Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pros and Cons of Traveling Alone: A Taiwanese Example

For Chuseok, I went to Taipei for the long weekend on a solo trip; I hadn't traveled alone in God knows how long, so it was great to go by myself. Then again, at times I missed the companionship of other travelers. Various aspects of my travels were colored by traveling alone in Taiwan, so here were my pros and cons to traveling alone in Taiwan.

Eating: Anyone who knows me a bit knows that I am a live-to-eat type of person. When I'm traveling, I try anything. Taiwan was the perfect place to eat a variety of foods.
Pros: I could eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. If I saw a noodle place that looked good, I would just sit down and order. I had a bunch of great food experiences in Taiwan because of the spontaneity of dinner choices and not having to deal with 10 people's dietary constraints and ending up at a f***ing McDonalds.

Gel-covered pork with cilantro. No idea what it was called, but hey. 
Cons: Traveling alone means not having dining buddies. Which means trying less things. You can't really steal food off of strangers' plates (though many a stranger did help with my food choices).

Visiting Sights: 
Pros: I went to all of the things I wanted to see and spent as much time there as I wanted. At the Chiang Kai-shek memorial (so beautiful) I lounged around for a bit and then went into the museum. While I was at first hesitant to skip out due to boredom, I realized that I didn't have to prove that I was some sort of intellectual and could leave the museum at my leisure. Freedom.
Moon cakes and architecture. Life is beautiful
Cons: Every place has its must-see destinations. For Taipei, one of those places is the National Palace Museum. Due to my laziness, I didn't make it to the museum. If I had been traveling with friends, someone would have made sure we went there. I guess it means I may have to go back. 

Pros: Go to the bars you want, hang out with the crowd you want, and go home with you want. Sounds pretty good, right?
50 Taiwanese Dollars per Shot. Great way to get lost in a new city
Cons: You probably shouldn't go too crazy in a city you don't know. If I had drunk a lot in Taipei, who would help me get home? You may need a bit of liquid courage to approach people at bars, so it is a delicate balance between being buzzed and putting yourself in a dangerous position. 

Schedule Flexibility:
Pros: My scheduling was done on a tiny piece of paper. It was purposefully made very flexible. A lot of my friends can't travel like that. But I didn't have anything specific to do at certain times, I was able to join one of the workers at the hostel to his family's house for the Moon Cake Festival. Now that was a great experience. Eating BBQ, drinking whiskey with his heavy-handed mother (seriously, who wants to down three shots of whiskey at once?), singing karaoke, and meeting new people. Whats not to love?

Cons: Not working on a plan with a fellow traveler means perhaps overlooking certain sights or some fascinating place that your friend knows about. This can be compensated for by staying at a hostel, but Asia's hostels aren't the best in the world...  

Time to Think:
Pros: I worked out a lot of my thoughts while in Taiwan. I just had so much alone time that I talked to myself about all sorts of things that were going on in my mind (the future, love interests, work, US politics, etc). I would ponder my life for a bit, enjoy the sights, take pictures of myself, and then go 
Cons: You definitely do run out of things to talk to yourself about. I got through a lot of the micro-issues I'm dealing with and thought about some bigger goals and then though, huh, what's next? My last day in Taiwan I spent many hours singing Phantom of the Opera and Hedwig and the Angry Inch both out loud and to myself. I must have looked crazy.

Pros: I love walking as a means to explore a city. Rather than bus from sight to sight, I enjoy taking the long walking route and exploring as I go. My first day in Taipei I went for something like a four hour walk. While I have some friends that wouldn't mind such long walks, most of them would want to rest after a couple of minutes. Traveling alone gives me the ability to walk for as long as I desire. It also introduces me to cool things, like Taipei's arboretum or a pig in Danshui. 

Cons: My walkative days tend to reduce my energy in the evenings. If I had a bit more balance during the day (maybe a quick nap?) maybe I'd be able to last longer in the evenings. Traveling with friends means more frequent rests. 

Cultural Surrounding

Pros: When you travel alone, you don't have to be aware of how your friends are presenting themselves or if your group is being respectful. You only have to worry about how you are behaving. It's nice not to worry about loud and disrespectful foreigners.

Cons: Sometimes I am that loud and noisy foreigners. If I'm being obnoxious, or doing something impolite without being aware, who is going to inform me? I've traveled with friends who have told me when I'm too loud or being rude, and they really help give me peace of mind. When I went to Longshen temple (right), I wasn't really sure what level of reverence I should observe. It was easy to be quiet, but was I supposed to bow as a non-believer? Should I have left food on the tables at the temple? Would it have been fine if I lit some incense? Traveling with people (especially intelligent culturally aware people) can really add to your cultural understanding of a place.

So I guess I feel a bit mixed about traveling alone. While the freedom is great, it is easy to become lonely and a lazy traveler. After the US, my next trip is in January. Anyone want to go to SE Asia? 


  1. Hey, I'm a foreigner in Taipei. Thanks for your post. When will you be in Taipei again? ~Maggie

    1. Who knows? Haha. My friend will be moving there in February, so I might visit him mid 2013

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience with us! I think everyone should try traveling alone at least once in a lifetime! Anybody who has traveled outside his or her comfort zone can attest to the excitement that comes from being in a new environment. As research has shown, travel is not only exciting; it also offers the following benefits listed in this post: http://www.agsinger.com/what-is-it-like-to-travel-the-world-and-what-can-you-learn-from-it/.