Guide to Solo Travel
Solo travel is something that many of us will face. You are keen to travel to an overseas destination so you organise with friends for a couple of weeks of fun and discovery. However, one by one, they withdraw from the trip – reasons being work, not having enough money, or rather taking a local holiday instead. Suddenly you are the only one still planning to travel, but you do not want to travel alone. What should you do?
I faced this exact situation many years ago on a planned journey to Spain. Our group of four dropped to three, two and finally only me. I had never been to a non-English speaking country before, and now faced the prospect of going alone. I considered my situation, and decided to travel to Spain from Australia – it was one of the best decisions of my life. Because of this decision, I attended the Opening Ceremony of the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992. The lighting of the cauldron with the Olympic Flame by using an arrow is one of my top 10 experiences in life, and not just travel.
I have travelled to more than 90 countries solo, and this has given me plenty of experience on both the benefits and detriments of solo travel. Before we look at both sides of the solo travel debate, two misconceptions need to be addressed.
Being Alone Is Lonely
“Don’t you get lonely”, is the most commonly asked question of solo travellers. “No I don’t” is my reply. The reason for me is that at the end of every day I need to organise my photos and take time to reflect on the day. I never get the time to be lonely. For others, it is because there are always other travellers to meet, but more importantly, local people who are keen to befriend you. I cannot count the instances when solo travellers have expressed concerns about feeling lonely when travelling solo, only to report within a week or so of their trip that they have made many new friends and were having a wonderful time. If someone is considering travelling solo, I ask them this question: ‘Are you comfortable with your own company?’. If the answer is ‘yes’, that person will never feel lonely when on the road. But if the answer is ‘no’, there is a chance that this will happen.
Travelling Alone is Dangerous
Another common misconception. There are extra precautions to be taken when travelling alone, namely staying in control (thus avoiding getting drunk or high at any time) but apart from that, the travel precautions for two people is the same as for one. Common sense is the key to not getting in danger – so if something does not feel right, then it usually is not. I’ve even met plenty of solo female travellers who have not had any serious safety issues when travelling – and that includes solo travel through the Middle East.
BENEFITS OF SOLO TRAVEL
Best Way To Immerse In A Destination
Travelling solo is definitely the best way to immerse yourself within a destination – nothing else comes close. There is nobody else to provide a buffer between you and the local culture. Solo travellers are given more opportunities than other travellers – for example, a local person is more likely to initiate a conversation with a solo traveller and even invite that solo traveller to their home than if they were travelling as a couple or significantly more likely than if the person is travelling in a group. I have lost count the number of times I’ve been given opportunities because I’ve travelled solo – opportunities that would be very unlikely to occur if I was not on my own.
Complete Itinerary Control
Travelling solo gives you complete control over your itinerary including the standard of accommodation you wish to stay at, where to eat, what time to eat, and what you will be doing during the day and night. If you wish to sleep in one morning, or if you wish to wake early – it can be done with ease. Travel planning is much easier on your own. This is probably why most long term travellers tend to be solo travellers for the longer you travel, the more particular you become about travel, and the more set you are within your routine. Also, solo travel gives you the ultimate flexibility to alter your travel plans.
Assists In Personal Development
Finally, solo travel is the best exercise in personal development you can undertake. Solo travellers need to be entirely self-reliant and as a result, become more assertive and confident. You can spend an enormous amount on courses to increase your confidence, but the money is better spent on a solo journey to a foreign land where you know nobody and where you cannot speak the language.
DETRIMENTS OF SOLO TRAVEL
Possible Feelings Of Loneliness
There are downsides to travelling solo – it is not always the easiest thing to deal with. The main issue people need to deal with is feelings of loneliness. Thankfully, the Internet is a great saviour if feelings of loneliness come to the fore. Chatting via Facebook, WhatsApp, or a video call via Skype can assist one to get through these difficult times. When I commenced travelling in the late 1980s none of this technology existed – one had to rely on either very expensive and poor phone lines or postcards and letters to communicate with home. In most cases this was too expensive, so I didn’t bother and just dealt with any issues myself.
If relying on the Internet does not work, try finding another destination. If you are more comfortable with a place then the less lonely you will be. If a particular city, town or beach is making you miss home more and more then find somewhere else. Eventually, you will find people who connect with you and at that time, your feelings of loneliness will disappear.
The worst option if you feel lonely is to return home. Every person who I have met who has curtailed their travelling to return to their home country because they miss family and/or friends has regretted it. Continue with your journey for as long as your finances or free time allows, and then return. You will be a better and stronger person for doing so. If you don’t think you can spend another day on the road alone, see if you can convince a friend or family member to join you to undertake the rest of the journey together. Knowing that someone will join you soon will immediately change your mental state.
Solo Travel Costs You More
Travelling solo will cost you more – there is almost no way to avoid this. Some costs are the same – public transport, food, entrance fees – but some will cost you significantly more – namely accommodation or private transport. Re accommodation, I have a particular dislike in sharing rooms with people I do not know (such as dorms) so I always opt for private rooms – if travelling alone you know this will cost more. Second, if you need to go somewhere that public transport does not reach, or it is difficult to reach, then the cost to you is going to be a real shock. I remember travelling solo along the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan and travelling solo in Somaliland – the cost per day for a vehicle and driver was extremely high. If other travellers were around, I would have sought to have one or two join me to half my costs, but there were no other travellers. I had no option but to take the journey, however, for a shorter time than originally planned.
Solo Travel Can Provide Inconveniences
Finally, travelling solo will cause you a number of travel inconveniences that may seem small, but they can be irritating. For example, what happens when you are at an airport with all your luggage and you need to visit the bathroom? If you were travelling with someone, you would say ‘I need to go to the bathroom, just wait here with the luggage.’ When travelling solo, the luggage has to come with you wherever you go – even into a toilet cubicle. Want to buy a ticket for a train? The luggage comes with you too as you lug it along the queue, same with buying food in a take-away place and the list goes on. It’s one of the main reasons my luggage has become lighter and smaller the more I have travelled.
Inability To Share Experiences
Finally, the inability to share experiences is a major detriment for many. When you are within a special travel moment – who can you turn to and talk about your feelings? After you leave a destination, who can you reminisce with? These two can hit some people hard for that ability to share is lost. I’ve always countered such feelings through my photography. I’ve carried a camera with me since my first overseas trip in 1986 and ever since that time, I’ve considered the camera as a way to share my memories with others who are not on the journey with me. Social Media can also help because you can immediately share your travel photos instead of having to wait until you return home as happened in the pre-Internet days.Read more: Improving The Travel Experience