Multilinguish Episode 3: The Best Travel Advice You’ve Never Heard
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Travel is one of the biggest motivators for Americans to learn a foreign language. But what if the words you need to express yourself on the road don’t actually exist yet? And what if the popular travel narratives that you grew up with don’t reflect your own experiences as a woman or gender nonconforming traveler? It’s becoming much more common for people to travel alone, and solo travel is hardly just for people who easily pass as straight, cisgender men anymore. Though many parts of the world are still considered unsafe for women and LGBTQ* people to visit (alone, or even in a group), bloggers and influential travelers are leading by example and walking through doors that were previously assumed closed. In this episode of Multilinguish, we get a glimpse into their world.
Part I: Solo Travel Is For Everyone
Joined by executive producer Jen Jordan and producer David Doochin, senior producer Steph Koyfman shares what she learned from speaking with solo female travel advocates and LGBTQ* identifying travel bloggers about their most memorable anecdotes and lessons from the self-reliant road. We also discuss some of the conversations we’ve had with our own team of linguists about gender-neutral pronouns and the subtleties of telling someone to leave you alone in another language.
Part II: What We Learned This Week
In our roundtable segment, “What We Learned This Week,” the team gathers to talk about their own experiences traveling alone.
- Steph discusses her revelatory solo trip to Big Sur, as well as the differences between dog and cat people as they pertain to travel
- Jen confesses to not enjoying solo travel very much
- Taylor talks about her “extreme sport” of asking people to take pictures of her on the road
- David discusses the importance of boundaries and autonomy when you’re mingling with others
- Dylan recommends staying at a hostel to combat loneliness
Special thanks to Amanda Kendle, Francesca Murray and Bani Amor for sharing their advice with us.
The Babbel Guide To Solo Female/LGBTQ Travel | Babbel Magazine
Traveling solo while LGBTQ can be dangerous — these tips can help overcome barriers | Mic
The World’s Most LGBTQ-Friendly Travel Destinations | Babbel Magazine
The World’s Least LGBTQ-Friendly Travel Destinations | Babbel Magazine
Amanda Kendle: Not A Ballerina
Francesca Murray: One Girl One World (@onegrloneworld)
Bani Amor: Everywhere All The Time (@baniamor) (@bani_amor)
Jen Jordan: From the language app Babbel, this is Multilinguish. I’m executive producer Jen Jordan. This week, we’re talking travel with producer Steph Koyfman. What began as a project to celebrate the rise of more women traveling on their own became so much more. We discovered that expressing and advocating for yourself in other languages can be difficult at best. And in some cases, it’s actually impossible, as in if you identify as LGBTQ+, some languages don’t have recognized gender-neutral pronouns, or there isn’t a way to describe same-sex relationships.
Steph interviewed a diverse group of travel bloggers for more insight, and we’ll hear from three of them here. Later on in the episode, we’re joined by a special guest, our social producer Taylor McIntyre, and the rest of the team to talk solo travel and share advice.
First up, producer Steph Koyfman brings us empowering travel advice. You’ll also hear producer David Doochin chime in. Let’s get into it.
Steph, you came to me with this idea a year ago now, and you really wanted to write something about travel, and I think it was about International Women’s Day.
Steph Koyfman: Yeah. Initially, I had this idea because I wanted to do something for International Women’s Day. I’d been reading about how more women are traveling alone these days. And then as soon as I started digging into this topic, I realized pretty quickly that I really didn’t want to limit it to just the experiences of cis women. And so this quickly became pretty much about everyone who’s not a cis straight man traveling alone, and rewriting the narrative that travel is a boy’s club and that it’s not safe for everyone else.
Jen Jordan: I think that’s great. I think it was great too because you actually found a lot of support on our own team for this, because Babbel is pretty diverse. Our colleagues in Berlin were super supportive, and I think really excited to know you were focusing on this. And it gave us a lot to think about, a lot that I hadn’t previously thought about.
You mentioned more people are traveling alone. That includes women?
Steph Koyfman: Yes. It’s actually very primarily women. Apparently the number of Google searches for solo travel rose about 40% in just two years pretty recently. And then in a 2017 Solo Traveler World survey, 85 percent of them identified as female.
David Doochin: 85 percent?
Steph Koyfman: Yeah. It’s a group of people who are into solo travel.
