Solo travel, again, for the first time in a long time!
Well that was different, and not entirely what I was expecting, or prepared for. First off I was expecting snow, of which there was none, and secondly I was expecting a few like minded people, but they were few and far between. In fact other backpackers and hostel dorm mates were generally in short supply, whether like minded or not. Granted it was the off season, granted it was not the worlds best known ski/snowboard destination, granted I have been wrong many many times before … but how did I get it so wrong this time? Where was everybody? This was most certainly solo travel, but not as I knew it.
Bosnia and failing to define solo travel
In the end it all worked out really, and my week in Bosnia became a great adventure which I shall forever remember fondly. Mostar was simply wonderful, and whilst Sarajevo didn’t quite go to plan as explained – The larger part of my time in Sarajevo was ideally to be spent snowboarding – I was still pleasantly surprised by the city itself, and by the amount I learned about Bosnia through spending time on tours and wandering its streets, rather than on the mountains. By the time my week in Bosnia was up, I was in all honesty quite sad to be leaving. The taxi ride to the airport was endured with a sinking feeling in my stomach, and waiting for my flight to be called felt like an undeserving and lengthy torture. That all said though, I’m still not 100% convinced that finding myself almost fully solo in Bosnia was what I wanted of my first visit to the country, and that it would be my preference should I (hopefully) return again sometime in the future.
Before Bosnia I thought I was fairly well versed in solo travel. A year long RTW trip and a months inter-railing mostly on my tod ticked what I thought were the right solo travel experience boxes, but unsurprisingly I wasn’t entirely correct with that thought process. This time around, my solo travels were totally different to what I’d experienced before, be it because of my destination, my timing, or (most likely) a combination of the two. It was solo travel, but not as I knew it, and as a result it smashed my previous definition and understanding of solo travel out of the park. Call it obvious (hint: sometimes I’m a bit slow on the uptake) or an epiphany, but if there’s one thing about travelling that Bosnia taught me, it’s that there is more than one type of solo travel. In fact scrap that, to use the word ‘type’ sounds wrong altogether. Maybe what my recent trip taught me is that the term ‘solo travel’ is really quite broad, and come to think of it, not all that descriptive.
Now lets get this straight, I am not calling one solo traveler any better than the other, lets be clear on that. To set out anywhere at anytime on ones own takes balls, so kudos to those of you who have done so, or those of you who are planning on it. Writing this post was bloody tough to be honest. and I went through quite a few different revisions because I didn’t want to come across as judgmental (or a muppet), but I’ll try explain further why I think solo travel is a fairly non descriptive term by breaking down the two key factors I mentioned earlier – destination and timing. Here goes.
The Destination Factor
Lets starts with the land down under, Australia. An utterly incredible country within which I could happily live forever had I a sky sports subscription (I would miss English football), and enough credentials to get a visa … sadly I have neither. Here’s a question for you, with solo travel in OZ, are you ever really alone? Yes one might travel out to OZ solo, just like I did, but I reckon there is a very high chance that before your first day in the country is out you’ll be in a communal area, restaurant or bar somewhere having heaps of fun having already made a host of new friends. Yes it still takes courage to go there alone, but OZ is a country set up for bucket loads of backpackers and travellers alike, a place for them all to meet and experience new things en masse and using ready made and reliable transportation services such as hop on hop off buses. If you’re in OZ and find yourself truly alone, solo, I reckon you might either be somewhere very remote or wanting it to be that way. On Xmas day in 2006 that would have been nigh on impossible, check out a pumping Coogee Beach.
Compare the above with somewhere a little bit more off the beaten track, that is newer to tourism and not set up to cater for hoards of backpackers and travelers. I’m talking somewhere where there are fewer hostels or budget accommodation options, fewer places to meet like minded people and team up to seek out adventures. Where your native tongue is not so widely spoken and where you have to work things out for yourself that little bit more often rather than it being handed to you on a plate 9 times out of 10. Whilst everyone seemingly spoke very good English, this is a little bit like how I found Bosnia. Yes there were a few hostels about, but not many other travellers, and among those that were around there wasn’t quite the same meet, greet, lets all go have a flippin’ good time together type attitude that I have experienced in other countries, and nor were there the same range of tour and transport options. Truth be told I found it hard the first few days, coupled with the disappointment of not being able to snowboard, I took my sweet time to adjust. Yes I ventured out and did my very best to explore Sarajevo, but walking around a new city on your own just isn’t as enjoyable in my book, even when surrounded by beautiful architecture and incredible history.
