(Jay has been riding a Suzuki DR650 since leaving Chicago in March, 2010 and has covered 44,000 miles / 70,800 kms through Latin America, Europe and Africa. You can visit his website at http://jamminglobal.com/)
I am asked this question quite frequently on my trip. Firstly, I’d like to state that traveling solo doesn’t mean being lonely. On the contrary, I find it allows others to see this stranger on a motorcycle as being more approachable, leading to novel social encounters. Taking a water break in the middle of the Western Desert in Egypt, I am approached by a local Bedouin and invited home for lunch.
In the years leading up to this trip, I learned the character traits needed for motorcycle touring by going on small to big trips around the US with these riding mentors of mine. While I enjoyed traveling as a pair or a group, I could see the flexibility that’s offered when one travels solo. But on a ten day trip with accurate information on roads and hotels in a developed country, there’s not much need for being flexible. I feel the option is needed when traveling through developing countries, where things can change quite often. This change should be cherished in the spirit of exploration, so it’s best to be prepared by being flexible and going with the flow without needing the consensus from a traveling partner.
This flexibility also affects your riding. Sometimes I end up stopping every fifteen minutes to adjust something or ride for two hours without a break. If you stop unexpectedly, the other rider(s) start worrying that something has happened. But if both these riders rode solo, then no one would worry when you are fifteen minutes late. Of course, it’s nice to have a traveling partner when something does go terribly wrong, but even then, besides being incapacitated, an individual can find their way back to safety.
I’ve also found that if you are intent on getting to know different cultures, a home-stay with a local family can give a traveler insight into the nuances of various societies. The biggest difference I experienced was the skewed daily schedule of Argentine families, where they eat lunch around 4 pm and then dinner around 11 pm or midnight. Thanks to CouchSurfing.org, I have access to this insight, which wouldn’t be available through hotel stays.
Since I’m entering people’s lives for a short time, I feel that traveling solo gives my trip a smaller footprint, making the adjustment of a guest into the host’s daily routine that much more congenial compared to accommodating a group. Along the same lines, when I’m staying in small hotels, I’ve seen how the staff readily accepts that bike safety is of paramount importance and allow me to park in their lobby. When I was staying in Guanajuato, Mexico, my front tire was against the reception desk with my rear tire squeezed by the front door. I feel traveling with two or more bikes wouldn’t welcome these kinds of accommodations.
One facet of traveling solo is that others view you as being vulnerable; not having an immediate support network and I’ve seen that this brings out the caring nature in people, especially in mothers of my hosts. I have to admit, it’s comforting to be taken care of by a mother after being on the road for a while. In the northern Brazilian town of Maceio, Bruno’s mother welcomed me as a son and prepared a copious amount of food after noting that I was too skinny. I’ve learned that accepting such acts of kindness allows your benefactor to feel satisfied in providing to someone in need. Modern individualistic society tries to instill the notion of self-reliance and looks upon accepting gifts as a sign of weakness, or at least an act that must be paid back. However, there is a joy in giving unconditionally that exists in older societies.
While I may be in solitude inside my helmet, frequently staying with locals keeps me very social. This allows me to develop both these sides of my character. In the end, the journey of life is with ourselves, so we might as well be comfortable with it. As big changes in our society become the norm due to the effects of humanity on this planet, personal introspection is going to be needed in order for realistic change to occur. Traveling solo allows you to get comfortable with yourself and listen more to your intuition, your instinct, which is the basis for rational judgment.
Camping out in the middle of Patagonia, with not another soul for hundreds of kilometers, I feel connected to the vast land and sky that we are a part of. My companion and my safety net is parked next to me, ready to ride on.