Travelling alone is difficult. There, I said it.
It’s hard to only have yourself to rely on for an extended period of time. It becomes exhausting to have to constantly watch your own back, and it’s straining to have to be responsible for every blip in the road. But as hard as it felt at times, travelling solo was the best decision I ever made. I understand that its daunting and sometimes a little more expensive (I’m looking at you single travel supplement), but I truly believe that everyone should give it a shot at least once in their lives.
Travelling alone has some negative connotations that I want to iron out for you. For some reason, Its considered shocking for a young woman to willingly fly solo. And after experiencing it, I just don’t get it. Unlike what the newspapers want you to believe, the world isn’t as terrifying as it seems. The majority of people are lovely and respectful. As long as you keep your wits about you (as you also would at home) nothing sinister is going to come from you taking control. There are many places in the world that respect women a lot more than you think. Even now, when I tell people I’m travelling somewhere, they seem shocked that I’m going alone. ‘did no one else want to go?’, ‘did someone back out last minute?’, ‘no, but you know somebody there, right?’.
To travel alone doesn’t mean you are unsociable or unfriendly. It also doesn’t mean you are lonely and desperate. It means you have complete control of what you want to do, and whilst we all spend our lives concentrating on study/saving/work/paying the bills, it’s a wonderful privilege to make the most of. You can make friends at your destination, and your friends at home will still be there when you get back. If you want to walk the Great Wall of China alone, great. If you want to get drunk in a hostel with your new buddies, go for it.
That being said, no one can deny that you are more vulnerable when travelling alone. Just the simple logistics of travelling that you usually split between the group becomes difficult, possibly making you an easy target for crime. An example of this is trying to nap with all of your luggage (sounds unrealistic? wait until you stranded waiting for a Red-eye flight and its delayed). Friendly strangers often help, but in the end I usually ended up with looping all of my bags and belongings tightly around my arms and legs, so I would (hopefully) wake up if someone tried to move them. It’s uncomfortable and impractical but it worked (and to this day I have NEVER had anything stolen whilst traveling).
As much as I want to advocate solo travel, as a woman, there are certain countries that I just wouldn’t risk travelling alone to. This is my personal choice, but I know many people who have travelled to these countries and had no problems. It all depends on how comfortable you feel alone in that environment. The most important thing is to be aware and to be respectful.
No matter who you are with, travelling is mentally and emotionally testing. Even now, thinking about how I’m getting to the airport on my next trip gives me hives. I can’t sit here and tell you that this doesn’t tenfold when you’re alone, especially for a woman. What I can tell you is that (from experience), sometimes its harder to travel with a companion. Not enough sleep, constant planning and pent-up emotions can ruin relationships, and I’ve seen it happen a lot on the road. A friendship that can stand the test of time might shatter when one half realizes that the other is unorganized, or doesn’t like to share, or empties her suitcase everywhere. There is no hiding from the cracks in a relationship when you are pushed together in a stressful environment 24/7. It also sod’s law that you will NEVER want to do the same activity on the same day. There are places I’ve travelled to for a specific reason, a museum or a statue etc., and I didn’t see any of it because of the companion(s) I had. This is possibly due to my choice in partner, but having people with different schedules and opinions certainly doesn’t help. Now, I only go on trips with friends if the holiday is FOR the friendship. I’ll pass on a group trip to the Coliseum or the Eiffel tower, but if you want to get an Airbnb somewhere warm and drink wine for a week, I’m in!
Before I left alone for the first time, I was worried that life would just go on without me for the year that I was away. Unfortunately, it does. It’s never as bad as you think though. A friend of mine just recently came back for a few weeks, to catch up after feeling homesick (she lives in the US). She told me that this trip home was the first time things felt different. She felt like all of her old friends has started to pity her nomadic, chaotic life. They had all gotten married and bought houses, and they looked at her like she was missing out on life (let me point out that these are YOUNG women, early-mid twenties). The truth is though, she isn’t. Instead of making her want to move back home, it gave her the boost she needed to get back out there. She realized that it was ok if they pitied her, because she didn’t want the life they had, just yet. Sure, their lives had changed, but they still lived in the same old town, with the same old job and the same old people. What I’m trying to say is; I don’t think people realize how mundane normal life is until they take that leap of faith. Some people will never travel, with or without a partner, which is all the more reason you should go and see just how small the world really is.
The most important thing that travelling alone did was to teach me about myself. I don’t want to be the cheesy ‘find yourself’ GAP-YAAAHH traveler, but it led me to truly understand how I rely on people in my day-to-day life (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing!). I was always quite a nervous person growing up. I’m from a big, loud, boisterous family and sometimes it was hard for me to find my place in life. My family have always lived within the same 10 mile radius, and I’ve had the same group of friends since I was in primary school. Travelling solo taught me how well I could handle situations, without anyone to fall back on. I realized how resilient I was, and how well I could control my emotions to concentrate on getting whatever problem I had fixed. I got over my shyness. I asked people on the street for directions. I spoke to strangers and shared a home with them. I grew up. I opened a bank account (all by myself!) and worked out my taxes. I calculated how much money I had to spend in a week. When I finally came back home, I felt much more of a whole person, because I knew my own skills and limitations through practice, not from being told.
All in all, I think travel is one of the most educational and eye-opening experiences you can have, whether that be in a group or alone. As long as people get out and see the world, I don’t mind how or why. Do it alone and don’t tell anyone. Take a huge group and hire a camper van. Just go.
As I mentioned earlier, there are people, of all ages, who have never looked further than the end of their street. People who have never spent a day wandering around a new city, and have only seen the seven wonders in a textbook. And what a great shame that is.