Jen Jordan: That’s pretty crazy though. It’s always a bit more of the majority of people are women who are traveling. And I feel like even just sentiment-wise, anecdotally, it was a little bit different of a case when I was in high school or college. If you were going somewhere alone, you still got a lot of, “Well, you’re a woman going somewhere alone. Here are some things. Don’t get too drunk. Always carry…” I don’t know. It’s just a lot of bullshit advice.
Steph Koyfman: When I was 22, I went to California alone. And my parents were like, “Oh my god. Don’t tell anyone that you’re by yourself. Always tell someone you’re waiting for your boyfriend.”
Jen Jordan: Right. So when you started to dig into this beyond just solo female travel, you hit on a lot of interesting linguistic considerations too. What are some of those things that you discovered and wanted to share?
Steph Koyfman: Well this was when we got into the subject of if you’re a queer or a trans or non-binary person traveling, and you want to communicate your identity to someone or ask for someone’s pronouns, how would you say that in Spanish and how would you say that in Portuguese? And that was probably the section where we had the most footnotes, because it’s never that straightforward. There’s always a lot of cultural context that you need to be aware of whenever you’re traveling, so our colleagues over in Berlin who were providing the translations gave me a little bit of context to include with them.
And a lot of it had to do with if you’re in Brazil, you have to be mindful of the company that you’re in. In a lot of places around the world, it’s pretty dangerous to be a gender nonconforming person. And you wouldn’t really say that so directly unless you were in a queer community.
Jen Jordan: Yeah. I remember we also created a few other roundups of the friendliest places for LGBTQ people to travel. And there are so many lists out there that are still like, “These are the most unfriendly places,” and you really have to be careful and you can’t be out here. So understanding how to communicate about yourself and also understand other people.
David Doochin: Yeah. Even in the U.S., we’re a pretty diverse and heterogeneous society, and there are all types of people who identify as all different types of things. But you still see a lot of pushback, I think, on a societal level but also individual level where people aren’t so inclined to use people’s pronouns if they’re not traditional “he” or “she.” They don’t really understand the context in which it’s appropriate to use someone’s pronouns, or inappropriate.
So I imagine that being abroad, having to convey first off to wade through the noise, figure out where you’re gonna feel comfortable even identifying as someone who’s not straight and gender conforming, and then figuring out, “Okay, well how can I translate my own experience of using pronouns that are personal to me to a new context? How do I convey who I am? How do I ask for the things that I need without stepping on any toes or crossing any cultural red lines?” It can be a really delicate situation, it sounds like.
Steph Koyfman: Yeah.
Jen Jordan: I remember we were talking about the World Cup last year in Russia, and a few of our colleagues over there were talking about it. It brought up a lot of gender-neutral and also just the fact that there’s a lot of ways that you still can’t even express, “I have a boyfriend,” if you’re a male, in Russian. And it’s just crazy that there’s actual restrictions in language that prevent you from expressing who you are. That blew my mind, and I studied Russian, and I thought I understood a decent amount of some of that, but I never thought of that before. And I think it’s really incredible.
What were some of the other linguistic considerations, or maybe some of the more interesting things you learned? I know that there were so many footnotes and so many considerations didactics gave you.
Steph Koyfman: Yeah. I guess beyond the gender thing, there are certain languages where being polite if you’re telling someone to back off of you might not really work. For instance, in Italian, if you were at a bar and you wanted to tell someone, “Please stop touching me” or “Please don’t do that,” that wouldn’t necessarily be a case where you just directly translate that. You would have to be a little bit more forceful.
Jen Jordan: Interesting. And that’s both a language and a culture consideration, because maybe the flirting culture … I don’t know if that’s the right term … they’re a little bit more … I don’t know. They don’t take hints well.
Steph Koyfman: Right. Yeah.
Jen Jordan: That’s really interesting. You also have talked about Swedish and how they have on a governmental level embraced more of this more gender-neutral speech.
Steph Koyfman: Yeah. So Swedish is actually one of the languages that seems to have done the best job at coming up with a commonly accepted gender-neutral pronoun, and then actually integrating it into every level of society, including government and official documents. And so they use hen, and this was a term that was first proposed in the ’60s I think.
Jen Jordan: They were way ahead of the game.
