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The independent traveler

About 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Siem Reap area for a few days. While the temples of Angkor Wat were as amazing as advertised, it was the friendship I formed with Mr. Hoy that I remember most fondly. His recommendation of a hotel, food, jokes, and personal guide service left great memories that those who travel by bus in large tour groups just don't get. For more details see - Cambodia - same, same only different.

I attended a session at a local expo last Sunday about traveling solo. The presenter recounted the trips she had taken by herself, sharing some lessons learned and a few useful tips. But she also spent a great deal of time describing the psychological benefits of traveling alone.

To me, she was preaching to the choir.

My idea of the perfect travel year has always been three trips: one with my kids/grandkids, one with my significant other, and one all by my lonesome. Each has its own pleasures that cannot be replicated by the other two. While I sometimes joke that "family vacation" is an oxymoron, relationships with your kids and grandkids and seeing the delight of a new experience or new food on a kid's face cannot be surpassed. Discovering the exotic and beautiful with a lover imbues memories that are deep, significant, vivid, and forever. Traveling alone relieves the traveler of the responsibility for others' comforts and preferences and gives the lone traveler time to think, to observe, and to move at a personal pace - for introspection and curiosity.

A big part of what makes travel engaging is uncertanity and problem-solving. That new trail, that interesting food, that new custom all come with both dread and delight. Canceled hotel reservations, injuries, closed sites, or weather conditions often call for impromptu decisions that are uncomfortable if not dangerous. Solo travel means getting the chance to trust one's own abilities - to navigate, to communicate, to stay safe. Dependence on oneself alone is both humbling and ego-building.

Many of the intesting places I've visited have been happy extensions of speaking at conferences around the world. Trips to Laos and Cambodia were done a few days following conferences in Bangkok. My climb of Kilimanjaro was possible because I was speaking in Nairobi; going to Machu Picchu preceded a consulting job for a school in Lima. These solo tag-on adventures spent at my own pace have been a happy highlight of my life.

As I look toward impending retirement, I am anticipating travel to play a bigger role in my life. I am planning a "senior gap year" in which I will have opportunities to take advantage of all three of my favorite kinds of travel. But it will largely be independent travel. I've always been envious of the college-age backpackers I've meet on my travels, lounging in hostels, trekking toward ancient ruins, dining on street food, exuding an air of total freedom, lacking time restrains and the hovering spectre of the return to a job "next Monday."

So hostel owners, tuk-tuk drivers, and follow backpackers, beware. You may need to put up with an old guy who may be lost, but completely happy.

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