Solo Travel

Q&A: Field trips vs. independent travel on SAS

Q&A: Field trips vs. independent travel on SAS

I think there's merit in going on a field trip (or field programs, used to be FTPs in my day) in the first location, because–as cliques form quickly–you can meet random new people and create relationships with many people from the get-go. I did a quick trip to El Yunque rainforest in Puerto Rico, and this pulled together some adventure-loving travelers who were excited to get their new hiking boots dirty.

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Q&A: going solo on Semester at Sea and other Q's

Q&A: going solo on Semester at Sea and other Q's

Q: I am from Birmingham, AL this is going to be way out of my comfort zone do you recommend finding a friend or just going alone. Is their a good floor to be on and does the inside/outside room make a difference? How many classes did you take while you were there and did studying abroad put you behind in your studies when you got back to school?

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Q&A: Easing parental worries about travel

Q&A is a series that uses questions posed by readers and commentators to address topics of travel, alternative lifestyle design, blogging, and other interests. You can expect to see this series one or two Saturdays a month right here on Nomadderwhere.com. To send in your questions, contact me! This summer I was planning on doing a study abroad program, and now I'm waiting to hear back for responses.

I love how you encourage going somewhere if that's of utmost desire. I would die to do something like that, but how do parental worries factor into that?

Not to intrude, but do you happen to have lax parents who are chill with that? -Natalia

That's funny. You're funny, Natalia.

When it comes to my travels, my parents started off as anything but go-with-the-flow kind of people. It was very hard for my mom to come to terms with my travel desires, and she barely slept when I took off on my own in Vietnam (my first time solo in a foreign city).

Why All The Fear?

Saying goodbye to parents

Saying goodbye to parents

I've got all sorts of dramatic stories of parting from my parents for the road. And from the sounds of those stories, I seem like a terrible offspring - leaving my mother on her birthday for the next 187 days. I think parents really dread those moments of departure, feeling the weight of the lonely and troubled days in-between your safe arrival home. Of course, it's not without due cause - and, heck, I'm no parent - but I do think that's normal and temporary.

All parents are skeptical at first, fear the worst constantly, but eventually get used to you going solo the more you come back with reassuring statements about your experience. It's normal to want to take their fears into strong consideration, but my advice is to do your research yourself and not listen only to what your parents are concerned about from news and media exposure, as well as comments from their friends. Not everyone travels or sees the world the same way. Talk to other travelers who move and see the world the same way you do, and read books about the place; that will tell you whether you should be worried or not about your experience in a destination.

Curb Their Lack of Enthusiasm

pw3

pw3

Be sure to include your parents' concerns into your evaluation of future travels - doing otherwise will make you seem rebellious or immature - and be sure to follow it up with all the solid facts, research, and advice from experienced travelers/writers. The more they know you have your head on straight, the more they will trust your intuition as you fly solo.

It's also important to think about your track record and how it relates to your street smarts, travel savvy, and ability to take care of yourself. Your parents will probably always see you as a green 16 year-old, but as long as you've proven in the past you're not easily pushed over or taken advantage of, you can reason with them that you're prepared for what the world is ready to throw at you.

My parents still aren't cheerleaders for my non-professional travels, but at least they understand that I want to do it. When I had doubts about traveling around the world alone in 2008, my mom was surprisingly the voice that encouraged me to do what I want, which was against what she wanted for me. They tolerate my leisure travels these days, but my paid travel makes much more sense. It's a generational thing, as well.

Communication Makes the Difference

As a graduation present, my parents were kind enough to get me a World Edition Blackberry, which enabled constant communication via e-mail to my parents from wherever I was in the world - excluding Malawi, Cambodia, Kashmir, and Zambia, which weren't set up at the time for data usage.

While overlanding in Africa, I would wake up to the alarm on my phone and immediately receive an e-mail from my mom about the weather outside my tent flap. She was six hours behind me but still knew the weather I would experience that morning. This was certainly a way to placate her worries, because when I didn't respond to her e-mails for twelve days in a row (in Kashmir), nerves nearly sent my dad on a plane to find me.

It may be inconvenient to pay a phone bill or constantly find internet cafes to correspond from, but a quick e-mail affirming your happiness and safety are great ways to facilitate your parents' sleeping patterns.

A Mother's Perspective

It seemed only fitting to ask my mother her opinion on my travels, safety, and her feelings toward my independent travel lifestyle.

The summer before I entered sixth grade, I asked my parents if I could attend a military camp an hour north of our town, a camp my brother attended the previous two summers. Though his camp sessions were only two weeks at a time, I decided I wanted to experience the six week, intensive summer camp, which involved three different sessions of learning new skills, bunking with fifteen other girls in a log cabin, and all things military: general inspections, personal inspections, marching, etc. I went to this camp knowing no one previously.

Most ten year-olds don't normally ask for such experiences, and my mom noted this as major characteristic difference between myself and my peers. My independence was obvious at a young age.

