The Falklands/Malvinas war is drawing the world’s attention. Argentina and the UK are fighting over some British overseas territories in the South Atlantic. The conflict only lasted ten weeks but had important consequences for my life as a primary school kid in Italy.
Silvana from Buenos Aires moved to Italy with her family and joined my school. She joined my class.
We became friends. Very good friends.
Afternoons went by with us playing in my garden, mixing Italian and Spanish while trying to communicate, making up new words and laughing about them.
Silvana and her family left a couple of years later, back to Argentina. I found their destination address on one of the removal boxes parked outside their flat after they had left, and wrote it down. A few weeks later I sent a long letter to my friend. And our friendship continued thanks to our many handwritten messages that crossed the oceans for years.
I promised Silvana that I’d visit her as soon as I turned 18. But I couldn’t keep the promise. Life takes funny turns. We eventually lost contact.
Then Mr Zuckerberg invented Facebook.
And I found my friend there.
She was still in Argentina while I had moved to the UK in the meanwhile.
Fast forward to 13 November 2015, the day I took the 4:30am ferry from Colonia del Sacramento (Uruguay) to Buenos Aires just to go and see my Argentinian friend for the day.
As I exit the ferry arrival area I see her. She looks at me…we cannot contain our excitement…it’s been 31 years but it feels like nothing has changed!
On my last trip I was “on the road” for just over two months (9 weeks, or to be precise 64 days), the longest ever for me. Mostly travelling on my own. Nothing compared to what a lot of people do but enough for me to encourage some reflections.
I loved it, I totally loved it. But it was also challenging at times.
#Being constantly on the move takes a toll on you.
Moving from place to place every few days and trying to cram too many things on your schedule can get tiring. You may soon realise that you need rest days every few activity days. In my case even a trip to the hairdresser’s around the corner did the trick! Staying more than 2-3 days in each town also helps: not only this is a way to slow down but it also offers great opportunities to get to know a place and the local people better.
#Feeling unwell when on the road and on your own is tough. Getting ill does happen. And all you want to do is to curl up in bed and cry yourself to sleep until it all goes away. Then when you are well again all negative feelings go away too and your travels become your best friend again. In my last trip I was lucky and I didn’t really get ill: no health issues ever lasted more than a day. But things could have been different (as I experienced in the past…).
#Everything is new and unfamiliar.
From how to move around by public transport to buying a local SIM card to booking a half day tour via a random agency. Not to mention any language barriers that you are bound to encounter at some point.
You have never been in that place before. You may have read lots of information online or received advice from other travellers, but you need to learn quickly. Because now it’s you, and only you, there. A build-up of daily challenges can get stressful.
#You may miss your friends back home.
Meeting new people and making new friends is great, a lot of amazing friendships have been born on the road and this is one of the best things about travelling. But we all have moments when we miss hanging out with our long-term friends, the ones who know us best.
#We all need a lil’ bit of “Westernisation” around us. At least I do! As much as I am excited about discovering new cultures and habits, I am and will always remain a Westerner. Having some familiar culture around us can be comforting and reassuring. Being able to buy food and general items in a westernised supermarket or a visit to a well known coffee chain every now and then is often sufficient.
So there are challenges in “long-term” solo travelling.
But then nothing beats the excitement of arriving in a new town in a foreign country, dropping your bags in your new room and going out to discover what’s there! Eyes and mind well open. Camera always at hand to record moments, places and people.
And then you sit on your bed in your guesthouse/hotel/hostel in the evening, sorting out photos, absorbing the events of the day, planning the next day, deciding where to go next, booking transport and accommodation.
Taking it all in.
This is the biggest reward.
This is what I love about travelling!
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” (Jack Kerouac)