Steph Koyfman: Yeah, completely. And back then, some people were a little bit skeptical that it would catch on, or that people would feel comfortable using it. But now it’s pretty much understood by everybody, whereas in a lot of other languages, gender-neutral pronouns are still in a very experimental state. And you probably shouldn’t expect that everyone in that country is gonna know what you’re talking about if you use it.
David Doochin: Yeah. Beyond just knowing what gender-neutral pronouns to use, there’s a whole world of people that don’t even know that that concept exists. In the US, not even around the world, just at home, people … It’s not that they don’t want to open up their minds to new ways of thinking, it’s just perhaps they don’t come across a lot of travelers, for example, who do identify as gender nonconforming, and so they never have to interact with someone who doesn’t follow the traditional male/female roles.
You mentioned it’s beyond linguistic, it’s also cultural. That’s so, so important to remember, because you never know what types of experiences people are coming from, and maybe they don’t want to be insensitive or they don’t want to invalidate your own experience, but there’s a learning opportunity or teaching opportunity for you to bridge that gap and explain to them, “In my culture, this is something that is more accepted, that is more commonplace, and here’s why. And here’s how we use it. Here’s how you use a pronoun in context. Here’s how you refer to me if I were using a pronoun that’s not male or female.” I would hope that people would be willing to listen to you if you —
Steph Koyfman: I was gonna say, that’s very generous of you to say that. I feel like there are probably a lot of people who would be open to this if they were simply exposed to it, but I also feel like a lot of people would just be hostile. Even here, especially here.
David Doochin: Well yeah. It is hard to accept new ideas if you have literally never been exposed to them before. So I think it probably runs the gamut of people who are so, so willing to hear what you have to say and willing to embrace your identity once they learn about it, and others who are just so traditional that they don’t want to see any other way. And I guess that’s just a matter of personal preference, and there are some people whose minds you straight up cannot change. So what’s the point?
But yeah, I guess it’d be really hard to distinguish who you can be more forward and open with. And that seems like a major challenge.
Jen Jordan: Just talking about it with you guys makes me realize how much work we have to do in our own native language even, never mind going to a new culture and maybe a strange culture that’s different from your own, and also in a different language trying to express all of this. It’s a lot.
I want you to tell us about some of the fantastic bloggers you reached out to. So as part of this project, you reached out to some … Is it Instagrammers or bloggers? How did you find folks?
Steph Koyfman: Some of them are Instagrammers. Most of them have travel blogs. And I tried to get a really diverse set of perspectives, so different women bloggers, different queer and trans bloggers. And so, I actually interviewed a couple of them for this episode, so we’ll be hearing some interesting highlights from my conversations with them.
Jen Jordan: Great. Let’s hear from them. Who’s the first one that you wanted to tell us about?
Steph Koyfman: I talked to Amanda Kendle. She’s an Australian travel blogger and the author of notaballerina.com, and also the host of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast.
Amanda Kendle: I was working at a little language school, and I didn’t really know how to order any food anywhere, but there was a little hot dog stand just around the corner from my school. So for the first I think two weeks I ate lunch there every day. But I would go there and I couldn’t speak anything, so I’d put up my finger to say, “I’d like one hot dog, please.” I think I could say please. So I’d hold up my index finger.
But for the first few days, I think I’m asking for one hot dog. But they kept giving me two hot dogs. And they were quite small hot dogs, and they were really cheap because it was Slovakia, years ago, so I didn’t really mind. But I couldn’t understand how was I getting this so wrong that I was ordering one hot dog and they kept giving me two. And it took me a while to understand that in Slovakia and in lots of places in Europe I’ve since discovered, if they are gesturing with their fingers to count, then they start with the thumb. So the thumb is one and then the index finger is the next one.
So because the hot dog vendor could see my index finger, he just assumed I’m holding up my thumb as well and I’m asking for two hot dogs.
Jen Jordan: I love that so much, because it’s one of those great examples of cultural context that it’s not even spoken exchange, really. It’s just holding up her fingers and it means something completely different.
David Doochin: I think it’s so funny that she just went along with it. She’s like, “I didn’t ask for two hot dogs, but here they are,” every single day. And only after two weeks was she like, “Oh, maybe I should investigate why this is not what I think it is.”
Steph Koyfman: And it’s funny because fingers kind of look like hot dogs.
David Doochin: Hot dogs or legs, the essential question.
Steph Koyfman: And so I also talked to Francesca Murray. She’s a Los Angeles native and Caribbean travel expert who’s currently living in Martinique, which is where I’m going next week.
