Asocial Travelling

by Yaska Sahara

Asociality is when one is ‘not interested in forming social groups or connections with others’, says Cambridge. I would often consider myself such. Social interaction is often quite draining. Fun, but often draining. As someone who wishes to experience new cultures and learn languages through immersion, being asocial isn’t always ideal. But it is in fact who I am. I would like to talk about my great travel stories involving bizarre nights out and making new friends in interesting circumstances: I don’t really have those. Of course, I’ve had spontaneous moments where I chat to people and these are great travel stories I will someday tell. They don’t necessarily form long term friendships or crazy nights out but an experience can be appreciated on its own.  

In the same way, you can appreciate time on your own. I’m not a fan of the generalisations about the introvert-extrovert dichotomy. There are times where introverts are portrayed as less adventurous. As an introvert, I don’t stay indoors all the time and dislike people, I merely need alone time to feel good and function. That alone time can be had in any place I feel comfortable. And as my blog would tell you, I actually feel very comfortable in unfamiliar lands, where there is potential to discover the land and myself. Equally, as an introvert, I can still enjoy parties or crowded events. 

I’ve always wanted to tell people that they should travel alone. I don’t just mean a solo trip abroad to change your life, but just doing things you enjoy alone and not needing someone to do things with. Of course, company is fun but I feel too many people forget how much alone time can be so very valuable, not wrapped up in a blanket in your bed with tea, but alone in the vast world, be that at a local attraction you’ve never taken the time to go to, to the shops or to the other side of the globe. In these times of quarantine, I think it’s all the more important that time with oneself has many dimensions. 

I’m currently in Amsterdam with my brother. I’m enjoying being locked up indoors and relaxing with my brother as best I can, studying and getting blog posts done, going for the occasional walk to post letters to people close to me. This is of course fun and valuable in its own way. But I do find myself recalling and savouring travel memories and certain travel phenomena. Writing about them feels like I’m giving them the warmth and honour they deserve, and writing during quarantine feels like I’m using the isolation somewhat productively.

Much of my gap year was spent on my own. I cannot emphasize enough how comfortable I felt exploring on my own terms, feeling myself blending into a new environment… I felt that in Japan (read a bit about here). I spent two months living alone in a Tokyo apartment , going to language school and then exploring shops, museums, art galleries, supermarkets, book shops and walking, listening to music, to my own thoughts and to the sounds of the world around me. My mind felt so beautifully clear and as cliché as it sounds, I was able to get to know myself better. Check out this Tokyo solitary exploration short story!

Stumbling upon this shop
Kanda Myojin with some matcha ice cream
Eating out a lone - gomatantanmen!
Another lonesome noodle soup (pho)

Exploring a familiar environment on my own terms, as a new person was equally thrilling. I did this with my first home, London. I got to re-experience places I loved. I went to the Natural History Museum at the weekends as a child, holding my father’s hand, asking my brother to explain things to me. I then returned as a lone young woman, recalling the memories and explaining things to myself. My parents used to write their phone number on my arm in case I got lost on the tube, hold me tight and remind me to watch my things. Later, I found I internalised their safety warnings without thinking, knew where to go and when to get off on my own. I also explored areas of London less familiar to me. The East End has gone through drastic changes recently and I took my free time to see it. I walked in silence for hours, indexing shops and roads, thinking of what I liked here, how the art and people made me feel. Nowadays, I’m more familiar with it and visit regularly. A few months ago, my Papa asked me for recommendations of what to do in Shoreditch. I felt so proud and awestruck!  He used to lead me around the big city and teach me all about it, telling me about his experiences. I realised the time I’d spent wandering and wandering alone, was me cultivating my own experiences that I can tell people about as I show them around.

The weird things you see people watching, a London Park
Day to myself in Foyles books
My own log on Primrose Hill

The post I wrote about London is one I’m very proud of (read here). It felt like I refound parts of my identity. The skill of being able to put profound feelings into words is something that calms me and makes me feel secure in my ideas and decisions. A lot of that skill was developed in my gap year too. I’d sit in different spots, some private, some public, feel the world go by and organise my thoughts and properly transfer them to my fingers. I made myself a nice, pleasantly lonely bubble, a see-through one in which I can still feel the world bustling around me. Being small and insignificant in all the hustle and bustle but enjoying it, a passive observer with a lively mind, the liveliness enriches the alone time.

I’ve noticed I can do this anywhere after my gap year, in my time in Budapest, in any town or city I choose to get lost in, in Dutch cities I’m trying to explore. It’s truly a valuable thing and learning how to make a lonely little bubble is extremely eye-opening.

One can process thoughts, experience one’s own thoughts, become more self-aware.

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