I don’t know how many times people have asked me ‘are you travelling by yourself?’ with a look of surprise. Yes, yes I am. And it’s perfectly fine.
No I don’t get lonely or bored, sometimes I get scared in certain situations but I’ve only had a few near misses in eight years of travel. I have to take the occasional selfie – or trust my camera to another tourist. I have to be independent and find places on my own – but the journey is half the fun!
I don’t know if it’s because I’m petite or simply because I’m a woman that people are surprised I predominantly travel alone.
I often feel like I’m in the minority. I’ve met many people who point blank refuse to go overseas without someone else. I’ve heard the line ‘I really want to travel, but I don’t want to go alone’ so many times. Or ‘I nearly went to Europe once, but then my friend backed out so I didn’t go.’ Each to their own, but if the only thing that is holding you back from solo travel is the thought that it’s scary or lonely or boring, think again.
Of course having someone to travel with would be amazing, but having no one isn’t going to stop me from exploring the world. If I’d waited for someone to come with me, I still wouldn’t have gone overseas. Instead, I accepted that I was going to travel alone and now I’m planning my third around the world trip and what will be country number 46. I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again, travel is not all about the places you go, but also the people you meet along the way.
If I had been travelling with my friends, would I have met all the other travellers I’ve now befriended? Possibly not.
I may be travelling ‘alone’, but I’m hardly ever alone. I befriend the many other travellers out there. I’m not sitting in a hotel room at night crying into my dinner flicking through TV channels. I’m in a hostel, striking up a conversation with a complete stranger. Some are them are travelling alone or are one the road with a friend or two. I’m meeting people in my dorm, or at the hostel bar, or in the common room.
And I have a confession – I can actually be quite shy but travel brings about a whole new me. I’m more confident and keen to meet new people and hear about their world.
I’m talking to them about where they’re from, how long they’re staying at this hostel, what country they were just in and where they’re going next and asking them for recommendations of the places I should see. I’m talking to them about their country and their wanderlust – and strangers gradually become friends.
When I went to Estonia last year, I didn’t know anyone on the first night at the hostel. I went down to the bar, ordered a beer and within two minutes had struck up a conversation with a Dutch guy. We ended up touring Tallinn together, then as his plans were open he decided to come join me in Helsinki and St Petersburg.
We ended up travelling for a week together before he went home and I went onto Sweden. On that same trip, I met a Canadian and we’re doing a road trip from Vancouver to Portland in August this year.
When I went to New Zealand earlier this year, I picked up a couple of French hitchhikers at Te Anau on the South Island during my third day there. They ended up joining me for the next four days as I drove from Queenstown to Mt Cook and onto Christchurch and we were able to share fuel costs. We chatted a lot about our lives, work and travels and we became good friends by the end of our road trip together. I’m hoping to join them in Asia later this year.
When aupairing in Italy, I befriended the Canadian that joined my host family after me – we went to Rome together and even though we live on other sides of the world, we talk almost every day and meet each other somewhere around the world each year. In 2013, she visited me in Australia and we explored the Top End. Last year we went to the Greek Islands together, this year it’s the US.
In Oban, Scotland I struck up a conversation with a French guy 30 seconds after entering my hostel. We ended up touring Oban together for the next two days.
The more you travel, the more people you meet and the next time you travel the less likely you’ll be alone. Those people you met with are likely to be travelling too when you’re back out there exploring and you can arrange to meet up – or you can visit their cities and couch surf with them.
I have been offered places to stay in parts of the US, Canada, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, New Zealand and the UK solely from people I’ve met while travelling.
Of course, you won’t get along with everyone you meet on the road. Every now and then there’s people who clearly don’t want to have a chat or their travel style doesn’t mesh with yours. You won’t like everyone and no travel companion is way better than one you really don’t get along with. Just smile and move on, and do what you want to do.
Sometimes I am completely by myself but that’s fine. I just go do my own thing – wander around town, get some cool photos, hit the markets, do some shopping or tick things off my bucket list.
Occasionally I really just want to be alone for a day or two. To just take it easy, and do everything I want to do. Practice my photography hobby or go buy some clothes. I cook my meals at the hostel rather than eating out. Maybe I’m exhausted and I just want to sleep in, or go to bed early or just lay on the beach all day reading a good book.
When you travel by yourself, you’re on your own timetable. You’re doing exactly what you want to do.
And a bit of common sense will keep you safe if you’re travelling alone. When I’m on my own, I’m careful after dark and stick to the centre and in well lit areas. I don’t go into bars by myself – sticking to the hostel bar if they have one – or saving my money for when I meet other backpackers and we head to the bar.
If you want to travel, just go. You could be waiting years until someone wants to do the exact same trip as you. I’ve travelled to more than 40 countries technically alone in the sense that I made my way there by myself. I don’t regret a single thing. You’ll only regret the chances you didn’t take.