Goodbyes at airports

Goodbyes at airports

When I wanted to travel alone for seven months through dangerous African cities and over-populated, crime-ridden regions in Asia, my mom was unnerved but also comforted by looking at my track record. According to her, I had proven myself, through my voluntary college responsibilities, multiple situations that exhibited my leadership, my friend choices, previous trip motivations, and a track record of wise decisions in life.

I've always been a passionate person, but that didn't stop me from analyzing my decisions carefully in the context of my life. Because I conducted myself well in high school, used my free time thoughtfully, dealt well with other people, I seemed like I could handle the road.

One thing that made my travels much easier on my parents, especially my mom, was the steady progression of my trips from easy to advanced: family trips, solo domestic trips, static study abroads, global study abroad, and finally solo global travel. I was weened slowly from my bubble life in northern Indiana and given the gift of time to slowly make mistakes and learn from them.

Mom Recommends...

To the hopeful world travelers in easing parental worries:

Showed maturity in what you do with your time and the people you chose to be with.

To the freaked out parents/mothers of world travelers:

We all want the best for our children and for them to do what makes them happy. If what they do to make themselves happy doesn't do the same for you, know the strong character they've always exhibited will carry over to the streets of India and help them deal with the world they encounter (hopefully they've researched!).

And don't believe, for one second, that one trip will get the bug out of their system. It never leaves their system. Trust your child, and don't make yourself sick. Bad things can happen anywhere. Living in fear is a choice.

The Bottom Line

We can't force our parents to feel the same way we do about the world and traveling through it. If it matters to you how your parents and family feel about your travels, approach the idea of changing their minds with as much fact, reason, and sensitivity as you can gather. Parents know better than anyone that college isn't the end of the learning experience. Hopefully we are all striving to be lifelong learners, and the fast track to learning is often located far from anyone's comfort zone.

World travelers aren't running from family, they're pulled by two worlds, both of which can't be ignored. To deny the movement impulse would be just as difficult as disregarding the friends and family that make us solid. Parents, we're going to be okay, and travelers...be sure you remain okay. People are hoping you come back home.

My Family

My Family

Was this post helpful to you as a traveler or as a parent? Do you have any comments or anything to add? Please don't hesitate to comment below or contact me personally!

Q&A: Traveling alone

Q&A: Traveling alone

How do you travel and backpack without having a security net at all times? Is it courage? Do you need backpacking friends? Did you do it on your own? I ask because this is something I only dream of doing, and if I could receive advice or information from someone that's been there and back, I would be eternally grateful.

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The Terror of the Tung: Day 73

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

I left off last in my adventures listening to Led Zeppelin with one headphone in my left and the other in the right of the toothless old man next to me (read the lead-up to this story in Flashbacks of Nam). After convincing all the men on board that my iPod was not for sale, the guy hanging out the window, picking up hitchhikers, motioned for me to run up and jump out of the moving bus. I stood at a T in the road, my backpack in tow, with a cloud of dust blowing up from around my feet. My new bus friends pointed in one direction as they sped off into the hills, and I started my trek down a long dreary street.

An hour later, I found a little beach town, met a man who owned a hotel and scheduled a bay trip for the following night. A little wandering got me a long way in this town. I found some excellent vegetable dishes at a seaside restaurant, a fantastic night market, and wandered a smelly yet scenic beach in beautiful solitude. I let sleep come peacefully to me that night, since the questionable stains on the wall could have kept my mind racing all night.

I awoke early to take in the morning activity only to fall asleep on a beach chair on the next day. After some errand running, I hopped on another motorbike to the waterfront where I boarded a three story wooden boat in the most chaotic and destructive marina environment I've ever seen. Vietnamese boat captains believe bumper boats don't just exist in the amusement parks.

Floating alongside the humongous grottoes that rocketed out of the teal waters was a sight my camera couldn't capture accurately. The hazy day created an eerie tone for our afternoon cruise, and the visit to a monstrous and dramatically lit cave only amped up the mystery evoked by this natural wonder. Young girls from a nearby floating fishing village came by offering different fruits insistently, and I had to partake in eating the swirling pineapples I had seen by the roadside stands.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Our captains and "guides" appeared to be bilingual, but they definitely took advantage of the language barrier and left the majority of us extremely confused with the facts of our situation. Apparently, there was a government problem, and everyone could not stay on the ship as they paid to do. Everyone piled off the ship at a nearby island to stay in a hotel, but at the last second, the captain grabbed my arm and told me to stay on the boat. I sat with my backpack strapped on, alone on a pirate ship, watching my new friends walk away and became terrified for my own safety.

Eventually a whole new group filed on and the night proceeded as it was intended to. Hours of talking to experienced travelers and listening to conversations in German later, I fell asleep on the rocking boat, a task at which I am very skilled; however, one thing I am not accustomed to is hearing the rustling, pattering, and squeaking of little mice under me. This fun encounter led me to steal a seat cushion from the dining floor and sleep with the limestone islands outside.

