Solo travel is one of the best ways to travel the world, and I will always advocate that every traveller try it at least once in their lives, but it isn’t for everyone and like everything in life there are negatives to go with the positives. Here are the 10 downsides to travelling alone that no one will tell you about.
Most of the trips I have taken in the last fifteen years have been solo, not all of them of course but the vast majority. A lot of people still don’t understand why I love it so much, but the truth is – apart from me being an increasingly antisocial grumpy old sod of course – is that solo travel is freedom in its purest form. I love it.
But the truth is there are downsides too. Nothing in life – and I mean absolutely nothing – is perfect. Everything has the bad to go with the good, everyone has their down days, and solo travel is absolutely no exception.
The big problem is that hardly anyone ever talks about the downsides to solo travel.
To me that is slightly problematic because the majority of people who are worried or nervous about setting off around the world on their own sometimes focus on some of these negatives, sometimes far too much, and it’s important that they are talked about so that first time travellers can be prepared for them, know that they aren’t as bad as they may first think and know how to deal with them.
This is knowledge and preparation versus fear of the unknown.
So in no particular order, here are the problems that all solo travellers will have to deal with.
You will be alone.
Yes, I know, that is the entire bloody point of solo travel, but so many people view this as a negative when it really, really shouldn’t be!
It is absolutely true that you will meet tons of other people on your travels, you really will. All the other posts where I have talked about how easy it is to meet people when travelling alone weren’t blowing smoke up your proverbial, they were absolutely true. The problems arise when people start travelling solo and think the entire objective is to meet as many people as possible as quickly as possible, it isn’t. Not at all. Yes you will meet other backpackers and locals and you will inevitably spend some time with them when you want or need to, but you will inevitably spend time alone too.
But that is not a bad thing!
Take that time where you are alone and use it to learn a little bit about yourself, just enjoy the you time and use that to become comfortable in your own company. That is part of the point of solo travel.
So many people try and avoid this and have a pathological need to be around people at all times. They define themselves by the people they are with and are surrounded by. Why? You don’t need to! Sure, it’s nice to spend time with other people, but what is the point if you can’t spend time with yourself too?
Learn to love yourself, understand the person you really are on the inside and strive to be that person at all times, because it is the only way you can be truly happy with yourself and the single greatest lesson on the road to absolute self reliance and self confidence.
You will get lonely.
There is a huge difference between being alone and being lonely. A huge difference. And people need to understand that before they set off on their solo adventure.
This is one of the genuine downsides to travelling solo, you will get a little bit lonely from time to time, and when you do it is never really pleasant. We are human after all and most people are inherently social creatures. This is inevitable on any long term trip or gap year, but it is important to remember that it won’t be all of the time.
Those times where you feel that you need a little bit of company or someone else to talk to other than the voices in your head, just say hi to someone! Get on Skype and call home! It’s not as if backpacking around the world is like it was 15 years ago when you had to search out an IDD phone at the back of an internet cafe. You can even join up with a few other backpackers from your hostel or even join an organised trek for a few days. There are always, and I really do mean always, ways to beat being lonely on the road.
So enjoy the times where you are alone, but take steps to avoid being lonely too.
You will wish you could share experiences with someone.
This won’t happen all the time of course but you will definitely have certain experiences or see and do amazing things and wish that there was someone there to see or do them with you. You will.
A lot of the time this can be negated by travelling with other backpackers for a day or two before you all go your separate ways again. Backpackers are generally a friendly lot, just go up and say hi!
But for those times when you are missing someone specific, remember that they will be happy for you that you are out there doing what you want to do, and concentrate on taking in as much of the experience and living it to the fullest extent you can, so that when you do speak to them you can share it with them in a slightly different way.
You will miss your loved ones.
Often this does come hand in hand with those times where you feel a little lonely. At some point during your travels you will get homesick and miss your parents, your friends, your boyfriend or girlfriend or even your dog. Especially your dog. Because dog cuddles are always awesome.
It happens, and it happens to almost everyone. There isn’t really all that much you can do about this, it is just a natural part of the human experience when you spend time away from your loved ones. The thing to remember is that it does pass and it does get better. And just as it is when you get lonely, with the technology and apps that are available now, everything from Skype to WhatsApp, you can keep in touch with friends and family at zero cost and very little effort. So if you are worried about missing people back home then schedule semi regular times where you can sit down and chat with them. Keep them updated on your adventures but listen to their day to day updates of what is happening back home too. You will honestly need to do this less and less as time goes on, but at least you know you can do it anytime and anywhere you like.
Unfortunately no one has yet invented anything that can replace a dog cuddle. Scientists really need to get onto that.
You will have to eat alone.
A big part of travelling by the world by yourself is that at some point you will have to go and eat. Alone. On your own. At a table by yourself surrounded by other people who are having the time of their lives with people they care about and staring at you as if you are the fart in the room that no one is admitting to.
