And eating alone becomes even lonelier, I think, when on the road.
When I was killing time around the city before flying out of Palawan, a waiter had told me almost apologetically that their serving of bird’s nest soup—a local specialty—was good for at least eight people. So I had to go for green mango shake instead.
On the same solo trip, I had tried the zipline at Sabang—a lengthy ride which passed over Sabang Beach—all alone. I also went to the Underground River Tour with a random group of tourists, most of whom came in pairs. I didn’t mind, until the boatman started cracking silly jokes about the formations along the river’s path. Some things are meant to be shared, I guess, including food and jokes inside thousand-year-old caves.
Traveling solo has never been my cup of tea, but the few times I have done it had opened me to brand new adventures and learning that would not have been possible if I had the security blanket of a travel companion.
This is why traveling solo, at least for me, is an adventure in itself: having to carry and safeguard all my belongings; commuting; trying to make friends with locals and other travelers; and finally, being able to enjoy while keeping myself safe.
Traveling alone is almost always more serendipitous than going with a group where we take different sets of habits and attitudes and try to make them all work so everyone can have a good time. I also happen to prefer the freedom that going solo offers, because that way, I need not disappoint anybody else’s expectations and break anybody else’s plans. And being alone with very little plan has taught me to be well on my guard yet remain open to the goodness of people. In fact, the encounters I have had with kind strangers turn out to be the most memorable: people letting me hitch on their boats; people getting out of their way to walk me all the way to my destination; people opening their homes for me to wait for the rain to stop.
Of course, there are practical benefits as well. For one, it has helped (sometimes forced) me to learn skills I otherwise would not have bothered with, like starting a camp fire for cooking, or crossing a river with huge boulders while keeping my cameras dry. There had been a time, in Antique, where I had to climb an almost vertical slope to get to a waterfall, and not even guides could hoist me up because there was only room for one person at a time.
With every trip, I am also learning to watch my expenses—something I am terrible at. Instances like these, however small, have taught me to try to flail less and less, and often I am amazed at how I manage in the end.
That said, there are things about solo traveling I would rather not experience, at least not regularly. Not having somebody I can fully trust—somebody from back home—could get very lonely and scary. For some travelers, this could even mean a trip cut short. Homesickness, especially for people who travel for long periods, can kick in pretty quickly too.
Not having a helping hand on rough situations is also discouraging, in the same way that having an encouraging voice just makes daredevil acts and once-in-a-lifetime adventures all the more possible.
When it comes to expenses, having travel companions can drastically lower certain costs, such as accommodations and food. In certain cases, more comfortable modes of travel become more accessible because of the split costs, such as car rentals and boat charters.
Certain places also have qualities that make them, at least for me, friendlier to specific types of travelers: Boracay’s loudness, for instance, seems to yearn for company all the time. El Nido seems to be the opposite, its towering limestone cliffs inviting solitude and introspection.
But as I found out the first time I visited El Nido, there is still magic in loud laughter with friends I haven’t seen in a long time while cruising along Bacuit Bay’s placid waters. In Boracay, there is quiet in the unlikeliest of places, such as lonely cliffs and unexpected detours.
Everywhere else, I am sure, there will always be a kind of magic only traveling can give, with company or without.
TIPS FOR SOLO TRAVELERS
• Inform somebody from back home of your whereabouts.
• Research in advance about any security issues for travelers, especially for women.
• Always keep important documents, such as passport and tickets, on hand and in one place.
• Learn a few basic words of the local language.
• Trust your instincts and learn to say no when needed.
• Pack only what you can comfortably carry for the entire leg of your trip.
• Be friendly but careful.
• Revel in your solitude.