Mike Rangiroa

Walking on the beach in Rangiroa

When you look at The Life of Mike you might get the impression that my life is perfect. That’s not surprising. The stories I post are almost always my best and most exciting experiences. I figure most people don’t want to see pictures of me sitting at an airport waiting for a flight or eating dinner alone in a restaurant where I can’t read the menu and I’m not sure what I’m eating. Actually, that last one might be pretty interesting to a lot of people. But for the most part I leave out the boring non-glamorous parts of travel. But I’d like to set the record straight.

It’s not all exciting and can sometimes even be boring. Waiting for travel connections, killing an extra day or any number of other travel related time consuming scenarios can be taxing. Eating at restaurants alone can be pretty boring too. I’ve tried reading a book or doing something on my mobile phone, but those just seem desperate to me. I prefer to just look around. Restaurants can be interesting but for the most part, eating alone is not a fun part of travel.

It can also be lonely. Especially in countries where I don’t speak the language. I’ve become a master as listening to people’s conversations around me looking for English and can generally recognize my native tongue from at least 50 paces. I’ve been desperate to speak to someone before. There are many times when I wish a friend had joined me. Fortunately these days with the Internet I can text friends and family and feel a little connection. Often that’s all I need, but other times it’s not enough. So the obvious question is, “Why do you do it? Why do you travel alone?”

There are two very good reasons that make the loneliness and challenges of traveling alone completely worth it. The most important reason is I meet way more people when I’m traveling alone. Think about it. Who would you rather walk up to talk to, someone sitting alone looking like they could use a chat or two or more people sitting together talking and laughing and having a good time? I’d rather talk to the solo traveler and that’s what happens to me. Some of the best friendships I’ve started with people while traveling were people I met when I was traveling solo.

The second reason is just pure reality. If I waited for a friend to join me on every trip, I would never go on trips. Or certainly I’d go on far fewer trips. And I get it, not everyone can travel as much as I do. I’m not criticizing my friends in any way. I’m just stating a fact. Even if half of my friends could take a trip with me in any given year, that would still be less trips than I’d want to take. I learned a long time ago that if I wanted to take a trip, I might have to do it on my own. Friends are always welcome, but I’m going regardless.

Looking back at some solo travel tips, I don’t think many of the most amazing travel experiences I’ve had would have happened if I had been traveling with anyone else. In Lima Peru I went to an odd German bierhalle, complete with leiderhosen on 4 foot 5 inch Peruvians, liters of beer and a polka band. After I’d discretely sat down at a table in the back of the establishment, the owner of the restaurant hurried out with a big smile and insisted that I move to a table up front. Apparently he wanted the 6-foot, blond-haired blue-eyed German looking guy in full view. After a beer or two in full view a big table of young Peruvian professionals insisted I join them. Turned out they were all lawyers working for the government and out for an extended happy hour. I ended up drinking with them for hours that night at the German place and later yet at a nightclub arriving back at my hotel early in the morning with barely enough time to sleep an hour, shower and get to the airport for my flight to Cusco. That was an amazing night and I don’t think it would have happened if I hadn’t been traveling alone.

So don’t get me wrong, I’m mostly having a good time. Sitting on a beach in Rangiroa, French Polynesia drinking an ice cold beer, listening to some tunes and watching the sun shimmer off the impossibly blue turquoise waters is good. I’m enjoying myself even when I’m alone. But it’s usually a little better with someone else. Maybe I should go talk to that girl over there in the bikini.