I have written a lot in the past about how awesome solo travel is and it is absolutely true, but that doesn’t mean it is without its problems, perils and pitfalls too. The truth is solo travel isn’t for everyone and for those who do travel alone there will be times when it can be hard. But for those solo backpackers, it is these times that can – and will – turn you into a damn superhero!
It isn’t just about increasing your overall level of awesomeness simply by virtue of all the amazing things you will see and do, the things you accomplish and the feats you achieve that will elevate you above the mere mortals you left back home, it isn’t even about the fact that world travel can improve your mind, your soul and even your physical body far beyond what you were when you first bought that plane ticket, although these things certainly do play a part in your transformation from a meek, mild mannered worker bee to an all around awesome travel superhero, (the cape is of course optional)!
I still maintain that solo travel is the best way to see the world, it will open your eyes and send you on a journey of self discovery as much as it will allow you to explore the countries and cultures you are visiting, but for many travellers, especially those who have never backpacked alone before – or have even travelled anywhere – it can be an extremely scary and nerve wracking prospect. These nerves go far beyond the usual concerns and fears about safety and security. Apart from not getting carried away with the usual fear mongering that is pushed by the mass media – and often your parents, friends and love ones too – having concerns and wanting to take practical steps to ensure your own safety is a good idea. In fact it is absolutely essential. Listening to that spider sense in the back of your mind and knowing how to act is an essential part of keeping yourself safe anywhere, not just on your travels. But those nerves often go deeper than that too.
What I am talking about here is the fear of going alone, of feeling alone, the fear of being exposed, the fear of not being able to cope.
I’m telling you now that it is absolutely okay to be a little nervous about solo travel at first. It is normal to be a little afraid, it is normal to be a little apprehensive. These are natural human emotions. You will not be a travel superhero overnight and no one will expect you to be. The trick is not to let that initial fear overcome you and stop you following your dreams.
One of the biggest problems for many first time travellers is that their upcoming solo trip will be the first time they have ever been alone – truly alone – for any significant length of time. Whatever happens you will only have yourself to rely on, you won’t have that safety net of another person to fall back on if things go wrong, and this is often a great source of worry for many people.
It is important to remember that on any trip things can and often will go wrong. Transport will get delayed, you will make the odd cultural faux pas, you may get sick or have to deal with any number of cons, scams or emergencies. Whatever it is, nothing will go right for you all of the time. Travel isn’t like that. Life isn’t like that. But it is equally important to remember that whilst it is almost inevitable that things will go wrong, it is how you react and deal with these situations that can make you or break you.
Being put through the fire of the forge and the hammer of the anvil makes the weapon harder, stronger, less likely to break under pressure. And the same is true for solo travellers.
Apart from giving you some awesome tales to tell back home, the mishaps and problems that can occur on your travels can make you stronger and more able to deal with anything that happens in the future. Trust me, I’ve had my fair share! I’ve been caught in a sandstorm, lost in the jungle, caught up in the arab spring and so many more, but many of these have become some of my best travel stories! Every little problem that you come across is a learning experience ensuring you will have the confidence and the knowledge to deal with it better next time. Every emergency is a hammer blow that will forge you into a stronger, more confident person.
Superman had to face his kryptonite to be considered a hero, Iron Man had to become a hero without his armour, Green Lantern literally had to face fear, and the Hulk, well the Hulk just smashed things. But none of them became superheroes without facing that fire.
The more you are forced to rely on yourself to deal with emergencies, the calmer, stronger and more independent you become and that translates into every aspect of your life, every fibre of your being, even long after you have finished your trip and come home. The strength and the confidence that comes with knowing you can deal with anything will change you for the better. That paperwork problem at work will seem like child’s play compared to the time you had to deal with embassy red tape when you lost your passport. The emergencies that crop up in everyday life will be more bearable after you have faced down much worse situations on your own and outside of your comfort zone. Those petty squabbles and differences of everyday life will seem so insignificant and irrelevant after you have seen some of the most wondrous, awe inspiring sites on the planet off your own initiative. Trust me. Confidence doesn’t just come from thin air, and if you want to be able to face any situation in your personal life or your future career with the unflappable, ice cold sophistication of James Bond on a schmoozefest, then you have to earn that.
Once you have dealt with your first tout, your first scam, your first lost ticket, passport or other travel emergency, you will find it easier to deal with next time and not only learn valuable lessons on how you can deal with future situations, but the fact that you can deal with them too. And that is a truly liberating revelation.
But it isn’t just learning how to deal with bad experiences that makes the solo traveller a superhero. Solo travel also forces you to look deep into yourself, into who you truly are as an individual. Those often exalted times where you can do what you want, when you want without worrying about anyone else can also sometimes turn into your worst nightmare if you let it. Not everyone is comfortable in their own company at first, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of having no one they know around them. They will crave company, friendship, companionship. You see, being truly alone imposes a need for introspection, it forces you to truly look at who you are, at all the good and the bad, and to become comfortable with that.
Being alone will force you to look deeply at all those little chinks in the armour, all those little flaws that every single one of us has. It will force you to recognise and acknowledge them.
All of those times spent alone in cafe’s or food courts when you don’t feel like being alone, those times spent in crowded hostels when you could use a little space, the awesome people you meet who will force you to talk, to interact. All of these and many more will expose your inner personality. If the thought of walking into a crowded food court or a busy restaurant on your own fills you with dread, the best way to deal with that is to just do it. If the thought of talking to people you have never met before in a hostel worries you, then the only way to get past that is to walk over and say hello. (Backpackers are generally a friendly bunch, I promise they won’t bite!)
Solo travel forces you to do that. It forces you to get past those little worries and concerns.
Because when you have the freedom to do what you want, when you want, who you really are on the inside comes out. All those roles we play at home to fit into social, family or work situations will get stripped away. Who you are on the inside is on display for everyone – including yourself – to see. You have to deal with it. You have no choice. It isn’t about getting rid of those flaws by some magical form of attrition. Solo travel isn’t a miracle cure all that will turn everyone into revered demigods overnight. It is about learning about our own flaws and understanding them. It is about becoming comfortable with each and every aspect of our individual personalities and learning to live with them.
It is about learning who you really are and being comfortable with that.
That is an amazing feeling. When you have no role to play, no one to impress or no societal or familial rules telling you who you are and how you have to behave, you can reinvent yourself. You can truly discover who you are, what you want to be, and you can follow the path that makes you truly happy. Too many people go through life unhappy because they are essentially living someone else’s life, they are acting in a role of the person everyone else expects them to be, they aren’t living their life in a way that is true to who they are or what they want. Even worse than that a great many people don’t even know that, they don’t know who they truly are because they have never had the chance to truly scrutinise themselves outside of their comfort zone, they have no idea why they are unhappy because they have never had the opportunity to explore that side of themselves. Once you know who you are, once you are comfortable in your own company, then any worry, concern or problem you face will intrinsically become much easier to deal with. When you can do that, when you can be comfortable with who you are in any situation, it is then that solo travel takes on a whole new meaning. It is then that solo travel truly becomes awesome! When you know you can do all of that, the fear and apprehension disappear. You will hop on a plane and travel to distant lands without a care in the world, full of confidence. Just like Superman in his fortress of solitude or Batman in his Bat Cave, You will be comfortable in your own company, you will not need anyone else beside you to hold your hand. You will know that the fear doesn’t matter because you are confident enough, strong enough, independent enough to take on anything the world has to throw at you and more.
You will be a damn superhero!
Did you enjoy this article? Have you ever travelled solo or do you want to but are letting fear get in your way? 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.