Is Solo Travel Ever Truly Solo?

travelling solo RTW

I love solo travel. Any regular readers of this site can attest to that fact. I honestly think it is the best way to travel and the majority of my backpacking trips over the last decade have been on my own. But looking back I have to ask, has it ever been truly solo travel?

Sure I have had times where I have been trekking in the jungle or camping out in the desert where yes, I have been alone. Truly alone. Those have been magical times of true relaxation, self reflection and pushing my own limits and boundaries. Periods of truly escaping the world of people, of technology, of society. These trips have been the definition of what many people imagine when I say I am travelling solo and start to fire the barrage of questions about loneliness and sanity. It is the disconnect from society, from life, from the very human need for socialisation and interaction that they find hard to understand. Many people just don’t get that there is solace to be found in your own company, that there is a huge world of difference between being alone and being lonely.

But most of the time despite technically travelling solo I have in fact been able to interact with a wider range of people than I ever would have by travelling with someone, or even staying at home. The fact is when I have been sleeping in hostels or enduring the long distance buses and trains, whether I have been people watching in the backpacker ghettoes or getting away from it all in more remote destinations, visiting the tourist sites and engaging in the must do activities on any given trip, I have been surrounded by people.

gap year

The hostels, guesthouses and transports have generally been filled with other backpackers and independent travellers to chat with and get to know, some of whom became good friends for a while. Even the more remote off the beaten track destinations I visited were filled with locals and other travellers I could meet, interact with, observe and learn from.

I have learned about different cultures and local customs through my interactions with locals, passed the time with interesting conversations with other travellers on long distance transports or even spent periods of time with other backpackers along our journey before eventually and inevitably parting ways to continue down our own separate paths.

So during those trips, was I ever really alone? Was I ever really backpacking solo around the world?

As always, the truth to that lies somewhere in the middle of yes and no.

Being lonely or vulnerable if travelling alone are two of the most common concerns about solo travel. The presumption that if you travel alone you will be unable to meet other people or spend vast lengths of time in your own company is something that puts many people off solo travel completely.

These concerns often disappear very quickly when you are on the road and find the reality of the situation.

By travelling solo you get the best of both worlds. You can have time to yourself if you wish, even taking it to the extreme of travelling somewhere so remote you can truly be alone for a little while, or you can meet and interact with as many people as you like. All it takes is a willingness to be open to new experiences and the confidence to just say hello.

Bemused Backpacker Michael Huxley

It is often much easier to meet people when you are on your own than it is if you are travelling with someone – in fact, it is often inevitable – and the thing is, it is an integral part of what makes backpacking so great. Swapping travel tales, sharing advice and tips, learning about an amazing place or activity that you never dreamt about seeing or doing and – shock, horror – isn’t even in the guidebook – are all part of being a backpacker and an independent traveller.

So was it really solo travel? Yes, absolutely! Was it lonely? Never!

The chance encounters you have may just be short, simple conversations, they may be just one amazing ship passing in the night, or you may spend days or even weeks together discovering a new place. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the interaction, and how that interaction affects and changes you as a person, because believe me, it does.

Backpackers and independent travellers make up such an amazing worldwide community. A community of truly awesome people of made up of all sizes, shapes, religions, creeds, makes, models, numbers, whatever, all unified under the shared ideal of world travel, of bettering themselves and the world around them by shared knowledge and experiences gained by exploring the world around them, all of them unified in the belief that the world is too big and full of amazing, wondrous sights to not see it all. And it truly is a privilege to be a part of that community.

And you will be a part of that community too by the sheer act of travelling independently whether you are technically on your own or not. And by being part of that community you will have the chance to meet some of the most amazing, open, friendly people on the planet.

Despite the fact that I have generally travelled solo throughout my backpacking adventures, I have met so many amazing people on my own travels, and I have had some amazing experiences through these people. Some were locals I met along the way, others were fellow travellers on their own path, some of whom I am still in contact with today, others who have for one reason or another drifted away as life inexorably moves on. All of them, without fail and no matter how long or brief a time we spent together, have helped make my travel experiences what they were and me the person I am today. So if any of them are reading this – and you know who you are – then thank you for that.

So if you dream of travelling the world but are worried about being alone on your trip, then please don’t be. Embrace the opportunities that travelling solo gives you, because believe me the rewards are endless and at the end of the day you are never truly alone, despite being solo.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

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Michael Huxley is a published author, freelance travel writer and founder of Bemused Backpacker. He is also a charge nurse by vocation with an interest in emergency nursing and travel medicine, but his real passion is travel. Since finding his wanderlust a decade ago in South East Asia, he has bounced from one end of the planet to another and has no intention of slowing down.

