Why Long-Term Solo Travel is Never Boring

9-25-23 Tirana, Albania

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. – Ellen Parr

Whether you’re looking for freedom, personal growth, or what to explore at your own pace. Solo travel has many benefits. And is never boring…

As I’ve been traveling through 5 countries in 6 weeks, I think it’s almost impossible to be bored. Every day is a new adventure. Every time I leave my hotel, I never know what to expect. What will happen today? What will I see that surprises me? What will make me think differently? And what will shock me?

And for me, it’s always been this way. So, let’s start with the obvious…

The Culture – cultural differences can be enormous and similar. There are things all people do. They all communicate. They all eat. They all have some type of shelter. We’re all alike, but how we do those things can differ. For example, toilets. Have you ever seen a European bathroom?

I remember taking a girlfriend to Rome about ten years ago. While walking around the Roman Forum, she said she had to use the bathroom. I pointed to the WC sign and said that’s the bathroom. She walked down the path, and I waited for her return.

She returned and said, I don’t think this is the right place. I walked back with her. She opened the door and said look. I laughed and said that’s a toilet. If you’ve never seen a European bathroom, the only way to describe it is a hole in the ground with two platforms to put your feet on. You squat down and go. It’s the same for men and women.

She decided not to experience the culture and waited until we returned to the hotel.

The Language – dealing with people who speak another language can be exciting and fun. First off, you never know what you’re saying will be interpreted. And you don’t always know how to interpret what people are saying. For example…

About a week ago I was looking for my hotel and couldn’t find the address, which was 11. I saw a taxi nearby and asked the driver. He motioned to go past a few houses because the address was behind them. Which is expected in the areas I’ve been to.

So I walked about a hundred feet and saw a set of stairs. I walked up about 40 steps and saw two addresses on different gates. Numbers 10 and 12. I looked around for 11 but didn’t see it.

Then a man came through one of the gates. I asked him where number 11 was. I think I showed him the address on my phone. He motioned for me to walk down the stairs and follow the road to the right, and the address was on the opposite side of the road further down. I said thank you.

I picked up my bag. Suddenly, he started talking to me in Macedonian, I think. He seemed like he was being nice and trying to convey something or at least converse with me. He used no hand signals. The tone of his voice was pleasant. I looked at him, trying not to be rude, and he kept talking to me.

Now I don’t know what you would do, but I put down my bag and listened. I didn’t understand a word but gave him my attention. When he finished, I thanked him again. I went to pick up my bag, and he started talking again.

He was conversing with me but I didn’t know how to respond. When he stopped, I said thanks and tried to convey sincere appreciation.

And a week later, I still remember it. And his hand signal directions got me to my hotel.

Figuring Out Money Conversion – can you imagine haggling with someone and not knowing their money’s conversion or exact value? It happens to me all the time. Sometimes, people will take advantage of me. Other times, they don’t.

I’ve been to many fruit and vegetable markets where I held my hand out with money in it, and let the vendors take what they needed. In most rural markets, you can do this with no problem—other times, like Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, that would be a big mistake.

I was at the Grand Bazaar with my son years back and was trying to buy a pair of earrings for my girlfriend back home. The vendor gave me three options. A price for Euro. A price for U.S. Dollars and a price for Turkish Lira.

I didn’t know how to respond and said nothing. So he said how about this, and gave me different prices in each currency. I didn’t respond. And again he gave me three more prices. Each time, the money values were different.

He was not trying to rip me off and wasn’t gouging me. But boy, I was confused. I responded that I would take them for the Turkish Lira price.

He walked away to wrap them. When he did, my son looked at me and said. The first time, Lira was the better price. The second time, the Euro was the better price. And the last time, the Dollar was the better price.

My son’s one of those math whizzes, who can do this in his head. I just looked at my son and said, shut up. I got what I was looking for and was happy.

The Attractions – as I write, I’m in Tirana, Albania. Albania has more underground bunkers than anywhere in the world. Estimates range from 150,000 to 700,000. And they have turned two into museums. This museum was dedicated to the story of the Albanian police force and their effect on the people.

Under communist rule, the police arrested and detained people from all over the country. They had prison camps, and many ended up being tortured. If they caught you trying to escape the country, they not only detained and tortured you, but they did the same to your family, which went on till the fall of communism in the early 1990s.

It’s something that, being an American, I could not relate to or fathom. And while reading about these times in Albanian history, I’m walking through an underground bunker designed for the minister of defense.

It’s in the same condition today as it was built. It has the same doors, the same lighting, and the same electrical wiring.. They had about 40 different rooms you could go through. Each one told a story about times in their history.

You saw the minister’s office and bedroom. A jail, the contamination rooms. A room with examples of bugging devices. It was entering another world. Another world in an underground bunker.

And it’s something I’ll remember as long as I live.

I think that dealing with all this kind of stuff is what makes a trip memorable. And that’s how it is in life. It’s the little oddball things that happen to you that bring a smile to your face. Not only that, it also creates some of the most interesting stories you’ll ever tell.

Until next time, enjoy life’s journey.

Joe O’Brien

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