Travelling with another person has thrown into sharp relief how it feels to travel alone — simply because it highlights the contrast, and it’s a big one. Simply put, travelling with others makes you think more about yourselves, and travelling alone makes you think more about others.
When you’re travelling with someone else, the most important thing is to make sure that everyone is happy and safe. This always takes effort — be it physical effort as you actually check that no-one is lost and that the practical aspects of your day are going as planned, and mental effort, as you make sure everyone’s happy, and that no one is arguing.
But when you’re travelling alone, the only person whose welfare you’re concerned about is yourself. And that’s easy: there are no disagreements to have; no compromises to make; no need to check that you’ve not fallen into a nearby manhole. It saves a lot of energy. But if you have your eyes open, your mind extends that energy anyway, by noticing people around you and their situations.
Some examples. Alone, I would talk a lot more to taxi drivers, even in very broken pidgin, because it was better than sitting in awkward silence. But when you’re with someone, the silence isn’t usually awkward or pregnant, because you both know you’re both okay — and therefore it can last comfortably.
Another: when I’m walking around a “sight”, whether a market, a museum or a mosque, I always want to comment on what I see, to anyone. It’s like my comment from a post a while ago: If you can’t turn to someone and say “How cool was that?!” when you experience something, it’s like it never happened. And that leads to conversations which leads to acquaintanceship which leads to friendship.
And thirdly, when people speak to us, like the familes who ask us for photos (which I will never, ever take for granted), there’s less need to speak to them beyond the perfunctory “Thank you”. So we miss out on having the short conversations about each other’s lives, jobs, and families: those fascinating insights into people’s lifestyles.
I know what you’re thinking: “You aren’t prohibited from doing any of those things. You can still be just as sociable with outsiders when you’re in a pair”.
And I know what you’re getting at. It’s not to say that we haven’t had all those discussions on this holiday anyway. But what I mean is they are much less likely to occur. The fact we’re here for such a short time doesn’t help — we’re so often distracted or preoccupied or in a rush. So there’s even less scope to relax and take in our surroundings — including the most important: the local people; our hosts.