Traveling by yourself can be a very rewarding experience. You will likely experience freedom like you never have before; the world is a huge place and it is all there for you to explore. You will meet other travelers and locals and hear their stories, and then share your own with people you only just met. If you choose to take a long-term solo trip, you will learn more about yourself than you thought was possible, but at times you may also feel loneliness as your friends’ and family’s lives go on without you there.
Why travel alone?
Traveling alone may not be easy, but is it is worth the challenge. One big advantage is flexibility- you can take the trip when the time is best for you rather than waiting for friends or family to have time in their schedules to join you. In addition, you have the flexibility to do exactly what you want during your travels and do not have to compromise with someone else while making plans. If you are exhausted from a packed itinerary, you can decide to skip out on a day and just have a lazy day in your hostel, or cook a meal for your Couchsurfing host when he or she returns from work. If you are not enjoying a city, you can buy a train ticket to an adjacent town and spend time there. Traveling by yourself gives you the ultimate freedom to do what you choose.
Another benefit is that you will meet lots of people. For instance, on the 12.5 hour train journey from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, I met a girl my age studying at a university in northern Finland. We immediately hit it off, and by the end of the journey it was almost as if we were best friends, not to mention the train ride was much less boring than it would have been otherwise. On another long train ride, I happened to sit next to a well known Slovenian talk show host and we played card games for a few hours. Neither of these encounters would have been likely to happen if I had been traveling with a friend or group of friends, since I would have found it easier to talk to the people I was with instead.
Solo travel will also cause you to become self sufficient. After being stranded at the Great Wall of China because you missed the last train back to Beijing, to finding that your hostel reception desk in Venice closed an hour earlier than expected and you are stuck outside, to having your phone pick-pocketed in a crowd during Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval leaving you with no internet access for the rest of your trip, you will learn that you can get through any situation by analyzing all of your options and making the best choice. And more importantly, you will develop self confidence and reliance that you never knew you had. You will learn that your best assets for staying safe and knowing what to do when situations arise are your own wisdom and common sense.
Perhaps the most important benefit to traveling alone is that you will get to know yourself. In the absence of having friends and family around, you will discover your true self: what your lifestyle preferences are, what you enjoy, and what you dislike. You will have time to think about which things and relationships you value, and which ones you can live without. You may even pick up a new hobby. Traveling alone results in not only exploring the world, but also exploring your inner self.
Challenges of Traveling Alone
Globetrotting around the world without any companions can bring challenges, both emotional and logistical. If you are traveling long term, you will begin to miss the meaningful relationships in your life back home. Technological advances such as Skype sessions have helped mitigate the isolation experienced by those traveling abroad, but they are still not the same as spending time with others in person. Inevitably, important events will happen while you are away and you will miss out on them. Since many others travel in groups, you will look around yourself and miss the joy of your friends and family in your life. I have traveled to several awe-inspiring locations around the world and thought to myself many times that one friend or another would have loved to share in the experience as well.
I have found that the best way to deal with loneliness during solo travel is to plan for it. Live in the moment while you are experiencing something for yourself, and then if a friend pops into your mind, message them about it later. Be prepared to have some down time while you are traveling so you can call a friend during a long trip, and keep time zone differences in mind. When you return home, time with friends can seem even more valuable because you have been apart for so long, so look forward to that. The worst thing to do would be to mope in the fact that you have nobody to experience your travels with, and that you miss your friends back home. These are normal feelings to have, but dwelling on them for weeks on end will ruin your experience.
Logistical problems also arise quite often while traveling alone. One that comes up often is being in a public place like an airport with your bag and having to use the toilet. What I prefer to do in this situation is strike up a conversation with someone who looks trustworthy around me, and then after talking for a bit, asking them to watch my bag while I use the restroom. Not only will you avoid having to take your bag into a dirty toilet stall, but you might also make a friend. Of course, if there are no trustworthy-looking people around, your bag will hopefully be small enough that it will not be an issue. Other logistical problems that might arise could be along the lines of needing a minimum number of people to book an activity or needing a companion while hiking in remote wilderness to ensure safety. In both of these cases it might be possible to link up with other travelers along your route and travel together.
Although there are many challenges associated with solo travel, the benefits make it worthwhile. Many of my trips by myself have been more enjoyable than those I have taken with others, since I am more likely to meet others as well as become more self-sufficient and grow as a person. Even if you are a very introverted person, you will likely branch out and surprise yourself.
At the very least, I would not discount an experience or trip just because you have nobody to go with. Take the leap and book your ticket; you’ll be glad you did.