For many people, travelling alone can seem daunting, scary, and anxiety-inducing. For others, it produces a sense of liberation, self-confidence, and empowerment. I believe that even a short solo trip can be incredibly educational and can help broaden our perspectives.
So why are people often apprehensive about solo travel? It’s mostly because of the feeling of vulnerability that always comes with travelling to a new location. The scary feeling of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone is normally reduced by the presence of friends or family.
Most people travel with their loved ones: people who they know well and feel relaxed around. This social connection is what reduces the anxieties of being in a foreign place. The overwhelming cacophony of a South Asian market feels far less overwhelming with the familiar comfort of your partner’s hand in yours. The stress of a flight cancellation and overnight stay in an airport can be reduced by card games on the floor with a sibling, or the nostalgic in-jokes shared by a group of friends.
When we’re abroad, our company is the best coping mechanism we have to deal with any unwanted surprises we encounter. A problem shared is a problem halved, goes the adage. If anything goes wrong when travelling solo, it is up to you and you alone to figure out a solution. This increased responsibility is often seen as increased vulnerability, discouraging many passionate travellers from venturing out alone.
But solo travel can be incredibly empowering. The first short solo trip I ever took involved flying to Toulouse, France, and hitch-hiking my way through the Pyrenees to finally end up in Barcelona. That long week remains one of my fondest memories. I camped wild by the side of the road, got lost in the mountains, got lost in the cities, walked until my feet bled and caught lifts from some truly incredible people. There were times when I wanted to give up, times when I feared for my safety, times when I wished I had just one other person there to help me. But looking back now I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
The best thing about solo travel in my opinion is the freedom. You can be completely spontaneous and change your plans at any given moment without having to compromise or consult anyone. If you wake up at 6am having planned a summit hike and feel too tired to complete it, you are entirely free to spend the whole day in your hostel bed.
And it’s not just the freedom. Travelling solo allows you to travel faster, spending less time waiting around for your friends. You can travel cheaper, choosing the least expensive option whenever you don’t mind it.
Solo travel forces you to put yourself out into the world. There have been a number of times when I’ve mustered up the courage to introduce myself to a group of friends in a hostel bar, only to discover that they aren’t friends, but are all strangers, travelling solo just like me. The instant you try solo travelling, you realise how many other travellers are in the same position as you: scared, a little lonely, and just trying to make some form of human connection in a foreign place.
I spent my 19th birthday being bought drinks by an eclectic mix of European travellers in Nha Trang, on the coast of Vietnam. It was the most bizarre birthday I’ve ever had, and by far the most memorable, but I wouldn’t have been forced to meet so many new people if I had been travelling with a group of friends.
Solo trips take work. They place all the responsibility on you alone. It’s up to you to do all the research, make sure the place you’re travelling to is safe, make contingency plans in case anything goes wrong, and consider all the possibilities of cancellations and accidents. It’s absolutely necessary that you put the time and effort into planning a solo trip to make sure it goes smoothly, because when you’re out there, you have only yourself to turn to for help.
But this shouldn’t put you off trying a solo trip at least once. Worst-case scenario, you hate every second of it and never want to do it again, and that’s great! You’ll have learnt a lot about yourself regardless. Solo travelling is about testing the boundaries of your comfort zone. If you come back from a trip regretting that you ever went alone, then you’ve learnt that it’s important to you to share your experiences with other people, and that some sense of familiarity is also important to you. And in a best-case scenario, you love every second of the trip, and come back feeling confident, independent, empowered, and informed about the world around you.
I urge everyone to try even just a solo overnight trip in your home country. Test the waters: see how you like the independence, the freedom, the responsibility. You might find the feeling slightly addictive, as I know I have. But whatever your experience, negative or positive, you will have learnt something about yourself.