Sometimes people tell me that they think it’s brave of me to travel by myself and that they could never do it themselves. My response to that is usually along the lines of everybody being different and wanting different things, and how that’s completely fine. Sometimes people seem to pity me for not having someone to travel with. To that my response usually is that I’m not going to wait for someone to take me travelling.
My first ever solo trip was to Denmark when I was 20. I was going strawberry picking on the island of Samsø. I’d researched and arranged everything, and felt totally ready for it. Even the bus ride over to Aarhus was fine, because I chatted most of the way with my Danish neighbour who was going home after having visited her boyfriend. Once at the strawberry farm in Langemark, I felt miserable and homesick. What had I gotten myself into? Luckily the feeling wore off and I ended up having a good time, albeit still not really knowing what I was doing!
Two years later, I went on a working holiday to Australia. I’d recently bagged my bachelor degree, and I was so ready to get out of the country and explore someplace new! Once in Sydney, I felt really overwhelmed. I hadn’t booked any accommodation for the first night (quite difficult without a credit card) and had to figure out all this work stuff by myself, like applying for a Tax File Number, opening up a bank account and looking for jobs. I’d even lost my wallet, which freaked me out but, thankfully, I got it back the same day. Luckily, I had met a more seasoned traveller, who was from close to my home town, at the airport and we stayed together for the first few days. In our dorm room, another seasoned traveller provided a listening ear to overwhelmed, 22-year-old ‘San Solo’. Those two people helped me out in getting my ‘solo travelling feet’. It also made me realise that I never want to feel dependent like that again. It was time to take charge, which I even succeeded at every once in a while.
That first time in Australia, I had felt lonely quite often. I managed to turn it around later on, but that feeling of being lonely and lost, impacted me enough to search for a travel buddy for my travel to New Zealand three years later. My travel buddy and I didn’t click though and after six weeks, we went our separate ways. A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I started connecting with people and started actually having a good time. I had worried about loneliness for nothing, because travelling with that guy made me feel far more lonely than travelling by myself.
I’ve made many mistakes travelling and I believe it’s only natural, because you live and you learn. Well over a decade later, I can say I’m more of a seasoned traveller (in Western countries), even though I by no means know everything. One of the most important things is to stay safe. Don’t take unnecessary risks and don’t be stupid. Also, travelling solo doesn’t mean you need to be pitied; there are actually some great sides to travelling by yourself! Here are some of my realisations and perhaps revelations of travelling solo.
Have a plan that is at least semi-organised
At least know where you’ll be sleeping the first few nights, have your important papers organised (leave copies at home), have a way your family can contact you etc. If not for your own piece of mind, then at least for your family’s.
It’s easier to connect with people if you’re travelling by yourself
I’ve noticed this when travelling with my mom. We consider ourselves inviting and friendly people, and we’ve had lovely chats, but compared to my solo travels there seemed to be less contact. I’ve heard this from other people too, as if the barrier to come up and talk to two people instead of one is higher?
Learn to trust yourself
If something doesn’t feel right, do something about it to change the situation. Listen to your gut. Don’t take risks you don’t need to take. For example, in Coral Bay (Australia), I stayed at a hostel and in the 10-bed dorm, for one night I was the only girl among 9 guys. I should have gone to the reception and say something about it, but I didn’t. And to show my immaturity: I threw water at the guys that were snoring that night. So stupid!
Don’t fear being alone
Don’t let your fear of loneliness impact your plans and travels. Travelling by yourself is character building, it’s self-empowering, it’s giving yourself space to grow. Travelling solo will hopefully teach you to be(come) comfortable with your own company.
You can do what you want
The only person you need to take care of is yourself. You don’t owe anyone anything. If you don’t want to get out of bed, then don’t. You don’t have to discuss what to eat for dinner. You can change plans last minute if it suits you. Your mom is not with you to tell you dinner is ready, so if you want to eat a second dinner at 11 PM then do so! And yes, I actually did this when I was in Napier. A guy had cooked the most amazing curry from scratch which took hours. I’d already had my dinner, but it smelled so good that I ended up enjoying some of that curry at 11 PM. I felt so rebellious, hahaha. Travelling solo can make you rethink the things you know and change your frame of reference.
You don’t have someone to share your experiences with
Travelling with my mom last December/January, made me realise how awesome it is to be able to share experiences with someone. Unless you made (lasting) friendships, when you travel solo you are the only one in that moment. When you get home it can be harder to relay the experience because nobody else was there with you. This feeling can really suck, but I think it’s better to have experienced it by yourself than not at all. I surely wouldn’t trade my experiences travelling around solo for anything.
Other people may not understand your growth through travel
When I started travelling solo, I learned about a part of myself that I didn’t know before. And I liked that part. I loved chatting with local people, connecting with backpackers, I was able to hold my own, I felt like me. Over the years, I’ve managed to ‘integrate’ positive, travel San Solo into hard working, serious, daily life San. My outlook on life and the things around me has changed, because of my enriched frame of reference. Travelling with my mom not only meant showing her a country I love, but also showing her this part of me that I’ve become so proud of.
Do you travel solo? What realisations or revelations have you had?