Jen Jordan: That’s very exciting.
Steph Koyfman: She’s the author of the One Girl One World travel blog, and she can be found on Instagram at @onegrloneworld.
Francesca Murray: The first place I went was France. It was not by choice; it’s kind of a crazy story. I was studying abroad in Italy, and decided to add an extra week to our trip with one of the girls on the trips. And we ended up pretty much clashing on where we wanted to go that last week, and so she pretty much ditched me. And the entire study abroad group was leaving the country, and I just had this really bad taste in my mouth about staying in Italy by myself after the girl left.
So I was like, “You know what? The South of France is just a train ride away, and I’ve always wanted to go to Cannes and see the steps of the film festival.” So I kind of just on a whim went to the South of France for a week by myself. And it was great.
Jen Jordan: That’s awesome.
Steph Koyfman: Accidental entry into solo travel.
Jen Jordan: I would love to just accidentally go to the South of France.
Steph Koyfman: Yeah, me too. And then I also interviewed Bani Amor. They are a queer travel writer from Brooklyn by way of Ecuador, and their work focuses on intersectional identities and the decolonization of travel culture. You can find their work at baniamor.com. And here’s what they had to say.
Bani Amor: Right. I think in a lot of narratives of a woman traveling solo, it’s very basic. In my perspective it’s, “Hey, we’re not allowed to do this thing. We’re so oppressed.” So when we travel, it’s this radical thing of independence, of a woman’s independence. We’re not supposed to do this, and it’s dangerous to do that, so we’re just gonna break out and do that. And I think that’s just a little dated.
Yeah, we’re out and we travel. That’s just a thing. How else can you experience things? I don’t think, especially for cisgender people, that being a woman is the biggest part of your experience while traveling. It is going to affect things, or it might. I don’t know, I just don’t think that there’s much to expand upon in that area, if that makes sense. I think that those narratives are kind of beaten to death a little bit, that it’s this rebellious thing to do that. And it can be.
But I don’t know. Am I making sense? It’s like, we get it. And again, because it’s women, because it’s a very white perspective and a very cis perspective of just like, “I’m gonna shove it to the man and take on the world.” And I think a lot of ways the reason that seems kind of redundant to me is because a lot of white women who travel solo are doing the same thing that men are doing. And it’s not in and of itself challenging to any kind of travel narrative.
Jen Jordan: That’s badass.
Steph Koyfman: Yeah.
Jen Jordan: I love them. That was great.
So did they have any … These bloggers, did they have any specific tips or specific stories, I guess, that our listeners can learn from?
Steph Koyfman: Yeah. I included a couple clips here of some of my favorite anecdotes that they shared, just about mistakes or awkward moments or lessons that they learned when they were just starting out. So here is what Amanda had to say.
Amanda Kendle: At first in Japan I would often feel like … You feel like you don’t fit in. And that’s okay, because the people are really friendly. But you can get a bit sick of feeling like you don’t fit in, and it took me a while to adjust to know enough about the local culture that I didn’t feel silly. And it was certainly never that the Japanese people made me feel silly, but I would wander in somewhere and not know, you know? Where do I take my shoes off? What do I do? What do I have to do next?
Or something like going to the bars where you have to get undressed and there’s a lot of rules to it. I don’t wanna make a mistake and I don’t wanna look stupid, I guess. So sometimes, especially on your own, if you do something like that on your own, you can feel extra worried because you don’t have a friend there to say, “Okay, now what do we do? What are we gonna do next? What’s this all about?” So yeah.
Steph Koyfman: From Francesca:
Francesca Murray: Some Caribbean islands I’ve had this issue where people expect me to already have a man with me, and if I don’t, it means I’m on the market. And then you get these catcalls. And so sometimes I like to either travel with a wedding ring on, not even because I feel unsafe, but just because I don’t necessarily wanna be bothered. And just not revealing to people that you’re alone right away.
Steph Koyfman: And from Bani:
Bani Amor: I think the best thing in my experience learning from my … I wouldn’t call ’em mistakes, but I guess a lack of foresight I think would be to be prepared in some sort of way with how you want to communicate your identity, or your expression. Sometimes you are gonna go into situations in some parts of the world where you don’t want to disclose. If you’re not immediately read as queer, are you gonna try to evade that conversation? Are you just gonna be around queer people? If so, you wanna plan that out and seek people ahead of time. And therefore also learn the language.
