Brian wrote a defense of traveling in company last week, and I would like to add to that:
In my travels, I’ve found that I’ve had an entirely different experience of the exact place if I’m traveling alone, traveling in enjoyable company, or traveling in miserable company. I’ve experienced this shift on the very same trip in fact — there have been times when I’ve been a part of an unpleasant group, and I feel very oppressed, and I start to calculate the hours until I can flee for the airport. But suddenly I negotiate an escape, and I’m on my own, blessedly on my own, and then I am quite happy and start to think about staying longer.
It is true that traveling with other people, even quite wonderful people, can be distracting. You’re dealing with the dynamic of that relationship, and not “purely” interacting with the place itself.
But this whole idea of “purity” strikes me as utterly absurd and impossible — as absurd and impossible as the notion of journalistic objectivity, in which real human beings pretend they have no opinion and go to great lengths to conceal any opinion that they’ve naturally formed.
Allow me to point out that if you’re not in the company of other people when you’re traveling, you have not simply erased all the relationships you’ve accumulated in your life and in your past. Those people are affecting you and your experience of that place, even if they’re only in your thoughts. Pretend it’s not happening as much you want — it won’t be the first or last fiction introduced into a travel story.
I’ll grant that it’s much easier not to totally avoid speaking to strangers when you’ve got a travel companion. And there are real advantages to speaking to strangers. But deciding that you’re definitely going to get something much more important and by having a conversation with someone you don’t know, versus someone you know? Again, absurd. Over the years, my travel companions have made many interesting observations that have enhanced my experience of a place. I might have noticed something different if I was alone, but so what? I might have noticed something different if I turned my head to the left instead of to the right.
I am really quite content traveling on my own, so it’s sort of funny that I’m defending traveling with others. But this whole idea that one must travel in any particular way for authenticity is so goddamned grade school snob annoying. As annoying as people who make this profoundly idiotic and incredibly common comment : “you should have gone to XYZ 20 years ago, that was the real XYZ.”
Please. Places change over time, no one ever has the same experience of a place twice, every traveler gets to a destination exactly when she gets there and that’s just fine.
And whether you’re alone or with others, there’s no one “real” or “correct” way to experience a place.