The things a trav­eler can learn all by him­self

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY JOHN PAN­CAKE

Maybe it’s be­cause I’m an only child, but I like trav­el­ing alone.

You can have great ad­ven­tures when you take a trip with friends. But trav­el­ing alone makes you think about who you are and why you’re here. There’s a spe­cial sweet­ness to soli­tude. It’s less com­pli­cated. There’s no­body to blame if things go wrong, no­body to ac­com­mo­date, no sched­ule to stick to but your own. If you want to hike to the top of a bluff and drink a beer while the sun sets over the Danube, there’s no­body to re­mind you of that din­ner reser­va­tion at the lit­tle bistro thatMadge and Allen raved about.

When I travel by my­self, the three things I al­ways take are a black wool shirt, a jour­nal and a scrap of ad­vice from G.K. Ch­ester­ton, who was fa­mous for missing trains: “An ad­ven­ture is only an in­con­ve­nience rightly con­sid­ered. An in­con­ve­nience is only an ad­ven­ture wrongly con­sid­ered.”

Just about ev­ery­thing else is op­tional. On my way home from Za­greb once, I jot­ted down some things to re­mem­ber about soli­tary trav­el­ing. I ad­mit, it’s an ec­cen­tric list.

Live out of a small suit­case. Be­ing alone is about be­ing free. Lighter is freer.

You don’t have to have a plan. And if you do have one, why not change it on a whim? Just be­cause.

Vis­it­ing a friend in an out-ofthe-way vil­lage is go­ing to yield more dis­cov­er­ies than check­ing in at one of the “1,000 places to visit be­fore you die.” Life is bet­ter with fewer check­lists.

If you have a choice, walk, don’t ride. Trav­el­ing alone is about mov­ing through places, not about get­ting to them.

Trains are bet­ter than planes. Sit by the win­dow. Talk to the per­son next to you.

Travel rivers when you can. I like short rides on cheap boats. Drink less, think more. Ever heard any­body say: I wish I hadn’t spent so much time in Key West, the Gala­pa­gos, on Smith Is­land, Mack­inac, South Caicos, Crete, Santa Catalina, Nan­tucket . . .? Me nei­ther. Leave ex­tra time to visit is­lands.

Trav­el­ing alone is partly about los­ing your­self, and mu­sic is a good way to do that. Lis­ten to what’s lo­cal. Could be Mozart in Vi­enna or Used To Be Cyrus in Gaborone. You won’t re­gret it. And be gen­er­ous when you pass a street mu­si­cian. What are you go­ing to do with all those coins when you get home, any­way? Toss ’em at the feet of that vi­o­lin­ist on the corner.

You don’t need to take the com­puter. Re­ally.

Never miss a chance to meet a writer or an artist.

Since you don’t have friends along, you’ll be tak­ing pic­tures of strangers. Ask be­fore you shoot.

No­tice lit­tle things. Win­dowsills, door­knobs, sleep­ing cats.

Ev­ery­body in the world seems to walk around with a back­pack. You know what? They’re un­com­fort­able. Be dif­fer­ent. Slip a notesolo book into your pocket, clip a cam­era to your belt and go.

You know a lot less his­tory than you think. Set aside a quiet evening now and then to read a lit­tle.

Trav­el­ing alone will re­mind you how much you miss your par­ents. Mine trav­eled very lit­tle, but when I see some­thing that would have caught their eye or made them smile, it doesn’t seem as though it has been two decades since they died.

If you visit a church, why not light a can­dle and ab­sorb the still­ness?

Now and then, you’ll come

Walk, don’t ride. Trav­el­ing alone is about mov­ing through places, not about get­ting to them.

across a jerk — a nasty clerk, a spoiled child, a surly seat­mate. Think of it as God re­mind­ing you to be kind to strangers.

Okay, so you don’t have any­body to go to din­ner with. Even so, don’t eat in the ho­tel din­ing room. Yes, there are ho­tels that serve great food, but if you’re feel­ing that lucky, play Power­ball when you get home. One pair of shoes. Fol­low your hunches and keep an eye out for weird at­trac­tions. I’ve de­toured for a spi­der mu­seum, a toi­let mu­seum, a me­dieval apothe­cary mu­seum and, my all­time fa­vorite, the bat tower in the Florida Keys. Ec­cen­tric­ity car­ries it­self with spe­cial grandeur.

Take along a good pa­per­back, and af­ter you’ve read it, give it to some­one you meet.

Peo­ple are al­ways happy to talk to you about the lo­cal wine. Try some.

If you are alone, avoid zoos. Sad, sad places.

travel@wash­ Pan­cake is a for­mer Washington Post edi­tor.


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