What pronouns are you gonna go by, around what communities, and then how do those words function in that place? Because when we’re talking about different languages, with queer and non-binary people and trans, that whole community, we’re always on the forefront of changing language and of challenging usually colonial histories of just policing queer sexual and gender presentation and identity and expression. So language is … There’s always new words. We always have new words in so many different languages. So you want to see how you want to be communicating yourself to other people.
Steph Koyfman: And then lastly, I got some really interesting insights from each of them on ultimately what is the one thing that they really like about traveling solo, what is the thing that keeps them going. So here is Amanda:
Amanda Kendle: The only other thing I would say about solo travel is that I didn’t try it early enough. I was really scared, and I didn’t travel properly solo ever until I was well into my 20s. And I wish I’d done it earlier, but I just really thought that I couldn’t do it. And so I always try to tell people, especially if I talk to people who are still at university or college or whatever, I’m like, “Yes. Whenever you get the chance, do it.” It’s scary at first for lots of people, not everyone, but most people. It’s scary at first, but it’s so worth it. And I just think it teaches you so much about yourself that it impacts every part of your life if you can learn to be a good solo traveler.
Steph Koyfman: And we hear from Francesca:
Francesca Murray: You’d be surprised, even if there is a language barrier, just how much people are willing to try to help or do their best to point you in the right direction, or to make sure you’re okay. I’ve had people who have maybe pointed me in a direction, maybe a little old lady at a market, and she’ll watch me until I get to the end of the corner. And it’s just because they wanna see that you’re safe, or they genuinely care. And that always touches me, because I don’t just go around expecting people to just be kind and considerate. So whenever that happens, that always leaves a lasting impression.
Steph Koyfman: And here’s Bani:
Bani Amor: At this point, as I said 15 years, I love traveling by myself. I still love it, no matter how much I cross paths with other people or I travel with other folks, it’s just something that I keep returning to. And I think it can be very empowering, as a queer person who’s also feminized or read as female, or misgendered in so many different ways in so many different places because traveling … Transit is this way that you’re in between places so much. When I’m in airports, there’s so much policing around gender. And we’re just talking basically with your markers on your documents, just leaving.
You might have to go through legal things. You might have to go through medical things. It’s a lot. And that’s not something you want to go through by yourself ahead of time, but when you’re going out and you’re being independent, yeah, it can be empowering. So I would say … I wanna err on the positive and I would say just … I continue to go back to Ecuador, my home country, again. And finding every time I go back how queer and trans communities have progressed and are growing and talking about each other in a different way.
Again, globally, I think that we really push limits of possibility in language and expression, and challenging how our countries see us legally and in all these different ways. It’s really cool to go to different places and travel the world and see, “Okay, there is a pronoun for me in this language. There are other people who experience this. There’s a community here.” So those are the best experiences. If I had to nail it down, I remember going to Ecuador and being in these trans spaces, and that there was a pronoun, elle, for a gender-neutral pronoun. And Spanish is a very gendered language. So that was a really … That moment was like, “Holy crap. It exists. There are ways for me that this is possible.”
Jen Jordan: That’s awesome. I love them. I think that’s such a great point.
And I guess if we had to summarize for our listeners, there’s so much to talk about here. I think a few things that come to mind for me are that it’s really important to understand the culture in general of specifically where you’re going. Not all Spanish-speaking countries are obviously going to have the same attitude toward this, or the same openness, or even the same words for how you might refer—
Steph Koyfman: For anyone, really.
Jen Jordan: Yeah. It sounds like for a lot of folks, it’s understanding also the crowds that you might encounter, or the people you might encounter, as well as the larger culture. It sounds like, obviously near and dear to our hearts, you wanna understand the language and how you might best express yourself. And to that point, you worked on this whole really extensive guide of tips and audio and phrases you might want to learn with our language team. So we’ll link to that in our episode description so everyone can find it easily. But there’s a ton of info there. I don’t know, what do you guys think? What else stands out to you?
David Doochin: There’s a lot to be said about trusting people and looking for the good in humanity as a whole, but also continuing to be wary and vigilant of your surroundings and the people that are in them. Because you mentioned the broader cultural context, but also the individual experience. And I think that you never know, or can never predict what you’ll come across when you travel. And you can make it a really joyful, fulfilling experience if you do have an attitude and mindset that you’re going to be okay, that people want to help you, that they have your best interest at heart. They’re not out to get you.