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51 comments on “Is Solo Travel Ever Truly Solo?
  1. Dave Cole says:

    Very insightful post, Mike! I think you capture the benefits of traveling solo quite nicely. It’s the community and experiences that result from the freedom of solo travel that I have always enjoyed.

  2. Laura says:

    I’m glad you enjoy travelling solo and don’t get lonely, we travel as a couple and find it is harder to make friends than when you’re just on your own. So in some ways maybe couple travelling is lonelier than solo travel!

    • That’s a great point Laura, I think it is in some ways. It doesn’t have to be of course, I have met many great couples on the road, but I think in general couples tend to be a little more insular in their own company and people are slightly less likely to want to intrude. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  3. Bob R says:

    That’s precisely why I’ll always (whenever possible and practical) hit the road on my own. Meeting people is never a problem when you’re going solo. I’ve always found the opposite, finding solitude when I’m not solo, to be much more difficult.

  4. noelmorata says:

    I agree, solo travel gives you ample opportunity to meet people you typically won’t be able to meet so being in this scenario and staying in these venues make it easy to meet and greet, talk travel and share stories.

  5. Tracie Howe says:

    It is so true that you meet more people when traveling alone than if you are traveling with someone. I haven’t traveled alone in a while, but I miss it. The possibilities are endless! However, I have felt incredibly lonely during those times that I have found myself completely alone. That feeling is probably the only thing I fear (other than spiders), but it’s worth fighting through to get to that wonderful state of freedom while traveling.

    • That is one of the downsides Tracie, personally I’ve learned to be comfortable in my own company as much as I am in the company of others, so I don’t really get lonely. In fact most of the time I enjoy the solace that being truly alone brings me. I agree however it isn’t for everyone, but as you and others say if you ever do feel lonely it is so easy to find company that it does tend to negate the problem, and the benefits of solo travel such as the freedom are more than worth it. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  6. Calli says:

    Very insightful and interesting read Mike! While the majority of our travel has been done as a couple, Travis and I still find time to go out and explore on our own, everyone needs some alone time now and then.

  7. Gail at Large says:

    This post has really resonated with me because a vasty majority of my travel since age 18 has been alone, and my greatest adventures have always been during those times. I revelled in the freedom of not consulting with anyone before making a decision, and being spontaneous. On the rare occasions I travelled with friends, the opportunities for serendipity just weren’t the same because there are always inconveniences for someone or it wasn’t possible to do with more people. It can also get tiring having to run every little thing (what to eat, where to eat, when to eat!) by other people. I find it far less stressful, overall, to travel solo. I got married last year knowing full well it would impact the way I travel now, and knowing I will have to get used to travelling differently. We recently took a trip to West Africa, where I realized I have a ways to go before I fully adjust to travelling as a couple. I can’t undo decades of the solo travel mentality that quickly, it’ll take more time.

    Most people don’t understand the benefits of solo travel, because they won’t even try it. I think they’re really missing out!

    • I totally agree Gail, and I understand the difficulty of having to learn to travel with someone! ;D Travelling with a partner can be great too, but it does take sacrifice and compromise which can be hard if you are used to the freedom of solo travel. Thanks so much for the comment. 🙂

      • Gail at Large says:

        Argh! Vasty=vast…

        I also wanted to mention that my personality is actually more suited to travelling solo: I become bolder when interacting with the locals. When in a group or with others, I have a natural tendency to fall into observation/listening mode and let others do the talking. When I’m alone I don’t have that tendency because there is no group dynamic.

        Some people call this shyness, but it’s not the same thing — I’m perfectly capable of communication, but on my own terms.

      • You’ll find a lot of people are exactly the same Gail, the personality spectrum is far more complex than just the Introvert/Extrovert extremes. I’m personally quite extroverted but with a very insular, self reflective side too where I am very comfortable in my own company for long periods, and I’ve found that solo travel completely fits my personality too. I’ve found also that those who have been truly shy, true introverts, can gain a lot of self confidence and self awareness from travelling solo, essentially ‘bringing them out of their shell’ for a lack of a better term. It’s just a great way to travel for everyone! ;D

  8. antonette says:

    Great article! I’ve never traveled alone longer than a couple of days and found that I usually really enjoyed it. However after a couple of days I was ready to get in touch with others again as I love to talk and discover other people and their interests…

  9. Karen Warren says:

    I travelled solo when I was much younger and found many of the advantages that you describe. But it’s a long time since I’ve travelled on my own – I’m not sure how I would find it now!

