I’VE BEEN BLESSED to have spent a combined total of three years in the last decade backpacking and travelling through 25 countries across 4 continents.
My first foray abroad without parents was as a painfully shy teenager at the tender age of 17 to the Balearic island of Ibiza in the late ’90s.
My buddy and I were virginal lambs to the slaughter for two weeks in the hedonistic island infamously spawning the Sky One Ibiza Uncovered TV show which helped propel the new breed of fly-on-the wall reality shows that continue to pollute our screens in the Jersey/Geordie Shore format.
Early 20’s brought my first real taste of travelling alone when I spent three months backpacking down the west coast of Canada and the U.S. stopping at Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, L.A. and Vegas. I was still a shy little creature at that point and barely left my private dorm room.
Subsequent journeys inter-railing around Europe, visiting Asia and most recently nine months abroad in South America have certainly pushed me outside my comfort zone and accelerated my own growth in certain areas. I’ve experienced new sights both with and without companions and while it’s always nice to have a familiar face, I much prefer going it alone confident that I can meet people en route.
I’ve met many travellers of various ages and different mindsets. Some terrified of solo travel while on the flip-side others eagerly embracing the uncertainty and quashing their fear. The various benefits I’ve encountered from travelling alone include:
- Confidence – Without a doubt the best way to grow your confidence in any endeavour or discipline is to jump in at the deep end (except for novice swimmers!). Fortunately, hostels are a breeding ground for like minded, interesting people from all walks of life and it is very easy to meet new friends even for the shyest of travellers. Thanks to travel bibles like Lonely Planet or Hostelworld it’s easy to know what to expect in advance, minimising the risk of nasty surprises.
- Language – I lived in Montpellier, France for 3 months but barely made an effort to learn the language. I was with my Irish friend for the majority of that time and we clung to each other like life rafts on nights out opting for safe English instead of trying to learn French. The flip side of that was when I travelled solo in South America. I used sites like Conversation Exchange to meet locals and exchange languages, an easy and free way to get to know your chosen city.
- Freedom – Appeasing everyone in your group by agreeing an activity and schedule can be very annoying. I love the sense of freedom in dictating my own movements or travel itinerary. If I fall in love with a city, I can easily extend my stay. In a group, I’d probably submit to the majority vote and be convinced otherwise.
- Expense – Solo travel can be relatively inexpensive especially if going down the dorm route. Many hostels have kitchens and travellers are keen to share responsibilities (and cost) by pitching in a small amount and preparing a big cauldron of food that can be portioned out. I found myself spending less than I would had a friend travelled with me, because I didn’t have the desire to party as hard, spending more time relaxing.
- Friendships – I made many more friends during solo travel than I did when I had friends with me. We’re social creatures whether we like it or not and the long stretches of time travelling on buses/trains and planes in silence compelled me to reach out when an opportunity was presented to me. We crave human contact and I doubt if I would have made the same effort if I had a comfortable go-to friend.
I’m not knocking the idea of going on trips with friends. What I’m trying to do is dispel the myth that solo travel is hard or scary. It can certainly feel a little overwhelming from the safe confines of your familiar surroundings before you’ve even left your own home but it’s amazingly easy once you’ve committed.
No one I’ve ever met has ever returned from travelling solo or with friends and regretted it. So what are you waiting for!?
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Mark Twain