But also on the flip side, you can’t just wear rose-colored glasses the whole time and assume that everything’s gonna be peachy keen, because that might make you let your guard down, especially if you’re someone whose identity is not necessarily always recognized or always validated in these cultural contexts. I think the lesson that I take away is just that solo travel, especially for people who are gender nonconforming, who are queer, who are women, straight or queer, that solo travel can be a very fulfilling and rewarding experience.
And at the same time, there are things to look out for, there are things to be aware of, for anyone traveling alone, but especially these more marginalized populations, that it can be a really great learning experience to go and put yourself out of your comfort zone, figure out how to present yourself to the world, and learn a little bit about how other people in the world treat you when you enter their space. I think it can show you a lot about how much growth the world has left to do, but also how far it’s come at the same time.
Jen Jordan: Yeah.
Steph Koyfman: I think that was probably the overwhelmingly … the overriding message that I got from everyone I talked to, really, was be smart about it, but don’t stop yourself.
Jen Jordan: Yeah. And I love that. I love that we definitely don’t want to hold anybody back or intimidate anybody into not having these experiences. It’s just … I think David summarized it well. It’s about preparing yourself and understanding what you wanna do, and helping determine your experience. That’s great. All right, thanks guys.
Steph Koyfman: Thank you.
Steph Koyfman: Multilinguish is brought to you by Babbel, the language app. Babbel’s teaching method has been proven to be effective across multiple studies. And it’s designed to get you quickly speaking your new language within just weeks. And the good news is, you don’t need to have a lot of time in your day to study, because our lessons are only 15 minutes each.
Thomas, what have you been studying lately?
Thomas Devlin: I was studying French before, but then I realized I’m not going to France this year; I’m going to Germany instead. So I decided to switch to German because why not try to communicate better?
Steph Koyfman: Blend in with your environment.
Thomas Devlin: Yeah. So cross my fingers I can get that down in time.
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Jen Jordan: All right. Great. So we’ve got a whole panel here of our producers. And then we’re gonna share just a little bit of an anecdote or a tip you have about solo travel. So Steph, do you wanna kick us off on an experience that you’ve had?
Steph Koyfman: Yeah. I think I alluded to this earlier in the episode, but the first time I ever traveled by myself, I didn’t really go that far. I was just in California, but it was still probably one of the most memorable travel experiences that I had. So it was a multi-leg journey. I went to Portland and San Francisco to stay with a couple friends that I had there, but in between those two places I took a day trip to Big Sur alone, and it was probably still one of my favorite places in the world, and still probably, just because of what it felt like to be there by myself.
And it was funny because, of course, my parents were like, “Just don’t tell anyone that you’re alone.”
Jen Jordan: How old were you?
Steph Koyfman: I was 22. And it was kind of fun because Big Sur is still this very remote, off the grid place. So I didn’t have any cell phone service when I was there. My cell phone barely even knew what time zone I was in. It was that kind of place.
Jen Jordan: That’s crazy. That’s a little bit more scary, I guess, if I don’t have some way of connecting.
Steph Koyfman: I was there for it, though.
David Doochin: I think it’s scary in a way though, like you’re off the grid so if you need help, you are less likely to find it. But it’s really cool that you’re probably a lot more isolated from other people.
Steph Koyfman: I wasn’t that isolated, though. I was staying at this little wood cabin inn. There were people there. It’s not like I was just in the woods alone.
David Doochin: Okay, that’s good.
Steph Koyfman: Yeah. But I just remember they were kind of anxious about it before I went, but then the whole time I was there I got one text from my dad that was like, “Hi Steph. Are you alive?” And I said, “Yes.”
David Doochin: I’m in a coma, but I’m alive.
Jen Jordan: That’s funny. That actually reminds me. My anecdote/confession is, I don’t actually like traveling alone. But I think that says more about me because I don’t like being alone in general. Even when it’s just me and my dog in my house, I get a little bit crazy quickly. I will say my travel experience alone started because I was traveling a lot for work. And I would have to have meals alone, and I didn’t wanna just sit in my room and have room service, so I would go down to the bar or down to a restaurant and have to entertain myself while eating alone.