  10. Mindi says:

    So true. I have been lonelier traveling with the wrong person compared to when traveling solo.

  11. Adventurer Stacey says:

    I love solo travel! You’re never truely alone and never lonely. Well, I don’t get lonely anyway.

    The photo’s are wonderful too. Love the one with the Indian girl! Her dress is lovely and you both look so happy! 🙂

    • Thank you so much Stacey, I agree I never get lonely either! There is a really nice story behind that photo though, I was sitting on my own having a drink of water in the heat and this girl came up and gave me her scarf because the sun was too strong for my unprotected neck and scalp (I had really short shaved hair then) and proceeded to wrap it round my head. No scam, no expectation of anything, she was just doing something nice for a stranger on the road. How awesome is she?

      • Adventurer Stacey says:

        That is a really lovely story! Did she speak any English to explain what she was doing or did she just come upto you and put this scarf on you and you just went with it?

      • She knew a little English, enough to say sun, shake her head and point at my neck and head! And I knew how to say hello and thank you in her language, so with that and a few gestures and hand signals we got along. 🙂 But yeah I pretty much went with it too, haha!

      • Adventurer Stacey says:

        She said sun and pointed. Awww! I’m so glad you got a photo too, so you have a prompt for years to come, something that makes you go, “oh yes! I remember her!”

  12. Marie-Carmen says:

    I’ve got to agree, you are never alone when you do solo backpacking, at least if you want too.
    Funny that ,since I travel as a couple, we get less travellers talking to us but so many more locals coming for a tchat, couldn’t explain why!

  13. Marie-France says:

    Great post, and so very true! As an independent (and mostly solo) traveller myself, I can attest to the fact that travelling solo doesn’t mean being alone. It is completely up to you how social you want to be at any given moment. You can spend as much time on your own or with others as you want!

  14. Dave says:

    Well said Michael I think you rounded off the topic quite clearly. I feel the same way when I’m traveling solo, rarely making it to a space where I’m truly alone unless I go out of my way to step off the grid and go camping or something of the like.

    In my experience I usually run into this problem, and I wanted to ask if you ever experience anything similar..normally in my first six months of a solo trip I feel at one with my new surroundings and start to feel like I would love to fall off the map and never come home. But somewhere in the 6 month to first year time frame, the random exciting friends I meet everyday or week on the road start to sadden me. And very soon I’ll miss my people back home so much that I end up jumping the next flight home and stay there for a good chunk to have a little stability maybe, but more so to catch up and ground down with the home situation.

    And suddenly I find myself on another plane or boat to the next land. Ah what a lovely vicious cycle we lead!

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment Dave. I know exactly what you mean, it’s completely natural for feelings and wants/needs to ebb and flow like that, we’re only human right?

      I do tend to alternate periods of real solace (alone in jungles, deserts etc) with periods of travelling alone but being sociable and then periods joining up with other travellers or travelling with someone for a short while. I’ve never reached that point though where the solo part of it – or the transitory nature of the relationships backpackers tend to have – has had such a negative affect, especially to the point of needing to go home. And bear in mind that I have also travelled before mobile phones became popular and smartphones/skype were commonplace. Perhaps the next time you feel like that it may be a good idea to find a place you like with a good hostel (or cluster of beach huts) and stay there for a while, settle in, and take the time to skype/text/chat with everyone back home as well as just hang out with the other travellers and locals around you. That may fulfill your need for stability?

      But that cycle of wanderlust never ends! ;D

  15. TheBohoChica says:

    I love how you say that there is solace to be found in your own company. I agree with everything that you say in this post and this is why I will always love solo travel. I don’t believe that it’s the best way to travel for everyone, but I do believe it is the best way for me. Everyone should experience it at some point in their lives. It is a truly wonderful way to see the world!

  16. Kat says:

    “There is a huge world of difference between being alone and being lonely.” – Bang on.

  17. Kristen says:

    I’ve found that it can definitely be a mix of both. I’ve never truly been lonely travelling solo and I’ve met some pretty great people. I have also found that when I stay in nice mid-range hotels, I always meet less people and ended up being more alone. Not in a bad way though! Sometimes is nice to have alone time in a new place to reflect on where you are and what you’re doing. Plus I know that all I have to do is head to a bar and I’ll meet someone like that!

