Travelling Solo loses its Sheen

Friday, October 19, 2012

I have not been M.I.A but just taking a well deserved break visiting my bestie in Buenos Aires. I also took a trip to Rio that didn't quite turn out the way it was supposed to. here is the piece I wrote about it for my Talk to Me column in The Geelong Advertiser GT.

Imagine if you will, one super excited girl (me) going to Rio with her boy BFF Greg on a trip planned months ago. We arrive to super warm weather ready for fun and a little Samba. After my passport was stamped and returned to me at immigration there seemed to be some issues with Gregs, the lady disappeared for a little while then came back asking us to follow her to the airport immigration police. Greg had been misinformed that he could arrive on his Argentine ID card and had no visa. The atmosphere turned very tense as we were advised that Greg was to return on the same plane we had arrived on, back to Buenos Aires. No amount of tears and pouting from me or an offer to pay more on the spot (insert bribe) was working. So Greg was taken away leaving me in a state of shock and tears.

I must make it clear that I moved to communist Poland at 19 by myself without speaking the language, I travelled around the world alone a few times, moved to New York City totally solo, raise 3 kids as a single parent so I consider myself to be a brave, resilient, well travelled, street smart girl. None of that seemed to matter, I totally fell apart, in the cab to the hotel I got the prickly "I am going to pass out" feeling but did some deep breathing and managed to stay upright. It was a little hairy for a moment at the hotel when I was checking in with a reservation made and paid by someone else. My streaming tears and anxiety possibly scared the young man into allowing me to check in if Greg sent an email ASAP to verify who I was.

I made it to my room with the amazing Copacabana Beach view wasted as I dramatically collapsed on my bed with yet more tears.

I have since analysed why I felt so scared and vulnerable and I believe its my age. It was a huge, major, slap in the face life moment epiphany that I am not young anymore. I am no longer 6ft tall and bulletproof. Twenty years ago I could arrive in a city, head to the local Hostel and immediately have a network of people to hang out with. My backpacking budget meant cheap take away or picking up something from the supermarket and preparing back at the hostel with the other poor travellers. We would then consult our guide books and head out on the town with no regard for what tomorrow will bring.

Fast forward 20 years when I no longer have an 'I am only living for today' attitude and I am staying in a fancy hotel all by myself in a country where no one speaks English including the tourist trade. What now???? It was really confronting and I felt very vulnerable. No matter how much self-talk I did I cant be that young crazy girl again. Too much has happened since then, I am the same person but all grown up. I believe its called responsibility which becoming a parent instantly does. I didnt even know what the word responsible meant in my backpacking days. I now have a sensible mind that is thinking of the dangers involved in every step, thinking about my kids, the plane I need to catch in the morning etc etc. I went to a bar by myself and realized that I looked like a 45 year old Mum sitting there alone and I am not a magnet to anyone anymore except perhaps other Mums in their 40's of which there were none. In restaurants at night I looked like a woman on a business trip. It was a sad and defining moment that I truly am not young anymore. I know I am not old but I am older, I am middle aged. Shock! Horror! and more tears.

The best and smartest decision I could see was to book day tours so that is what I did every day and I was pretty much the only English speaking tourist but enjoyed them anyway. It was the nights that felt lonely and unenjoyable.

It made me stop to think about loneliness and how consuming it can be. Imagine being alone all the time with no one, absolutely no one? What would that feel like? I think it would start to define you. I used to always wonder why people in bad life situations didnt up and move somewhere you for a new start in life. I think the total loneliness of knowing no one and having nothing familiar would just make life seem even harder than it was. I am lucky that I have lots of family and friends who love me everywhere except in Rio of course. Social Media meant that I was not totally alone. My gorgeous friend Pamela had a virtual dinner with me most nights keeping me company and sparing me looking like a frog on a rock. She cyber laughed with me when I was delivered a flaming dish meant for 4 people. It even had its own side table, totally and utterly mortifying. I could chat with everyone else via Facebook and people were very encouraging about my predicament. So once again, imagine having no one to chat to face to face or online?

What did I learn? I learnt I can still travel and enjoy myself on my own but really don't want to. That was my old life and I would rather share new experiences with loved ones. It is just not the same walking down the famous Copacabana Beach without someone to point things out to, someone to have a giggle with about the strange fashions and someone to watch my belongings while I take a long leisurely swim.

I learnt I am not as young as I used to be and with time I will learn to accept that and it will be OK. Fingers crossed.

I learnt that I love Facebook even more than I did before I went away and that I have awesome friends and will never ever truly be alone.

I learnt that I will make sure my travel companions have a valid visa for our adventures of which there will still be many.

Lastly, I dont care how great a body one has I do not care for thong bikinis. I did not practise the when in Rome attitude on this trip.

Here are a few photos to show I still had fabulous time in an incredibly beautiful city, it just would have been 5000 times better had I had my planned travel partner.

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