But now, having been on two North American journeys and two European trips as a solo traveler, I have not been able to shake my feeling that I have failed to push myself past some personal boundaries. I'm not even sure what those boundaries are, but I think they all stem from shyness and lack of self-confidence.
Seth Kugel's post about his visit to Helsinki brought this home to me vividly. He says that asking for ideas on what to see from hotel personnel will get you the same answers you will get from guidebooks, and he recommends striking up conversations with locals and asking them for their favorite things to do:
To obtain suggestions en masse and gather people’s ages and professions without seeming deranged, I temporarily removed my cloak of anonymity and introduced myself as a writer. But chattier travelers know that striking up conversations with random strangers you “happen” to sit next to in a public place will render the same results, if more slowly.It's this last thing that hits me hard. I'm not a chatty traveler. I don't easily strike up conversations with random strangers. Which is not to say I don't ever do it, but I certainly don't do it enough to expand my horizons or push my personal boundaries, and I don't do it enough to have the kinds of experiences Seth has.
The fact is, I was planning to go to Spain and Morocco before I decided to go to the Nordic countries, and the reason I changed my plans is because I thought Spain and Morocco would be less comfortable as a single traveler. I don't regret going where I went, and I had a great experience that included some conversations with strangers. But I didn't take a sauna in Helsinki. I didn't go to a swimming pool in Reykjavik. I didn't go out barhopping at night. I got a private room on the ferry from Stockholm to Tallinn. The one conversation I had with a local on a train was initiated by her, not by me.
I realized, too, that I pretty much live my local life in Seattle by the same rules of disengagement, so it's no wonder I don't succeed at engagement when I travel. So in order to transform my travel experience, I am going to have to start by transforming my experience at home.
It's time to start stepping out of my comfort zone.
I'm not going to devote future posts to describing my personal journey toward my next physical journey. But I am putting this out there: I am challenging myself to travel differently, better, more immersively, next time I go wherever I go.