Solo travel, the good and the bad
Freedom, independence, adventure, excitement, these are all incredible qualities of solo travel.
Solo travel can be awesome. It can also be some of the lowest moments of your life. Many people rave about it (I’m one of them), but how often do they tell you the downsides too?
Solo travel allows you to have the freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want. You can go cheap as chips and stay in hostels where you can meet other like-minded travellers and make new friends along the way. Solo travel gives you a sense of independence. You’re doing this all alone, it’s your responsibility to stay safe and find your way around. Overcoming obstacles gives you a sense of accomplishment.
Travelling alone provides adventure. You can go skydiving, paragliding, bungy jumping, hang gliding all on your own without anyone to convince you it’s not a good idea. One day you can be in Egypt checking out the pyramids, the next you can be in Petra, Jordan seeing the incredible UNESCO World Heritage site there. Maybe you fancy visiting Africa and trekking to see Mountain Gorillas in the wild. Do it! No one is going to stop you. Solo travel is exciting to say the least and you can do it all your own way.
Your memories will be your own. How many times have you been to a movie or exhibition with someone and once you’ve discussed it, your thoughts and perspective about it has changed? When you travel on your own, you get to have your own perspective on a place and culture. Your memories are your own and no-one can change those. You’ll take the time to visit what you want and create those unique experiences by talking to locals, seeing wildlife, and pushing your physical and mental boundaries.
Meeting new people will become second nature. Solo travel teaches you to become a personable sort of person. You learn to ask nicely for a stranger to take a photo for you so you can be in it.
Chatting to people at hostels has given me so many opportunities to share experiences with like-minded people and learn of new and exciting places to go to. I’ve made some friends for life on my travels and wouldn’t change that for the world.
Solo travel may have some incredible high points, but you may want to be aware of what you’re letting yourself in for if things go wrong.
If you get sick, you’re on your own. You’ve got to find your own help and make your own decisions about where to get that help. I ended up in a Thai hospital on the second or third day into my OE for a few days, where no-one spoke much English, bugs crawled around and nurses kept asking where my friends/family were, which just made me feel even more alone.
If you get lost, you’re on your own. Best solution to this is to be prepared. Know where you’re going before you get there and be prepared to point at a map and gesture for location help to people that don’t speak your language. Just keep in mind if you use this method for all people you’ll end up getting laughed at when you gesture to English speaking people if they’d like you to take their photograph (yes it’s happened to me and I felt like a right idiot).
You’ll have to get used to eating alone. This is possibly the hardest thing for me. I feel like everyone is staring at me, wondering why I’m eating alone. I’ve learnt to take a book with me to read while I wait for my meal and not be shy to pick a nice table.
Being a solo traveller you so often get put right at the back of a restaurant out of sight, because they don’t want people to see they have few people there. Sometimes you’ll even get turned away if you’re only one person and possibly not dressed right. Yes the people that do this aren’t nice restaurant people, but you live with it and find a nicer spot that welcomes solo travellers. Sometimes I’ll eat a larger meal at lunchtime or eat a snack in a park or on steps near a tourist attraction to make me feel more relaxed while eating in a nice spot.
Being a solo female traveller can get you unwanted attention in some countries. I wish I’d known the tricks of the trade before I travelled to places like Egypt and Turkey. I’ve heard people suggest you wear a wedding ring. I suggest you create a good story to tell people that your other half is nearby before you arrive in a country like Egypt alone. I tend to not go out at night alone and I dress appropriately. Be smart, but don’t be scared.
You’ll get lonely. Solo travel is a tale of two sides. You can enjoy being on your own at times, but there will come times that you just miss your family, friends and familiar things. Skype can be useful for this if you and your loved ones have good Internet connection and manage with the time zones. If that doesn’t work out, I find my writing in a travel journal can help.
I also find having a little mini photo album to take with you can help to see and remember the people and things you love the most. Having photographs to show locals of where you come from can also be nice, because not everyone you meet will have been to your home country and it can be nice to pass on a bit of knowledge of where you came from to others.
So should you travel solo or not?
Short answer: Do it. Just be prepared and take everything in your stride.
It’s important to remember it’s all part of the experience. When things don’t quite go according to plan this is what I tell myself. Coming through hard times always makes me feel like a bigger person and that I’ve accomplished something personally. Try not to shy away from solo traveller experiences, but embrace them. The experiences can be so much more incredible when you do them your own way and often locals are much more friendly than you may expect.
I’ve been travelling solo on and off for the last four years and wouldn’t swap it for the world.