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Ruminations on the pleasures of solo travel and knitting

Nothing is more refreshing than traveling alone. Do not be alarmed by this statement. I am not a reclusive anti-social hermit — quite the opposite, in fact. But I am a knitter. And that goes hand-in-hand with traveling alone. Add solo travel to knitting, and the two complement each another in such a way that brings out the best of both. Not convinced? Here are the perks as I see them

When traveling alone, you never have to go to the beach when you would rather be hiking in the mountains, or to the museum when you would rather be people watching from a sidewalk café — or vice versa.

Other peoples’ time and money restraints do not affect you. And conversely, consider if your traveling companion had all the time and money in the world. Ditch the companion, and you lose the temptation to keep up with the Jones'.

My favorite reason for traveling alone is the warmth and friendliness you receive from fellow travelers and residents of the place you are visiting. (This is probably just pity on their part, but I will take what I can get.) I have made countless friends from across the globe that I would not have met had I been traveling with other people.

Add knitting to that, and you have the perfect scenario. Knitting takes away the awkwardness of times when you would prefer to have a traveling companion and gives you something to do when you are feeling lonely or tired from all that sightseeing. Just as knitting in public is often a conversation starter in your hometown, it works the same way in other places, upping your potential to meet and interact with locals or other interesting travelers.

Last March, I took a spur-of-the-moment solo trip to Turkey. I spent several days in Istanbul, taking in the Byzantine, Ottoman, and east-meets-west sights and culture there. I kept myself so busy that I knitted for a grand total of only 15 minutes the whole time I was in the city. (The knitting in question took place during one of those awkward, wish-I-had-a-companion moments at a restaurant after I had ordered and before the food arrived.) But four days of the bustling big city was enough for me, so I set out for three smaller cities scattered about the rural western half of the country for the rest of my trip.

Domestic travel in Turkey is a knitter’s dream. The primary form of long-distance transportation for the Turks and adventurous visitors is the bus system. Networking across the entire country and operated by several private companies, the buses are much like highway taxis for the Turks. Riders hop on and off at semi-regular stops and at side-of-the-highway impromptu pull-offs for would-be passengers flailing their arms in taxi-hailing fashion. The buses offer a cheap and efficient way for locals to visit relatives or travel for business, a cheap and efficient way for travelers to see the countryside between destinations, and a cheap and efficient way for me to get in a lot of knitting. These buses are no Greyhounds, either. They are clean, nice, safe, and staffed by an attendant who comes around periodically with snacks or a squirt of antibacterial hand gel — quite the treat for tired knitting hands.

The conservative Turkish culture maintains gender segregation among unacquainted men and women in public places like buses. And Turkish women do not travel alone as often as the men do. The buses I took were rarely crowded, so I usually had the entire seat to myself for extra elbow movement. At one point between touristy Selçuk and industrial Denizli, I did share the seat, and it turned out to be a fascinating cultural experience.

The bus pulled off the highway in one of the breakneck impromptu stops that made me drop a stitch, lose count, and toss my pattern across the aisle all at once. An older Turkish woman climbed aboard dressed in the traditional loose-fitting pants, long sleeves, and controversial headscarf that many older women in the conservative rural parts of the country wear. She was accompanied by two younger men I assumed to be her sons. They walked the length of the bus looking for a suitable seat for their mother. Since the bus was somewhat crowded at this point, my seat happened to be the only empty one next to a female. The sons seemed less pleased about seating their mother next to the young American woman than I did about giving up my purling room, but to satisfy the social custom, we all complied. The woman settled into her seat after a loud round of “güle güle” (bye bye) to her sons, they de-boarded, and we were back on our way.

The woman and I rode in silence for many miles — I looking out my window and she staring straight ahead. I waited until after the attendant came around with another round of snacks and hand sanitizer before getting back to my knitting. As soon as I pulled out the project, my seat companion perked up. She turned and watched me for a while, and when I looked up at her, she said “örgü.” After some pantomiming, I understood that she was commenting on my knitting — and later after some research in my Turkish-English dictionary, I found out she had been saying the Turkish word for knitting. She continued watching me for a while and then reached into her bag and pulled out her own needles and yarn. It was one of the most exquisite socks I have ever seen. The colorwork and patterning were distinctly Turkish, very geometric and intricate and in rich, bold colors. Yet, she worked without a pattern. I uttered one of the few Turkish words I knew, “güzel,” beautiful. We continued to knit in silence for the rest of the ride, two women separated by age, nationality, and custom, but connected through our mutual handicraft.

The woman’s stop was about an hour before mine, and as with her entrance, another “son” boarded the bus to fetch her. Before she left, she turned to me, smiled, and said, “güle güle.” I watched her go and continued my journey awed with the experience and the knowledge — something that I had always known deep down but never experienced first-hand — that knitting transcends age, cultural, and language boundaries. And the simple act of creating something beautiful out of nothing binds people together like yarn in a well-knitted fabric.


Katie Howell is trying to decide where she wants to travel next: Tallinn, Estonia, for some old-world charm or Bolivia for fresh-from-the-llama yarn. Meanwhile, she can be found in New Orleans knitting lots of warm-weather cotton things and funding her next adventure by working as a geologist and freelance journalist.

She blogs here.