Why are you traveling alone? Don’t you have a boyfriend? Don’t you have friends? Aren’t you scared?
Ever since I started traveling alone when I was 11, I had to continuously deal with these and other similar questions. I didn’t mind answering; I was happy enough as a child to travel by myself.
Not that I had a choice anyway; my high school in Iligan City was over 12 hours and three bus rides away from my hometown in Tandag, and too expensive for my parents to accompany me every time school started.
I became independent very early. I learned how to get the best seats, how to evade the occasional straying hand or head, how to get the biggest discount, and how to befriend my seatmates so that they could watch my bags when I had to go down the bus.
The best thing I remember about my travels alone, however, was the kindness of strangers that I’ve met. Once when I was 15, I arrived in Manila unexpectedly ahead of time, a few hours before New Year’s Day. I took a cab from the pier to the house of a family friend, and I was aghast to find out that one key was missing! I sat on the curb feeling panicky. I had a huge bag, it was New Year’s Eve, I was locked out, and I had nowhere to go.
The cab driver must have seen me; he came back and asked me why I was still outside. When I told him my problem, he told me to come with him; he would get some fares then he would bring me somewhere where I can spend the night.
If I had felt that something was off about him, I wouldn’t have gone with him. But all I sensed was his strong desire to help, so I went back to the cab. At 11pm, he brought me to a seedy, creepy place in Sampaloc which was well within my budget.
He told the receptionist that I was alone, asked her to watch over me, and then left. I celebrated the first day of 1995 with Skyflakes, water, and a deep gratitude to the cab driver whose name I didn’t even get.
Listening to one’s intuition is major skill needed by solo travelers. I was in Naga during the Holy Week a few years ago, on my way back from Caramoan. I was way down the line to the ticket booth and had resigned myself to hours of waiting.
All of a sudden, a guy came up to me and told me they had a private car and they’re looking for passengers. The fare was P500 cheaper. The alarm bells rang so loudly in my head that I quickly said no, and the guy moved off, not even bothering to ask the people ahead and behind me.
So, is solo travel scary? Yes and no. Yes, the world has its share of people whose only concern is how to put one over you, and no, because the world is also full of people who are willing to help out. I’ve traveled alone to Sagada/Banaue/Batad, to Siquijor, Baguio, and countless other places in the Philippines and encountered so many nice and helpful people. I traveled alone in Cambodia, Europe, India, Malaysia, Nepal, Vietnam, and too, and the experience was no less memorable.
Even when I had a boyfriend, I still managed to travel by myself (to watch the crucifixion in San Fernando, Pampanga). I would take the occasional weekend off without F, for example, and leave him with a list of things to do in my house.
And when I broke up with B, I took refuge in traveling solo. I hopped on a bus to Baguio, ate binatog (steamed white corn sprinkled with shreds of coconut meat and sweetened with sugar and milk) at the Mines View Park, went online to write a blog post, and then went back to Manila.
I guess, for me, it’s the act of traveling itself that soothes me, the physical aspect of getting into the bus or plane, settling down, hearing the various sounds associated with traveling—from the other passengers talking, the vendors hawking their wares, the driver and the conductor sharing what they’ll do when they arrive home, the announcements over the speakers…
All these serve to quiet the noise inside my head and my heart, leaving me at peace and feeling that all’s right with the world. The rumbling movement of the bus as it leaves the terminal always lifts my spirits and lulls me to sleep. The bus is leaving, and will soon arrive somewhere. Somewhere is home, whether there is someone waiting for me or not.
When I was 11, I learned about the freedom and the joy of solo travel, and this has only been reinforced through the years. Traveling alone has become a way for me to celebrate and affirm who I am. It has been and will always be my solace.
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