In everyday life, I rarely have sense of pure learning – using all my wits to learn with intention, speed, in real-time. Negotiating, assessing, aligning, sure, we do that everyday but not pure survival learning. Maybe a new device or a new tool but it’s rarely pure or primary.
When you travel, particularly alone, you are called on to learn new skills to go forward. Whether it’s how to use an electric shower (first, really, and, second, who knew you had to turn on the outlet) or driving in a new way, it’s full body and fast track.
Levels of Learning Imagine you arrive in Edinburgh with jet lag using your last spark of energy to argue with the arrogant rental car clerk who thinks you can be swayed by an upgrade, backup screens and a refusal to talk in terms of incremental cost on your prepaid car.
Suddenly you find yourself sitting in the driver’s seat, on the right side of the car, in a cramped lot, pointed toward EXIT with twelve roundabouts between you and your destination.
I found there are levels to conquer here.
Keep Left: Survival Learning
Here is what I discovered in that first, somewhat harrowing day. There isn’t anyone but you. This creates clarity. No help but also no distraction. When I was finally safely parked in Stirling, there were three rules that had helped get me there.
- First observe deeply, taking time to watch everything around you. Then watch again.
- Accept that following is acceptable for a beginner. The guy driving the plumbing van – it isn’t his first day.
- Last, go slow, go with flow.
Beware Right Turns: The Discipline of Attention
Since I did survive, the next step is attentiveness. Every time I got in the car, I repeated the mantra. Every time. Pay attention. Keep left. Beware right turns. Driving well is more important than the GPS lady’s instructions or her begrudging approval. You can always turn around.
The first time I thought I had it down and relaxed, I turned right with great confidence into the proper left lane, but had the left-over and inappropriate relaxed approach to the right turn. I was lucky that the truck coming my way was still far away. It helped me to keep the keenness of focus for the rest of week.
The Good Stuff: Getting Creative
It was time to go to the Isle of Skye. I had my driving mojo and was ready. Then I landed on a single track road, going up a mountain full of hairpin bends, and, should you begin to relax, recalcitrant sheep. It seemed there was no way to know as you went around a blind curve if you’d meet a truck or van or worse, another tourist. After thinking it through, I realized that while I couldn’t see the next 300 yards, I could see the road farther along. If I waited a bit on the shoulder, I could know the hidden road was clear. I started keeping my eye on the mid distance…and the sheep.
So What? Why Solo Travel Keeps You Sharp
When you meet an obvious challenge on your own, you use your whole intellect, your ability to observe and your experience.
I thought about John Wesley and the quadrilateral of seeing life and faith through scripture, tradition, experience and reason. It’s not a great fit since my travel scripture and the traditional writings of the Church fathers would both be Rick Steves, but you may find that you depend a lot on experience, reading and research, what you observe yourself, and daily honed reason.
In the end, is it heightened awareness or high-speed learning? Is it just truly paying attention? Whatever you call it, I want to take this into my everyday life – upping the percentage of wit and wisdom I bring to the opportunity at hand.
What I Learned about Travel
Travelling on your own, even for part of a trip, heightens your senses.
Never go on auto pilot. Ever.
It is worth it – get the car!