  18. john says:

    That was a very interesting & honest account of a solo traveller, I really enjoyed reading it & it has given me the confidence to plan my holiday. I’ve been organising a holiday to SE Asia for 2 months, sigh!, to visit Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam over 1 month, mostly to spend time on the beaches swimming/snorkelling, enjoying the delicious food & discovering a whole new culture never discovered before. what’s been holding me back is that I feel like it’s unnatural to travel alone at age 49, because I don’t feel like I would meet as many travellers in my age group & not sure that people in their 20’s who mostly travel in those regions would accept me in to their groups, and maybe I wouldn’t want that anyhow, considering they drink a lot & get carried away a lot, not to say they all do that, but most of them do. but after reading the article, I realised it’s my journey, done at my pace, the way I want to do it & of course I will meet people, just the same way I’ve been meeting them here in Sydney for over 40yrs, because I am a confident person, confident speaker, happy positive soul that loves being around good people. So there is nothing to hold me back 🙂

    • Thank you John. I’m really happy you liked it and it has had a positive effect like that. Everyone will find their own individual pace and journey, and their is nothing stopping you from doing the same. As you say, there is nothing stopping you!

  19. chiaracerigato says:

    I believe the reason why the connection with people you meet when traveling solo is much more intense than that with people you have around in common life is that, when you travel on your own, you can decide which person to be. In common life we are often related to an image of ourselves that the others have created: you are the shy girl your best friend knows, you are the polite guy your mom sees. People expected a behaviour from us and often we are influenced by this expectation. But when you travel solo, any expectations disappear. You meet people that don’t have any idea of you. You can show the part of you you really want to show: yourself. No matter what your usual friends could think about if they saw you there. That’s freedom. That’s why the memories of those people you met all around the world will always be important even if you start forgetting their names and faces.
    However, this is my opinion, the opinion of a young Italian solo traveler

    • Oh I absolutely agree Chiaracerigato! You don’t have to ‘be’ anyone when you are travelling, the person you are at home doesn’t matter, no one knows you and you can completely be yourself, reinvent yourself, change your life even! I think that is part of the reason travelling solo is just so profound and freeing too. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  20. justy says:

    I love travelling and travel a lot my myself as don’t know many people who would spend all their saving on travelling. I dream of more secluded and unknown (to me) part of the world but as a single female traveler I am quite worried about my safety … anyway since I do not know anyone who want to go hiking in Mexico I decided this year to spend 2 weeks in mexico my myself. A lot of people are letting me Mexico is not safe and they think going there by myself is crazy. But you live once and I am 40 and don’t know how long I will be so fit to climb volcano so I decided I will go this year but I must admit I would prefer to go there with a friend. … or to turn into a man for these 2 weeks :-/

    • Thanks for the comment Justy, don’t let fear put you off following your solo travel dreams. I assure you gender has no affect on whether it is dangerous or not, men can be victims of a crime just as much as women can, so this myth that it is somehow safe for men to travel and dangerous for women needs to be stopped. Any solo traveller can travel safely and securely with the right knowledge, the right information and the right preparation. This may help you https://bemusedbackpacker.com/2013/11/11/solo-female-backpacker-safety-tips/ So go to Mexico for two weeks, have an amazing time and get used to travelling alone, and then you can start planning a longer solo trip once you see how amazing – and safe – it is. 🙂

  21. leftofcentralx says:

    I traveled alone in India, then Thailand. I enjoyed being alone in India FAR more than in Thailand. Why? Because in India, there was still a sense of mystery and adventure about travelling around. I felt very alone in the first few days but looking back on it, it was some of the most exciting times. Particularly wondering around the werid districts of Mumbai and chatting to locals on the Chowpatti Beach. The locals wanted to know about you and were generally warm and lovely. I met other solo traveller’s on the train and sparked some long-term friendships. Once I got used to India I felt truly happy being alone OR in company. Always calm and peaceful. In Thailand however, I felt out of place being alone… most people were in groups of friends, most locals in the tourist industry were fed-up of travellers and understandably so. I found myself feeling very self-conscious of being alone.

    • I have to say I never felt like that at all in Thailand, travelling alone or with others (I have done both there). But I know exactly what you mean about India. It is just such an amazing place. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  22. Shuni Vashti says:

    Reading this, I feel like I’m the author of this article. I dare say, I know what you are talking about.

    I also have been asked so many times, “Don’t you feel lonely?” regarding to my solo traveling. For me, it’s more than an “Of course not!” answer. It’s like being asked if I have been to the moon. What makes people come up with such a question??

    Now I understand. The key is that while for me there is a huge world of difference between being alone and being lonely, for others, Alone and Lonely live in the same world.

  23. Katrina says:

    Love solo travel. The other day I was sitting in an airport playing cards, clearly bored, and a man came up to me and showed me a card ‘riddle’. That wouldn’t have happened had I been with anyone else. Sometimes you just have to face your fear and go with the flow.

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a published author, qualified nurse and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent 15 years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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