Except they won’t be. Because no one really cares that you are there alone and actually eating by yourself can be pretty awesome. Seriously, do it just once and you will realise no one is staring at you, no one gives a proverbial because they are all wrapped up in their own little world. And you get to order whatever the hell you like (and not feel guilty about having dessert for starters or that third meal because it was so amazing!)
And eating by yourself is a perfect time to sit back and take in your surroundings, do a bit of people watching and examine a little bit of the culture you are visiting. The one real problem is if you are at a food court you have to be quicker than an Olympic sprinter to nab a table once you have your meal because you have no one to sit and hold one for you, which is a huge pain in the proverbial. And apparently looming over someone and staring at them menacingly until they move isn’t ‘acceptable behaviour’! Whatever that is. (Not that I have ever done that of course!)
You will get bored.
Okay, let’s admit the big one here. You are travelling the world, doing amazing things most people can only dream of, seeing awesome sights and landscapes that will stay with you for the rest of your life and taking great joy in making everyone back home jealously hate you by spamming their SM feeds with awesome selfies every five minutes. How can you get bored at that? You’ve spent all that time, effort and money heading off on the adventure of a lifetime, how can you admit to being bored?
But there will be times where you get bored. There just will be.
Life isn’t actually like your perfectly curated social media feeds. There is a lot of downtime between those awesome experiences and frankly some of that is dull. It may be on that 12 hour long distance bus journey, or sat alone in your private room one night. Maybe you’ve just been island hopping for too long and can’t stand the thought of another day laying in a hammock on the beach. You’ll get bored.
It happens. Even the amazing can become mundane when you get used to it. It’s human nature. Just learn to use the time well. Read those books you’ve always wanted to read (especially if it’s my own seriously awesome novel!) Take up a hobby, learn a new skill, hell you can even get a private room for the night, sit in your underpants and binge watch Netflix off your tablet if it keeps you entertained and recharges your interest in your surroundings again. We all need a bit of normalcy from time to time, and there are no rules in solo travel. You can do what you want, when you want. That is the point!
Everyone at home will think you are a weird loser for travelling alone.
It’s true, not everyone gets it. A lot of people will just not understand and there will be some people you know back home who will look at you like the Antichrist the second you announce the fact you are going on a gap year on your own. They will judge you by their own limited standards (particularly annoying as a guy when you announce you’re running off to Thailand on your own and you get a lot of frankly insulting assumptions!)
The way you deal with this is quite simple…
Just say ‘screw you bitches, you’re stuck in a crappy little office doing nothing and I’m doing awesome stuff in a bunch of tropical paradises! I win!’
You will say goodbye. A lot.
It is true that when you are travelling solo you will meet a lot of people. Sometimes you will share a drink or two, sometimes spend the night with them, and sometimes you will stay together for a few days or even a little longer as your separate journeys intersect for a while.
The downside to that of course is that at some point you will inevitably separate. The nature of being a traveller is that we each continue to travel on our own separate paths and that means we are all a constant armada of ships passing each other in the night. Sometimes this can be a good thing, but a lot of the time saying goodbye all of the time is just a little bit sad too. And it will at some point get to you.
The best thing to remember is that with social media now so prevalent and technology so ingrained in our lives, it is never difficult to stay in touch. And just think, you have all these awesome friends (because really, backpackers are the best kind of people!) all over the world! You never know when you may need a couch to crash on.
It is more expensive to travel solo.
I hesitate to mention this one because it is only kind of true, but it also isn’t. The problem is the idea of it does put a lot of people off travelling solo. The truth is some things can be more expensive if you travel alone, getting a private room or organising a guide for example, but if they are more expensive than if you were travelling with a friend or partner, it isn’t usually by all that much at all (often a lot less than people think) and the extra cost can be negated if you budget well and plan properly. Joining up with fellow backpackers to share the cost of a guide or private transport is just one easy and common way to do just that.
It IS scary.
Solo travel is scary at first. You get kicked out of your comfort zone so quickly you will feel like an asthmatic fat kid being suddenly dropped in the ring with the heavyweight champion of the world about to pummel you. But that is a good thing, because being pushed out of your comfort zone is always a good thing! When you are out there and you realise you can handle things, you can do this and you can take on the world all on your own, that is a good thing! That is what will change you, make you a stronger, better person, a damn superhero!
Solo travel is still an awesome way to see the world and I will always be a huge advocate for it. Yes it does have its downsides just like anything and everything else in life, but many of these downsides can be a good thing too, it all depends on how you look at it. Solo travel will put you out of your comfort zone, it is a little bit scary, it will make you feel like a fish out of water, but that is how you grow as a person. That is how you become a strong, independent and frankly god damn awesome world traveller!
So book that ticket, get out there and embrace your solo adventure around the world, because despite all of these downsides I guarantee it will be one of the most memorable and awesome experiences of your life.
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