Freedom and adventure - two of the best things about travel. Traveling by yourself, you won't have to compromise either. Instead of postponing the trip you've always wanted to take because you can't find the perfect travel partner, consider going solo. You are the best travel partner you'll ever have!
Why Travel by Yourself?
Traveling on your own is very different than traveling with friends on a group tour. Here are some things that make traveling solo a great experience:
- Freedom:With no set schedule or anyone else to please, you can do exactly what you want every day. You have the freedom to do whatever it is that makes you happy, whether that's spending the whole day at flea markets or a museum, hiking in the country or sitting in a cafe, or a combination of anything else.
- Adventure:Traveling with a group, or even another person, you're somewhat isolated from the people and environment you're in. By yourself, you'll be better able to immerse in the local culture. Without a travel partner, you can change plans on a whim to take advantage of a great opportunity that's just come up. You'll also find that people are more willing to talk to you if you're alone, which can lead to an informative (or entertaining) conversation about the local area and sometimes an invitation to dinner.
- Self-discovery:Traveling on your own forces you to rely on yourself. This is a good thing. You have to take care of yourself and figure out the language, train schedules, maps, where to stay and how to get food. But once you do this all on your own, you'll have greater confidence in yourself, and discover strengths you never thought you had. With the freedom to explore your interests, you may also find interests you didn't know you had.
Common Fears About Traveling by Yourself
Your friends and relatives may think you're crazy to consider traveling by yourself. You may even have some doubts. Here are some common fears about traveling alone, along with answers to reassure others, and yourself, that you're doing the right thing.
- Safety:You are more vulnerable by yourself, but that just means you need to be more aware of your environment. Travelers, including women, have gone to places all over the world by themselves and it's the exception when something bad happens, not the rule. Don't let the fear of something bad happening keep you from traveling alone, because it may be just as likely that something could happen to you at home.
- Loneliness:You only have to be alone if, and when, you want to. You can meet people on the road, at hostels, bed and breakfasts, cafes, pubs, museums, buses, train stations—the list goes on. You just have to be open to meeting new people, which is easier if you're on your own and you don't have anyone else to hide behind or rely on. You'll nearly always find someone for company if you want. And when you want to be alone, you can be.
- Being bored:If you're considering traveling on your own, it's probably safe to say you're not the type of person that needs to be passively entertained. Traveling on your own, you'll be free to pursue your interests, which may be boring to others, but certainly not to you.
Traveling on your own can be intimidating if you've never done it before. Here are some ideas on how to get started:
- Start out with a friend:You don't have to do an entire trip by yourself. Start by traveling with a friend at the beginning of a trip. This can help you get your bearings and feel more comfortable in a new environment so you'll be confident about heading out on your own.
- Take a short trip:Your first solo trip doesn't have to be a big expedition. Try going somewhere by yourself for a weekend or a week. That way, if you're thinking about doing a much longer trip, you'll already know some of the things to expect when you're on your own.
Sometimes being on your own can be uncomfortable, or you may find yourself getting homesick. Listed below are some tips to combat those issues solo travelers face.
Always be aware of what's going on around you.
- Trust your instincts. If a situation doesn't feel right or if you don't feel safe, listen to that little voice. It's usually right.
- Follow common-sense rules to avoid compromising situations. Don't walk down dark streets by yourself at night.
- Ask for help if you feel threatened. People are often quick to help a traveler in their country, especially a traveler who is alone.
- Look confident and walk like you know where you're going, even if you don't. Avoid carrying those huge maps that pinpoint you as a lost tourist. Carry a small map, refer to it often and ask directions if you need to.
- If someone threatens you, be loud and aggressive to show that you're not an easy target. Don't be afraid to yell.
At some point, you will get lonely, which isn't such a bad thing sometimes. It can make you appreciate the friends you have, and the new ones you make. To combat loneliness, try these tips:
- Bring a couple photos of friends, family and your home. Share them with others you meet on the road who are interested in where you're from.
- Write postcards to the people you miss the most.
- Keep a journal, and write down anything that comes to mind. You can write about your thoughts and feelings, or make lists of the things you saw that day or the weird food you've eaten so far.
- Read books or watch local movies about the places where you're traveling to get more into the local culture. Reading books or watching movies that take place in your home city or country can sometimes make you less lonely, and can sometimes make you more homesick.
- Go somewhere social, like a hostel common room or cafe to meet people.
Being Comfortable With Yourself
In our busy lives, we don't often get a chance to spend time alone with ourselves, so it can be strange to suddenly have all this time to yourself. Here are some ways to be more comfortable about being on your own:
- Don't worry about what others think. Some people may assume that because you're traveling alone you must not have any friends, or there's something wrong with you. Be confident, and if you want, explain why traveling solo is a great experience.
- Let yourself think. Time on your own gives you a chance to figure things out, especially if you're considering a big change or taking your life in a new direction.
- If you're not used to eating by yourself, dine in smaller cafes where other people are likely to be eating alone. If you don't want to sit in a restaurant by yourself, get food from the local market for a picnic. When eating in restaurants, bring a book or invite someone you've recently met in your travels. You can also just enjoy being on your own and people-watching.
Suggestions from the REI Staff
Bruce Herring, of REI Bellingham, spent 5 months on a solo backpacking trip in New Zealand several years ago. More recently, he's traveled with friends to climb in Mexico, Bolivia and Africa. "There are clear pros and cons of traveling alone or with someone," he said. "Clearly, solo travel allows you the most freedom. You can go wherever you want, whenever you want. More 'whims' and spontaneity are allowed." On the flip side, Brian sometimes found himself looking for a partner to share experiences with when he was traveling solo.