Travelling solo had never really crossed my mind; I mean, why would you intentionally isolate yourself from your loved ones, and what fun would there be in exploring a new place when you had no one to share it with? Getting on an aeroplane alone, dining alone, getting around alone – it all seemed a little too lonely (and scary!).
But it is now – after navigating my way around an unfamiliar country by myself – that I realise how wrong I was. After unexpectedly being made redundant, I figured that there was no better time to up and leave – and at such short notice, there was no way I’d find a travel companion, so I had to go it alone. Within a week of being told I was losing my job, I was high up in the sky, about to start an adventure that turned out to be the opposite of what I expected it to be. I experienced the generosity of strangers, found friends in people I’d never have imagined to, and learnt a hell of a lot about myself, and life itself. That’s why I’m with the camp that firmly believe everybody needs to travel alone at least once in their lives, here’s why:
You’re the boss
If you’ve ever been away with others and not quite seen eye-to-eye about places you’d like to visit, or the amount you’d like to spend, this will feel like a breath of fresh air. You are the master of your plans – you can go wherever you want, do whatever you want, sleep in when you like, and spend how much or as little as you want, without anybody judging you. You get to do what you like to do, at your own pace – no compromises involved – and it’s brilliantly satisfying (and cheaper).
You’re not actually alone
There are hundreds of people who are in the same situation as you – and you’ll meet them along the way. On the plane, at your accommodation (I’d recommend booking into 6-person dorms at hostels as you meet so many people this way), at tourist attractions and guided walks: independent travellers are everywhere. As well as fellow travellers, you’ll befriend shop owners and locals of all ages, often accidentally, such as when you’re shopping, asking for directions, or sitting next to them on a bus. Everybody has a story to tell, and being open, friendly and smiley will mean you get to hear theirs, and share your own. After meeting so many genuine, good people – from the guy who lent me his coat for the entire day as I’d forgotten mine, to the girl who offered to show me around town on my first night, and the local shopkeeper who told me the best place to find cheap clothes – I came home feeling like I’d had my faith in humanity restored. And I’m able to keep in touch with many of the people I met thanks to the wonders of modern technology such as Facebook and WhatsApp.
Face your fears
Ever been too nervous to ask a stranger for directions or to take a picture for you? Too afraid to dine out in a restaurant alone? When travelling, you’ll often find yourself in situations where you’re out of your comfort zone, with no safety blanket and nobody to call on or fall back on. There were numerous times where I got lost, situations where I felt uneasy – and at one point I even ended up in hospital as I’d passed a kidney stone – and whilst these were scary experiences, I’m thankful for them as I learned so much about myself as a result. Travelling independently stretches you; it tests you and helps you discover your self-confidence and self-esteem because you always manage to find a way through (although it may not always feel like it at the time!).
Get to know the real you
No, I’m not going to pull out the overused and clichéd “I found myself” statement. But travelling does involve spending serious time alone with your thoughts, and whilst at times it may get lonely, it helps you learn about yourself, and lets you learn to enjoy your own company. Sounds strange, I know, but you almost get to know yourself from the inside out – you figure out your strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, and get to listen to the different voices in your head – it’s the perfect time for reflection and personal growth. I kept a journal throughout my travels, so any time I was alone, I’d fill up a few pages with what I was feeling and what I’d been doing, and I this helped me connect with my innermost thoughts and also helped me to discover what it actually is that I want to get out of life.
Free yourself and your mind
You’re more likely to reach out to others, and be approached by others, when you’re alone rather than when you’re with travel buddies. There’s this overwhelming sense of freedom you get, and it enables you to act out of sheer curiosity – go exploring with new people you’ve just met, embrace a country’s culture with open arms, try new foods – and you find that you appreciate things more. You’re more open to new experiences – when was the last time you jumped into an 80 metre deep lake, just for the fun of it? For me, it was whilst I was travelling – I went with the moment, and with the new friends I’d just met, we all had a swim in the pouring rain. Now I’m home, I’m feeling brand new, and refreshed – I came home to see all my belongings in my room – and realised that I’d lived out of a suitcase for a month and not needed any of the 20 hair products I was looking at now – travelling helps you put things into perspective.
Well, you only live once (YOLO, as us cool kids say), so give it a shot – there’s no harm in trying! I only went away for a total of a month, but that was enough for me – you don’t have to go away for a long period to benefit from this experience. It isn’t actually as scary as it seems, and if you go with a YOLO attitude, you’re more open to saying ‘yes’ to every new experience or opportunity. And again, it’s something I’ve taken away from the trip and am applying to life now – say yes to everything you possibly can! Obviously, use your common sense in a foreign country, do your research beforehand and be safe at all times, but remember give spontaneity a go, too!
My friends have seen that I – the least independent person of all who still has her laundry done by her mum – managed to survive a solo trip abroad, and a couple have been inspired to already take the leap and go away by themselves… If I did it, you can do it too – don’t let fear hold you back.