And that started to make me understand, I guess, more of what it means to be with yourself and your thoughts and really reflect. And I ended up starting to realize I would have to plan. As my trips got longer, I would have a day on either end to kill time before people would show up. So I realized that I can see the appeal where I’d have to create activities for myself where I could go do them alone without feeling like this is a group activity. I would plan out specific things that were just for me. So I enjoyed that part of it, because it really was nice to think of only myself. I didn’t have to compromise on the things I wanted to do. But I also like having people around. I think traveling is a fun experience to share, and I think it’s nice to know that I can do it on my own if I have to, but I choose not to most of the time.
Steph Koyfman: Yeah.
Taylor McIntyre: I love traveling alone. I don’t know why. I think I like being out of my comfort zone and forced to do this new thing. After you become an adult, you’re kind of stuck in this routine, so I like the idea of just being like, “Anything can happen,” or meeting all types of people. And I feel like some of my best travel stories are when I had nothing planned, pretty much. And I like that off-the-grid feeling, that you can just talk to anyone, be whoever you want. Not that I’m someone different … But yeah, I don’t know. I think it’s kind of soothing, just get a little break.
Steph Koyfman: Yeah, I hear you.
Taylor McIntyre: Yeah, do whatever you want.
David Doochin: I feel that way in a place like New York City sometimes, where you can completely just disengage and no one knows who you are. You’re just another body walking down the street. It can be really liberating in a way, because whatever you do, no one’s gonna be like, “Oh, that’s not classic David behavior,” because no one knows what classic David behavior is. So you get to reinvent yourself a lot.
Steph Koyfman: I think it’s also easier to make friends with new people when you’re alone. I’ve noticed that just in general, I’ve gone out to dinner alone. I even one time went out dancing alone when I was in Boston. And people are too intimidated to approach people who are together, but if you’re alone, instant friendship.
David Doochin: Oh, that’s great.
Jen Jordan: That’s a great point.
Taylor McIntyre: Asking people to take pictures. It’s like, my extreme sport. Because one, you have to figure out, “All right, is this person … Do they know how to work a phone?”
David Doochin: Are they gonna run away with your phone?
Taylor McIntyre: Yeah. Do they know my angles?
David Doochin: Can I outrun them if they do run away?
Taylor McIntyre: Yeah.
David Doochin: Or tackle them, maybe.
Taylor McIntyre: Yeah. Literally. But I feel like I’ve met some interesting people just by being like, “Hey, can I take a picture? Please, do you speak English?” Just little stuff like that that just takes me out of my comfort zone. And I just like that feeling of being like … Even though it’s something small, it’s still kind of big, because you’re in a different country. They may not speak the same language.
Jen Jordan: You also traveled a lot when you were younger, right?
Taylor McIntyre: Yeah. I think also when I was younger, I did sports, so it required me to travel a lot. So at an early age, I was thrown out of my comfort zone. And I don’t know, this is kind of cheesy, but even though we didn’t speak the same languages, sports brought us together.
David Doochin: All of that talk about going to do things alone I think ties into the anecdote that I was gonna share, which is that it can be really fun to be alone and to go meet people, but it can also be a source of comfort and security to be around other people. Which is great, but I always try to remember that I don’t owe anyone anything. So sometimes if I am alone and I want to insert myself into a space where I can be more social and make new friends because it makes me feel like, “Oh, I’m a part of something now.” That doesn’t mean that I necessarily … If I meet someone, I don’t have to go home with a new person.
If I go to a gay bar to watch a drag show alone, that doesn’t mean that I have to necessarily talk to anyone there, for that matter. Or if someone starts a conversation with me, it could be nice to have a conversation in passing, but not every person that you meet along your journey is gonna be someone that you stick with for the rest of your life. So I think it’s great to remember that you have your own autonomy and you can exercise it however you want to. So when you find yourself in new spaces, just remember that you have complete power over how you conduct yourself. And if anyone wants something from you, maybe that’s a red flag that you should take a step back and consider, “How do I keep myself safe? How do I make sure that I’m expressing my own needs so that I don’t get taken advantage of or find myself in an uncomfortable situation that I can’t really get out of?”
Taylor McIntyre: Yeah, definitely.
Steph Koyfman: That’s a great point.
Taylor McIntyre: Yeah. Sorry Mom and Dad, didn’t listen to that the first time I traveled. When I was older, recently I went to Paris and downloaded a dating app because I was bored. And I was like, “What’s going on in the neighborhood?” And I ended up —
Steph Koyfman: Because that’s what millennials are doing.
