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.
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.
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.
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