Why I Love Traveling Solo
"You're going by yourself? Why?" This is probably the question I get asked the most, because it comes right after my response when people ask, “So, who are you going with?” To many people, traveling solo seems to be antithesis of traveling. Why see new places and try new things if you don’t have someone to experience it with? Why be alone on overnight buses, trains, or ferries? Why wander through strange cities solo when having a travel buddy must be safer?
The first time I traveled solo, I was 20 years old and studying abroad in Spain. I really wanted to go to Italy and Switzerland on my spring break, but couldn't find another classmate who wanted to go, too. So I decided to go by myself. And I learned a lot during those 7 days, about myself and about traveling. Traveling solo opened so many more doors for me when it came to exploring new places, but most importantly it allowed me to just go. I love traveling solo because...
I don't have to wait. This is probably my #1 reason. If I waited for a family member to finally request PTO or for a friend to follow through on their desire to see the world or for a guy whose passion for travel meets mine, I would literally never leave my doorstep. There is absolutely no reason you should limit your dreams and desires because of someone else’s schedule, time commitments, misconceptions, or fears. If you have a travel partner, I think that’s really beautiful. But for anyone else who still dreams of throwing a dart at a map and just leaving, DO IT. Do not wait for someone else to make your dreams happen. I love traveling solo because I'm not relying on someone else to make Thailand, Nicaragua, Switzerland, or Italy a reality for me.
I like going by my own schedule. I like making decisions myself; I am too indecisive otherwise. If I want to sit on a beach for two more days, I can. If I want to go bungee jumping, I can. If I want to spend the whole day in a hostel with air conditioning when it’s 105 degrees out, I sure as hell can do that, too. As a solo traveler, I decide where I want to go and when I want to leave, based simply on my whims. Many times, however, I adjust where I'm going or how long I'm staying based on the people I've met along the way and who I might end up traveling with.
I like managing my own budget. Spending money gets really interesting when you are traveling with a partner. Both of you might have Belize on your bucket list, but while one of you might be totally fine in a 12 bed mixed dorm room, the other might be thinking a villa on the beach. Both are on varying ends of the money spectrum, and the time to choose between the dorm room or the villa is before the trip, not during. I know how I prefer to travel, what I can afford, and what I'm willing to splurge on, so traveling solo is a plus for me. Basically I just sound like a control freak at this point...
People are kindhearted. I know traveling solo sounds scary and intimidating, primarily because it leaves you few options to trust anyone but yourself. But what I have found on my travels, time and time again, is that most people are genuinely kindhearted. The locals I have met in my travels love when a backpacker makes an effort to make conversation, even in broken Thai/Spanish/English. They try to help when possible, whether it is with directions or the best pad thai place around. And a smile goes a long way, no matter the language barrier. Yes, there can be thieves or scam artists around, but the same is true for any city in America. Many times these situations can be avoided by using common sense and always trusting your gut. But more often than not, traveling has shown me the depth of human kindness.
It forces me out of my comfort zone. I’m an introvert. I am probably the most outgoing when I am around my students and close friends. I am not usually the first person to make plans or rally for a wild night out. When traveling solo, I have to force myself to start conversations with people in my hostel. I seek out opportunities to sit next to people, to ask them questions, to jump in on their conversations about where they’ve been and where they’re going. Besides, it’s a given that you already have something in common with them: a passion for travel.
It challenges me. The first time I traveled solo, I was a nervous wreck. My itinerary was completely planned out - every hostel, every train ticket, every museum ticket. I was totally terrified of something going wrong. But I did it. And it was amazing! Same with Nicaragua last summer. I remember being nervous on the plane. Thailand was the first trip where I felt (pretty) confident in what I was doing, and even if something did go wrong, I felt I could handle it. And I've still been challenged: I forgot my debit card in an ATM. I hated scuba diving on the first day. I've struggled with eating Thai food. I didn't know if I should go to Chiang Mai or not. I have grown from each experience, and have learned more about myself along the way.
I am rarely actually alone. Remember those conversations I jumped in on between strangers? Those strangers typically became fast friends. I trekked Tikal with two guys from England. I went canyon jumping in Switzerland with three Notre Dame girls. I spent 8 ridiculous days in Nicaragua with four guys who became like family, after arriving solo two days before. I just got back from dinner with 7 other people who I met at my hostel - all solo backpackers: 1 from Germany, 1 from France, 1 from South Africa, 1 from Canada, and 2 from the U.S. I've been with the same 2-3 core group of backpackers for the past week on Koh Tao. We've gone diving together, grabbed dinner every night, and are staying at the same hostel. I've actually had to carve out alone time for myself on this island, but I'm lucky to be surrounded by so many kindred spirits.
My parents never discouraged it. My parents are probably the most chill parents when it comes to my travels. They are incredibly supportive, and it has made a world of difference (travel pun intended). They don’t panic unnecessarily. They don’t automatically jump to the worst case scenario. They don’t check in every minute. In fact, the first time I traveled solo five years ago, I barely heard from them. My parents are one of the main reasons I traveled solo in the first place - they never told me "No, don't do it." They always said, "Why not?" and stood back as I made my travel dreams happen.
It's really not that uncommon. I am one of MANY backpackers traveling SEA right now. I kid you not, there are SO many Western solo backpackers. Nearly everyone I've met (and I'm meeting like 3-5 different people a day, either through diving, at my hostel, or at a cafe) is backpacking and traveling solo. It's not like I'm in the Amazonian jungle without a soul in sight. I have met Canadians, Americans, Germans, Australians, Swiss, and Irish people. There are a lot of people who share the same passion for travel as I do, and who decided not to wait for someone else to finally leave. I love listening to their stories and travel experiences - Where are you from? How long are you here? Where are you going? What did you do back home? I have learned so much from other backpackers, and often times they inspire me to travel even more.
For me personally, traveling solo has been life-changing. If you've got a destination in mind, and you've put a plan in place, and all you're lacking is a travel buddy, I promise you that traveling solo is one of the best things you will ever do for yourself. Do it.