I have absolutely loved every village, town, city and country I have visited so far on my travels, the amazing scenery, locals, activities, experiences, food, but as I say every time, what makes each place so special are the incredible people that I meet there. Without them, places just wouldn’t be the same.
So what happens when you don’t meet people…?
Yes, I know, I’m a solo traveller, but not once in almost a year of travelling has that meant I have been on my own. Before I left, friends would ask, “Are you not scared going by yourself?”, “Won’t you get lonely?” and I would always answer that I am never actually by myself. In fact, there have been times where I have actively had to seek out time to myself, to read a book, catch up on my diary, do some life admin, or just get a little bit of me time, because I am constantly surrounded by the most fantastic people I could wish to meet.
That was until I arrived in Myanmar. I came on August 23rd, fully aware that it was low season, but hey, I have been to plenty of countries where it is ‘low season’ and still met plenty of people. So nothing could prepare me for the complete lack of tourists, westerners or whatever you want to call them that met me as I arrived in Yangon. Now I’m a big girl, I’ve had my fair share of life experiences, a few days on my own will be fine right?
I spent my first day trying to plan out what exactly I was going to do in this relatively undiscovered country that people absolutely rave about, got an early night so I could be fresh for the next days activities, lots to see, lots to do. I had spoken to a German girl online who would be here at the same time as me so we had planned to meet the following day. So far, so good. We hit the first pagoda nice and early, get ripped off by a seemingly friendly local who starts telling us all about the buddhist traditions, helps us to feel like we are a part of it, then demands money for his services, but was not satisfied with the donation we felt was appropriate to give him. Oh and then we had to pay to get our shoes back as well, definitely a few lessons learnt early on!
Unfortunately, my new friend isn’t feeling too well, so heads back to the hostel to rest, no problem, I am armed with a Lonely Planet, I am quite capable of exploring the city on my own! So I head off, see the sights, dodge the rain, actually end up having a lovely chat with a couple of monks in one of the pagodas, get myself some food from the night market, successful, albeit quiet day.
I decide to move on to the next town, Hpa-An in the hopes of finding a few more people to explore with (not even to drink with, I am detoxing in Myanmar, thank you very much, I think my body will thank me after what I have put it through for the last 11 months!) I jump on the circular train (200 kyats for a 3 hour journey- that’s like 11p!) and meet a lovely Austrian girl to share the experience with.
I can’t explain how much of a difference sharing an experience with another person can be to experiencing it alone, you can vocalise your thoughts and feelings and share in the joy, laughter, or whatever emotion it is that you are feeling. Alone, yes, you still get the experience, but for me at least, not being able to share it almost dulls it slightly, I don’t feel like i experience it fully. I want to discuss it, I want to know what someone else thinks about it, do they agree with me, do I agree with them? Can we get into a discussion about it that goes deeper than the average backpacker conversations you have countless times a day? Is that normal? I have no idea, but I have not had to really consider this so far as I have spent so little time alone.
The next few days did not get any better for me, I got up and climbed a bloody big mountain, yes, exercise! Go me! Got to the top, it was too cloudy to see anything, but at least I could buy a red bull from the monks to give me the energy to get back down! But then… migraine strikes. The first in Asia. For those that know, migraines absolutely cripple me, so that was a couple of days in bed, on my own, feeling sorry for myself. I realised how lonely I felt in that time, there was no one there to ask if they could grab me a bottle of water, or if they had any spare pain killers, and the blank looks I got from the hostel staff (no fault of theirs, I never expect locals to be able to speak English) were of no real help to me.
But I got through that, and onto the next place, why not! I am determined to enjoy this country as I have heard such incredible things about it. Up at 5am to get the first bus, arrive in Kyaikto, find somewhere to stay, grab some rice and vegetables for lunch and jump on a motorbike to see the famous Golden Rock. I got this, look at me all independent! But about half way to the base of the mountain where the Golden Rock is, the huge black storm clouds start to roll in, and my stomach starts churning in a very suspicious way. I have to get the driver to turn around and take me back to my hotel. I just make it to the bathroom (one squat toilet shared between 4 rooms) and proceed to chuck my guts up. It was horrific and I will spare you the details. But suffice to say, I couldn’t move for 3 days, except to run to the toilet and practically crawl back to my bed before I passed out.
That is the lowest point of my whole trip. I guess I have to think myself lucky really, that I have gone 11 months without feeling miserable, I know most people can’t say that, and maybe I have been spoilt with happiness (is that a thing? I hope not) But i felt genuinely miserable, looking a flights home miserable. I was in a tiny room that resembled a prison cell, on my own, with absolutely no one else about to talk to, or just to tell me it was going to be ok, and that I would in fact get through this. Thank god I invested in a SIM card when I arrived as the wifi here leaves alot to be desired. So I do the melodramatic facebook post and then read and re-read the comments of ‘oh no, feel better soon’, just to try and illicit some kind of human contact.
The second day, I’ve missed the bus I booked, I am meant to be checking out and I am out of water, it takes all my energy to drag myself downstairs to reception. I must have looked delightful based on their reactions to me, but all credit to them, they went and got me water and allowed me to extend my stay, we could sort out payment later. So I crawled back to bed to continue to wallow in my loneliness and attempt to sleep. All this would be so much more bearable if I had someone else there, that’s all I kept thinking. I have come to rely on others so much, is that a good thing or a bad thing? In my normal state, I know I am totally capable of looking after myself, but here I am reduced to a smelly, dirty blubbering wreck in a matter of days. Family and friends on the phone talked me through it, also a very useful time to have a doctor friend (Inge, you are a diamond) but I still couldn’t shake this black cloud that I had hovering over me. 11 months of pure happiness and then I’m alone for a week, get ill and this is how I feel. That can’t be healthy.
I know I can be slightly dramatic sometimes, especially when it comes to being sick, I don’t deal with it very well, but this experience has definitely brought to light a few things for me.
- I am still a big baby who needs her mum when she doesn’t feel well
- I don’t particularly enjoy being alone when I don’t choose to be, I don’t like having loneliness forced upon me.
- I need people. Just to know that there are people there, even if I don’t know them, is like a huge safety net to me on this crazy adventure that I’m on. I might be travelling alone but I genuinely would rather spend time with people than by myself.
- I have known this all along, but it has further highlighted the fact that travelling is not just about the places you go, but moreso about who you meet, people you would never come across if you never stepped out of your comfort zone, people from every walk of life from every corner of the globe, with fascinating lives and stories to share. I will be forever thankful to every single soul I have met over the course of my travels, each and everyone of them has taught me something valuable about myself, about life, about travel, about people, about kindness, about love, about laughter. I may forget your names (sorry!) but I will never forget you.