I must quote:
"If you don't know, the thing to do is not to get scared, but to learn" (Rand: 1957).
Meanwhile, Marilin Velez said she's afraid of diseases and kidnappings, while Jessica McShane stated that she's more worried about being robbed while traveling. Phooey! These worst case scenarios are fantastical and uncommon. I cannot reiterate this detail enough. Yes, bad things happen, but every day, thousands of people are traveling without any ill fortune. When the media blows the few shocking stories way out of proportion, it overshadows the beauty and glory that is being discovered by backpackers across the globe. All too often, the mainstream media doesn't aim to inform. We must remember, they are aiming for ratings.
This is one of the reasons I wanted to film the first "Backpack NomadiKat" in Mexico. I feel like this country gets a seriously bad rap from American media, when fact, it is absolutely beautiful and fantastic to travel through. Mexico has amazing food, culture, as well as incredibly warm and welcoming locals. However, this is a side of Mexico that is difficult to see beyond the bubbled resorts of Cancun and Puerto Vallarta.
Seek out information, that which is true and just, in search of a better world full of friendship and splendor. Don't use fear as a reason to miss opportunity. Solo travel is the path to conquering your fears: of the unknown, and of being alone. I once met a girl on a plane from Guatemala City to Florida, a solo traveler who'd traversed all ends of the earth. She told me,
"The only limitations we have are the limitations that we set for ourselves."
There's no need to be afraid of new people or new experiences, unless we chose to adhere to our own apprehensions. Fear is an emotion, not a reality. It is in our heads. We can overcome fear if we chose to do so. If we do, indeed, set our own limitations, then why not raise the bar to the sky? Why not go around the world, and do it on our own, and chase our dreams, and live for ambition? Why not work hard and do whatever it takes, why not live courageously for passion, for love?
Let us leave fear behind in the dust.
- Video by Jordan Amandes for NomadiKat Travel Media
Avon, Natalie. "Why More Americans Don't Travel Abroad." CNN. Cable News Network, 04 Feb. 2011. Web. 11 Jan. 2014. .
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957. Print.