Whenever I meet people whilst I’m away, the same thing always crops up in conversation: “Why do you travel alone?”, “Don’t you get, like, lonely?”, “Aren’t you scared?”, “No, I could never do that.”
Going away on your own isn’t for everyone, and some people do make the perfect travel partnership, but I think there’s a lot to gain from some adventure as an individual. Of course, it can also be a bit of a pain at times too, so here is my list of the good and the bad when it comes to travelling by yourself.
- There’s no compromising. If you’re anything like me, and compromise simply isn’t in your skillset, travelling alone is perfect. No awkward conversations about budgets, no guiltily dragging anyone round somewhere they don’t like, no clashes of personalities, no conflicting aims and plans. It might sound selfish, but going it alone means you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, and that is a glorious feeling. Fancy getting up at 5am to watch the sunrise? You can. Want to spend half a day wandering round a gallery full of obscure installation art? Do it. Can’t wait to go to that fancy restaurant that serves ridiculously indulgent, heart-attack-on-a-plate desserts? Go for it and order two. It’s both empowering and liberating to be able to take control – you’re unstoppable! Plus, if you’re on your own, nobody can judge you for eating your fourth ice cream of the day, just sayin’…
- It’s a great way to meet new people. Travelling solo doesn’t have to mean being alone all the time. Kind of like the first day of school, you’re thrown into the deep end; you don’t know anyone. Sounds terrifying, right? But it forces you in the best way possible to go and say ‘hi’. Particularly if you’re in a hostel, you’ll find that there are plenty of other lone travellers in exactly the same position as you, and they’ll be more than willing to strike up a conversation. If you’re staying in a hotel or apartment, with less of a communal atmosphere, get yourself signed up to a group trip or a class, where you’ll meet other like-minded holiday-makers. Everyone tends to be super chilled and welcoming – they’re on holiday afterall. You could make some friends for life, or, at the very least a companion to grab a beer with afterwards.
- You have to do it yourself. Another one that sounds a little scary, but is actually pretty rewarding. Even something as small as navigating your way back from a museum with nothing but a crumpled map and a hopeless sense of direction, successfully haggling down the price for a pair of flip-flops, or managing to identify the mystery meat on the menu through a combination of interpretive dance and the four sentences you learnt from your phrasebook, can seem like the ultimate win when you only have yourself to rely on. Being somewhere new by yourself puts you into unfamiliar situations, makes you deal with unexpected things (some more testing than others), and helps you realise what you’re capable of, which is probably quite a lot.
- You’re able to see so much more. And not just because you aren’t wasting time bickering over where to go next, or waiting for your mate to recover from their 3 € fishbowl-induced hangover. Viewing things on your own, be it the most outstanding landscape you’ve ever set eyes on, a work of art, or the couple on their first date sitting opposite you in the café, allows you to take so much more in. With no distractions, you can absorb every sight, sound, and smell with an intensity and thoughtfulness you wouldn’t ever be able to experience with a travel buddy.
- You might ‘find yourself’. Despite being a little bit sick in my mouth as I type the travel cliché to end all travel clichés, there really is some truth in it, even for someone as cynical and un-spiritual as me. Travelling by yourself provides much more opportunity for thought/ self-reflection/ meditation/ daydreaming/ whatever floats your boat… Whether you’re getting over a crappy relationship, have come to a crossroads in your career, or just need a change of scenery, travel can help. Personally, I wouldn’t say I’ve ‘found myself’ yet, and I’m certainly not ‘enlightened’ but I’ve definitely realised a few things:
- I’m more resilient than I give myself credit for.
- I’m incredibly lucky.
- The world is really, really beautiful.
- Strangers can be incredibly kind.
- Everything works out ok in the end.
- I can carry very heavy suitcases up and down steep spiral staircases with relative ease.
- Factor 50 all-day sun cream does not last all day, despite what it says on the bottle.
- I do not need to pack 45 different outfits, “just in case”.
- Having to be organised. This really is not my forté – I seem to spend the majority of my time away never quite knowing what day of the week it is (which I take as a sign that I’m having having lots of fun), or where I’m going next. Flight times, directions, hotel check-ins… it all gets muddled in my head, and with nobody to talk it through with, or make sure I’m in the right place at the right time, it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, there’s an app for that, and my life is ruled by my smartphone – ideal, until it drowned in a Thai rainstorm and I was left app-less; a steep learning curve to say the least, but nevertheless, one that I survived.
- Sun cream/ mosquito repellent application. There’s always going to be that annoying little patch on your back that gets missed, no matter how flexible and thorough you think you are. And asking a stranger? Way too weird.
- Sometimes (only sometimes) it might get a bit lonely. This probably won’t happen if you keep busy, or if you simply enjoy hanging out on your own, but occasionally there may be times when a bit of company could be nice. For me, it always used to be in restaurants – I’d feel all kinds of awkward, skulking in as the waitress confirmed “Just for one?”, then sitting there on my own, watching couples and families around me enjoying their meals, convinced everyone was giving me pitying looks. Now I couldn’t care less, as I find a table with a good view, order whatever I want, read, write, and people watch. If you’re worried about feeling lonely, sign up for different excursions (they’re brilliant for making friends – see pro number 2), plan a new exciting adventure each day, and you’ll barely have time to notice, trust me.
- Be prepared to get hit on. Yeah, yeah, oh woe is me, it’s a tough life blah blah blah. But seriously, travelling as a lone female – guys, this must happen to you too, surely? – can bring with it a fair amount of, dependant on your outlook/relationship status, (un)wanted attention. Certain places can sometimes be more difficult than others – *cough* Italy *cough* – but more often than not, being polite and firm does the trick. And if you’re single and fancy yourself a little holiday romance? Get in there.
- Who’s going to take your cheesy holiday snaps? It’s no secret, I love a good selfie, but occasionally, despite my finest efforts, a selfie simply ain’t gonna cut it. Having not yet been able to face the whole selfie-stick thing (a step too far, even for me), in order to get that photo grinning like an idiot with a rescued elephant, or freezing my bits off in front of a waterfall in Iceland, I’ve had to quell my embarrassment, and resort to asking strangers to take a snap or two. It’s more than a little bit cringey, sure, and you have to trust they aren’t going to leg it with your camera, but a girl’s gotta get her new profile picture somehow, right?
Occasionally, people will ask me about safety – do I ever feel scared or vulnerable?, and I can honestly say that there have only been a handful of times I’ve ever felt uneasy, or something remotely bad has happened. Be sensible, be aware of yourself and your surroundings, listen to your instincts, don’t put yourself into any sketchy situations, and you’re far more likely to avoid trouble.
So there you have it, my 5 great and not-so-great things about heading abroad alone. Do you travel solo? Let me know what you reckon, and what your pros and cons are below.