The rest of the day centered around introspection...floating through the grottoes with a soft breeze, riding in a bus back to Hanoi, a dinner of crackers and soy milk in a nearby city park, and a flight across a country that would leave me mystified for years to come. I was ready to leap back to the ship and prepare for one last day of sight-seeing and inexpensive shopping sprees. And that I did, but not without more crazy episodes of crazy motorbike rides, yelling at scamming taxi drivers, and deep-fried scorpion antics in the cabin…thanks to a one Miss Alexis Reller. She truly made my worst nightmares come true.

I parted Vietnam with a smile, knowing this beautiful country witnessed my first true instance of lone traveling in the Third World, and luckily it was a success.

What do you think about my first solo female trip? Was Ha Long Bay more beautiful than you imagined? Comment below!

Flashbacks of Nam: Day 71

Nam 013

Tears dropped with the rain this morning as the words "Port of Kobe" came into clear focus. A brass band resonated off our approaching ship from the dock, and the faculty found some early morning giggles by marching to the beat. I, on the other hand, felt static and confused with the impending implications of a last foreign port. I have yet to discuss so many things, complete multitudes of homework, meet 600 more people, and understand what this trip is all about. Twenty days remain, and in order to accept the future, I need to reflect on the past. After watching too many Vietnam War films at sea, I became overly excited for this new country of wonder and history. Wading up the Saigon River lacked the usual color and vigor of a port sunrise, but today, little fishing boats approached us from all sides, curious as to who was on board and what the ship was like. I tried to let this moment sink into my memory; however, I was preoccupied by the inevitable conversation with Garrett…that he wasn't going to join me for Ha Long Bay.

After the predicted blow, I spent my morning shower in tears, trying to comprehend how I could still enjoy this port for which I was so enthused. Hours of contemplating later, I decided to make my own dreams come true, so I went. Ho Chi Minh City buzzed with motorbikes, but I paid no mind to the rickshaws that were following me down the street. Instead, I enjoyed the little shops and the conical hats that littered the heads of many.

Nam 014

Alexis, a few other girls, and I took a service trip to nearby schools for the deaf and an orphanage that housed children who suffered physical and mental handicaps. I exercised my artistic skills and drew pictures of Mickey Mouse and caricatures of Alexis for the little girls who loved the humor and signed their appreciation to each other and to us. A short night of market shopping, incredible bargains, and leisurely walking concluded with intense packing for a trip that would mark my memory forever.

I awoke at 4:30am, hitched a ride with four other random kids, waited in six different lines for airline tickets, and flew off to Hanoi by my lonesome. I couldn't help but hear the sounds of my parents' voices echoing in my ear, "Please promise me you will NEVER travel alone." I felt incredibly torn between keeping my family at ease and following my own path that I would surely regret forever not taking. The answer was obvious.

Upon arrival in Hanoi, aimless wandering got me to the city bus station, where about ten motorbike drivers helped me get onto the right route. I gave the astounded bus fare collector a dollar bill, hoping he wouldn't kick me off from lack of Dong. Instead, he charged me more, kept the dollar for himself, and I remained on the bus next to a woman squatting and hurling on the floor. Pleasant.

The next bus ride made history in my own timeline, a roller coaster literally and mentally. A man approached me off the city bus and shouted "HA LONG BAY?" about three inches from my face. It seemed he knew what he was doing, so I followed him to a ticket office, paid three dollars, and climbed onto a mini bus where I was forced to sit in the back. The song "Rosa Parks" stuck in my head for the remainder of the trip.

Once I was an official passenger, the driver pulled out of the station, as though all he needed was one real ticket holder to validate his transportation services. About three minutes later, ten of the driver's "boys" piled onto the bus in a frenzy, and I thought I was surely done for. I masked my all-consuming worry by listening to my iPod, but that only spurred on the interest of multiple guys to come check out my electronics.

Just before I let myself get comfortable in my seat, a man rolled next to the bus with the oldest rickshaw known to Vietnam, and on this rickshaw sat a large metal apparatus that I can only imagine was a land mine (or rather, an engine). And as was expected, on this magical mystery tour to Ha Long Bay, the men grabbed the explosive/mechanical device and hauled it onto the bus. I laughed, thinking this trip couldn't get any more eventful…keep in mind we had yet to even leave the sidewalk outside the station.

I flew from one side of the bus to the other as the driver weaved through cars and traffic, laying on his horn to notify the city he was passing. One man always kept his head out the door and yelled at people on the side of the road, some of whom waved us down and hopped on for a few miles. At one point, I had four old men watching Family Guy on my video iPod and wanting to exchange their cell phones for my hi-tech contraption.

What do you think of my first solo journey thus far? Continue reading The Terror of the Tung, and/or comment below!