Maybe that’s another part of destination significance, somewhere like Oz is all set up for adrenaline fueled activities whereas Bosnia was more set up for learning opportunities and lessons in history. Naturally, they will attract different crowds and in different numbers.
The Timing Factor
On the one hand it felt like way more of an adventure to be out in Bosnia on my own and working things out for myself again, but on the other, having no one to share in new and exciting experiences definitely detracted from their significance and enjoyment.
The off season may be cheap, but to state the obvious (again, I know) it clearly means that there will be fewer people around. Are you happy eating by yourself? Having an entire dorm room to yourself? Having to work out destinations and routes with little help. Does it freak you out slightly that you may not be able to go on certain tours because the minimum head count is 3 persons and you are only 1? You may have the extra cash in your pocket, but what good is it if you can’t spend it on the tours you want to take because no one else is around to make up the required numbers?
The above was me again whilst in Bosnia, clawing around for people to go on tours with, to sit and have a meal with. Luckily, I found some awesome peeps to spend some time with for a few days in Sarajevo, but a whole week of dining alone and sleeping in an empty hostel wouldn’t be my cup of tea.
Timing + Destination + The Individual
Its me, its me, this whole post is me. This was my experience and these are my feelings. Had you been in my place, this post might have read very differently, and so while destination and timing were key factors in my experience, maybe I was the most significant ingredient in this mix. Had I have been 10 years older, or even 10 years younger when taking this trip, it could all have felt very different. Years of travelling with my better half has become habbit now. I travel like a small child in effect, with a comfort blanket … its just that my blanket is a small Irish girl with a love of shoes. Maybe I’ve gone soft, am out of practice.
As such, PLEASE do not let this post put YOU off visiting Bosnia in the off season, it is a magnificent country to travel within. Bosnia itself wasn’t the issue, it was me and my expectations of how I would fare venturing out on my own again.
Would I do it again?
So, would I do it all again? Tough call, who would honestly set out to snowboard where there is no snow for a second time? I jest, whilst that wouldn’t be my brightest idea, it was actually a bout of freak warm weather that dented my boarding aspirations in Bosnia. What can you do about that?
The above question is two fold really. Would I do it again next year? Would I do it again if I could rewind to 2013 when I booked the flights?
If I am honest, before late 2013 and my discovery of Sarajevo’s winter resorts, I had always looked at Bosnia as a summer destination. I’d seen other bloggers photos of turquoise waters flowing beneath the Stari Most in Mostar, and people taking a dip in the nearby Kravice falls during so to cool themselves down mid July/August. Bosnia looked and probably is a perfect summer time destination. Had I known that there would be no snow upon my visit I am not entirely sure I would have purchased those flights, I’m glad I did(!), but at the time I think I may have refrained and waited to visit in slightly warmer months.
Would I do it again next year? Well yes to Bosnia in winter, but as you may have already guessed, I wouldn’t look to go on my lonesome. Whilst I slowly got into and enjoyed my time in Bosnia immensely, I’m not 100% sure that off season solo travel in general is for me. Maybe with more ‘practice’ it could be, but if I were to return next year, I would choose to have a few friends in tow.
I’m wrecking my own head here
I will grant you that this post is a bit of a train wreck in terms of flow and explaining myself clearly, but I’ve been through so many revisions now that I’m at a point now where I feel its just better to get it out there, rather than sit down and edit it again. I swear I’m regressing as a writer, and that’s saying something! Anyway, just one more thought …
Would I even be writing this post had there been snow in Sarajevo and had I been able to going boarding all week. Nope, probably not.