‘Travel only with thy equals or thy betters; if there are none, travel alone’. The Dhammapada.
Travelling solo is an incredible experience and is one that every backpacker should experience at least once in their lifetime. I don’t always travel solo nowadays but I do still occasionally head off on my own to various corners of the world, and the majority of my long term and short term trips over the last decade or so have been solo ones. I’ve heard all the criticism and disapproving comments over the years with friends, family and even general acquaintances alike all uniting in their unified belief that I have gone insane. I mean why in hell would I go alone? Isn’t it dangerous? Aren’t I scared? Won’t I be lonely? What is wrong with me?
The thing is, I absolutely love it! Don’t get me wrong, travelling with a partner or a friend can be a great experience too, but you shouldn’t dismiss the idea of travel just because you have no one to go with.
Too many people listen to the naysayers right from the start and get it into their heads that solo travel is unsafe, boring or lonely, that they should stay at home because the world is too dangerous and no one loves them enough to go with them. This is ridiculous. Do you really want to cancel your trip of a lifetime because your BFF will miss her boyfriend too much (who she’ll probably break up with in a month anyway!) Or all your mates say they are skint? Of course you don’t!
Seriously though, none of the negative connotations of solo travel are true. It isn’t more dangerous to travel alone. It isn’t scary, or frightening, and it certainly isn’t lonely or boring. If your dream is to travel the world, then don’t let the fact that you have no one to go with you stop you from doing so! Once you have landed in your destination and acclimatised to your new surroundings, you may even find that you prefer travelling this way!
So here are just a few reasons why travelling solo is absolutely awesome, and why you should do it if you get the chance.
You can do what you want, when you want.
Yes this is selfish, yes this is self indulgent, but so what? You are on your own, that is the point! Your entire trip can be focused around you, what you want to do, what you like. No one else has any say or input in it.
Do you want to change your plans half way through your trip? Then what’s stopping you? Do it! Have you found a tropical island that you like and want to stay on it? Well do it! Want to eat a third lunch because there is just so much choice at the food court? Then do it! No one will judge you! Fancy doing that week long PADI course or stay for a few days in an Ashram to do some Yoga and try not to giggle at the one at the back who keeps farting? Then do it! The world really is your oyster!
When travelling solo you really can just do whatever takes your fancy. Every single day can be filled with things that interest you. You don’t have to compromise your plans or miss out on what you want to do because your travel buddy is whining they don’t want to do that or they want to do something else instead. You have no one to please but yourself, and yes that may seem self-centred but who gives a damn? It’s also really liberating!
You will never be lonely.
This is one of the big worries many people have when they contemplate solo travel, but it really is completely unfounded. Thousands of people travel solo every single day, and odds are you will bump into a few of them on your own travels!
It is really common to meet new friends on the road, either on an organised trek or by sheer chance. Other travellers and backpackers always end up congregating in transit stations, long distance coaches or overnight trains, hostels or backpacker bars, and all it takes to meet them is a little bit of confidence and that amazing little word ‘hello’.
Some backpackers end up spending days or even longer together as they click and decide to travel in the same direction before eventually parting ways again, other times a chance encounter may lead to nothing more than an interesting conversation on a long coach journey or in a hostel dorm or a good night out together. The point is you will never be alone, and the best part is you can have the best of both worlds! You can enjoy the benefits of travelling solo, and have company when and if you want it. It’s your choice!
You will become much more self confident and self reliant.
By being forced out of your comfort zone and having to deal with unexpected events and unpredictable experiences, you will learn a lot about yourself. You will come to know yourself intimately whether you want to or not. You won’t need to ask yourself what you would do in a tight spot, or what type of person you are when things happen and you have to deal with them, you will know because you will have been there and done it.
Things will inevitably go wrong on a backpacking trip, from tiny annoyances such as transport delays or your mosquito net developing a tear in the jungle, to major hiccups like your bus breaking down in the middle of a desert or even worse. You learn very quickly that it is how you deal with these incidents is what matters, and how you overcome the challenges is what helps build and shape your character. You really don’t know what you are capable of doing until you do it, and solo travel builds your self confidence and self reliance to the point that you know intrinsically that you can handle anything life throws at you. You will gain the experience, the self understanding and the self confidence to know that even when you get back home, the experience and knowledge you have gained when backpacking can be applied to any situation. In short, backpacking solo will make you a better, more rounded and more confident person.
You meet more locals and see more of the culture.
Okay, this isn’t wholly true. Backpackers who are travelling with friends or partners can just as easily do this, but quite frankly when you are travelling with someone you can sometimes be quite insular without even realising it. Travelling solo removes that safety net of your friends or partner, you no longer have that comfort zone of travelling within a group, so you can often make much more of an effort to interact with the locals and immerse yourself in the culture of the place you are visiting. The benefits of which should be self explanatory really.
Yes! It is absolutely safe to travel alone!
I really don’t know enough pejoratives to describe my frustration at the assumption that solo travel is inherently dangerous. It isn’t! At all! There is so much misinformation and unnecessary fear about travelling the world, but the fact of the matter is the highest crime rates are in the places that most backpackers actually come from! The USA and UK in particular. So if you want to go on statistics alone you are actually technically safer travelling the world! Basic common sense precautions will keep you as safe as a solo backpacker as a backpacker in a group would be. And yes, that applies to women too. To read more about solo female backpacker safety, click here.
So if travelling is your dream, if you are feeling homesick for somewhere you have never been, if you want to go backpacking but you have no one to go with, then go alone! Travel solo! You will not regret it, and you may even find you prefer it!
Feel free to tell me about your own solo travel experiences below, or whether you prefer travelling alone or travelling with someone else? Has this article eased your solo travel fears or inspired you in any way to get out there and explore on your own, then please let me know!