Taylor McIntyre: Pretty much. I ended up meeting this really cool guy who didn’t seem sketchy. We had mutual friends, and he was a photographer. And yeah, basically, I don’t know. We established, I was like, “Hey, I’m only here for a day. And I want this to be completely platonic, but I’m also in Paris. I wanna document this. And I wanna take good photos of this.” So he was like, “Yeah, well I actually have a project.” It could have been a “project,” air quotes. I don’t know.
But anyway, he ended up showing me all around Paris, like the coolest parts of Paris, and not even just the touristy stuff, and taking my pictures. They were PG, nothing risque. Like, typical tourist pictures. But it was just a really cool experience. And now, whenever I have friends that go there, I always recommend him, because he’s this little photographer person.
Steph Koyfman: Little photographer.
Jen Jordan: You also got some amazing pictures.
Taylor McIntyre: I got amazing pictures. Even that, I was kind of nervous. What if this guy hits me with his camera and takes me away? I don’t know. I think for the most part it’s just judgment and always being smart. Meet in public places with a lot of people and stuff. But I definitely agree with what David was saying. You’re not really obligated to do anything you don’t want to because you’re by yourself. You just call the shots on your own.
Dylan Lyons: Yeah. I’m more with Jen.
Jen Jordan: We’re the same.
Dylan Lyons: Yeah. I solo traveled for the first time last summer to London, and I went to London because I’m already comfortable with it because I’ve been a few times. There were parts of it I liked, like just being able to walk a lot and go to the places that I wanted to go to and not worry about my friends’ interests. But in general, I don’t know. I think I prefer to share these new experiences with other people.
But one recommendation I would make for solo traveling that I did enjoy was I chose to stay at a hostel, in a dorm with more people. So I ended up meeting a lot of really cool people, mostly from Australia, because they travel so much.
Steph Koyfman: They’re always on holiday.
Dylan Lyons: Are they ever at home?
Jen Jordan: That’s another episode.
Dylan Lyons: Yeah, exactly. But I met a couple of girls from Canada. So that made it better, because I had people to chat with and to go down to the hostel bar with. That was really fun. But I think in general, I like to meet up with friends at least for part of the time.
Steph Koyfman: I think what it really comes down to is, do you have a dog personality or a cat personality?
Dylan Lyons: We’re the dogs.
Steph Koyfman: I’m a cat.
Taylor McIntyre: I’m one of those people, I don’t really have an itinerary when I go somewhere. It’s just like I’m there, and then I’m like, “All right, maybe I’ll check out this café or something.” But there’s other people that are like, “We’re doing this, this, this, and this.” At least for me, I don’t like that kind of structure because I’m like, I’m on vacation. I’m trying to be away from structure.
Steph Koyfman: I also find that I like traveling alone because in a way, it almost makes the experience feel more epic, if that makes sense, because the whole thing just starts to feel like this long meditation where you’re not just having mundane chit-chat with somebody. You’re just … I don’t know. It feels like a Richard Linklater film or something. But I have found there are usually points where I do start to get a little bit lonely, usually if I’m having dinner alone.
Dylan Lyons: Yeah. Gotta bring a book!
Taylor McIntyre: Gotta people watch. It’s better to guess the story and, “They’re definitely on a Tinder date, probably breaking up.”
Jen Jordan: Unless … I love going to a bar alone. I used to do that a lot when I lived on my own in New York. I had a bar I would always go to, and I knew the bartender, but I would just bring a book and read at the bar. And I was there often enough I don’t think I had a lot of randos approaching me. But it was just really satisfying to have that experience and have it be my own. I do think people should try solo travel. I’m not ruling out going somewhere on my own again and just having it be my experience. I think there’s something to that. I just prefer … One of the highlights of travel for me is sharing that joy and discovery with somebody, and I prefer to have a partner in that. And I guess I’m lucky I also have good travel partners usually.
Steph Koyfman: Yeah, yeah.
David Doochin: Yes.
Jen Jordan: That’s great though. I really enjoyed hearing from all of you guys about that. Thanks everyone!
Steph Koyfman: Bye!
David Doochin: Bye!
Taylor McIntyre: Bye.
Jen Jordan: Multilinguish is produced by the content team at Babbel. We are:
Thomas Moore Devlin.
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