7 Reasons to Work Up the Nerve to Travel Solo

by Ekua on May 29, 2011 in d.i.y. travel,listastic,solo travel

For the last few weeks, I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about my potential summer travel plans. Many of these discussions end with an incredulous look and a comment about my ability to travel solo. I get a lot of, “I can’t believe you just go on your own!” or “I could never travel solo!”

Aside from the average American job’s lack of vacation time or having to make choices about where to spend money, one of the biggest travel deterrents is not having anyone to go with. Most people I’ve talked with do want to travel but don’t because they are afraid to go alone.

It pains me a little when people let something so minor prevent them from doing the things they want to do. So I felt inspired to write a solo travel for beginners series, starting off with seven reasons why it’s worth it to take a solo trip:

» To connect with places more deeply and foster your creativity

When I travel with people I know, I value the ability to interact with them in a different setting and the closer relationships that can come with that. At other times, I want to feel my way through a place. When I am alone in the middle of somewhere new, I’m much more able to tune into the nuances of a culture or the scenery. Solo travel’s built in need to sense and observe feeds my creativity.

» To meet people you would never otherwise meet

This seems like a given, but most people I come across who are unfamiliar with traveling solo often assume it means that you will constantly be alone. If I look back to my first solo trip, this was a fear of mine as well. But it turns out that that fear was unfounded. On the road, I mostly befriend 20- and 30- somethings with similar views on life and travel, but I’ve also made friends with local people, people significantly older or younger, and a few eccentric people. Solo travel has enabled me to make life enhancing connections with the people who everyday life probably wouldn’t have led me to connect with. When you’re away from home alone, you’re more likely to do away with the ridiculous criteria for friendship that you often inadvertently establish at home.

» To experience life at high speed

Life seems to move faster when you’re traveling solo. The surface-skirting small talk portion of friendship is usually bypassed and you might find yourself in deep discussions with people you’ve met just hours before. When you’re alone in a strange place, things that are everyday experiences for the people who live there might send you back to feeling like a child when everything seemed so new and exciting. You have to start from scratch in so many ways and in a very short period of time, adjust to unfamiliar people and places. For me, somehow this sped up life seems to stick, and things that happened in just a few days on the road can be as a significant part of my life as things that happened over the course of much more time at home.

» To challenge yourself

When I visited India, I was terrified every time I set foot in a train station or bus terminal. In fact, on every trip I’ve ever been on, I have unreasonable fears about not being able to catch the right bus or train at the right time. Airports are set up to be internationally understandable, but local transport is often a lot more esoteric. So when I take the bus or the train, I typically wish I had a travel partner to alleviate my worries. But there’s something about successfully getting from place to place on my own that thrills me. On trips where I have quite a bit of stops to make, when I get to my last destination, I want to shout, “I did it!” For me, transportation is often my biggest challenge, but there are plenty of other challenges to tackle on a solo trip like cultural immersion or simply learning to sit comfortably with your own thoughts.

» To have the freedom to experience your obscure interests

Are you an American who’s down to go to Cuba? Are you more inclined to discover gritty alleys full of street art than check out established museums? Are you anthropologically driven to explore cultures in remote parts of the world? Sometimes you’re pumped up about something that doesn’t appeal to everyone. Sometimes it’s more fun to take just your enthusiasm and to explore your interest on your own and find people who have similar interests once you get there.

» To choose your travel style and maintain your friendships

When I travel, I typically stay in basic hotels or hostels, eat street food, and take ground transportation as much as possible. While I have my moments of wanting to be more in a traditional vacation mode, this is largely the style of travel I want to stick to for now. Whenever people say to me, “I want to travel with you sometime!” I run this by them. While some people I know could absolutely hang with a budget travel style, I know a lot more people who are not willing to share accommodations with strangers, are squeamish and picky about food, want to fly everywhere, and don’t want to travel for more than a week or two at a time. I’ve seen others jeopardize relationships over vastly different travel styles (as in siblings who drove each other crazy, friends not talking for awhile after returning from a trip, etc.) and I don’t want to go there. Sometimes it’s better to go solo than travel with someone whose style has the potential to be incompatible.

» Because life is too short to wait until everything is “right”

If you’ve been thinking about going somewhere for awhile and the right travel partner with the right schedule hasn’t come along to join you, you might as well just go. If you’re able bodied, a travel partner is not a requirement for traveling the world. In the end, you’ll find that it’s easier to go for it and take the trip rather than to live with the regret of letting the opportunity pass you by.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Silvia Beatriz May 30, 2011 at 3:52 am

Hello Ekua!

I like all of them, but my favourite is number 7 » Because life is too short to wait until everything is “right”.

Cheers,
Silvia

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Ekua May 31, 2011 at 12:32 pm

My favorite as well 🙂 It’s the one that can override any excuses you may have.

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Nicolas De Corte May 30, 2011 at 6:33 am

You forgot to mention that other people can be a real pain in the ass 🙂
Since I’ve started traveling alone, I never travel with friends anymore (unless maybe a weekend to a city to party). The reason for this is that you never have a complete match, someone who wants to do exactly the same as you on exactly the same moment.
When traveling, I prefer to have “temporary” friends. People whose plans are at that moment similar to mine. And when our plans start to differ at a certain moment, you say goodbye with no hard feelings, because you don’t have any responsibility for each other.

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Ekua May 31, 2011 at 12:14 pm

That’s sort of what I was getting at in #6. I think there are some people who find the right person to travel with, but it’s not necessarily enough to be simply a friend or relative or significant other to make a good travel partner… it requires some thought!

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brian May 30, 2011 at 8:16 am

Nothing will ever be just right. That is the truth in everyone’s life. Especially for women, many want to wait until someone can/will go with them. Waiting for your BFF or your sister to get her money together/work out with her job/etc you’ll probably never go. Just get up and go!

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Ekua May 31, 2011 at 12:28 pm

You’re right that women especially have trouble setting out on their own… and also we have to deal with a lot more questioning about our choices! I have come across women who’ve found good travel partners, but they are very, very rarely from the US. In all of my travels, I can only think of one pair actually – someone who started off traveling with their sister and then did the rest of the trip solo. So I guess this post especially applies to people from the US where is not much of a culture of extended travel and those who want to do it just have to do it!

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Alouise May 30, 2011 at 1:04 pm

All great reasons. Number six is one I’m familiar with. I’ve also seen relationships break down because of incompatible travel styles. I too do a lot of budget travel, and I know a lot of my friends wouldn’t want to travel that way, which is why I like to travel alone.

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Ekua May 31, 2011 at 1:06 pm

In the States (and maybe in Canada?) there is not much of a budget backpacking culture. I think a lot of people think the way I travel with a backpack and staying in hostels is something they couldn’t do. The thing is, I’m sure anyone could learn to scale back, but I am not sure I want to be the person to introduce a friend to that!

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Abbie May 30, 2011 at 4:42 pm

One of my good friends always tells me, “I don’t know how you travel alone.” I agree with all of your points – sometimes you either have to travel alone or not go at all, and I’d rather go 😉

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Ekua May 31, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Definitely!

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Orchid May 31, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Abbie: I’m with you; I’d rather go and tell you about it later!

I haven’t done much travel outside of the US, I’m now correcting that situation. I’ve never been one to wait when I’m truly interested in doing something. Started by taking buses from school to the city when I was 9 or 10, then going to the movies by myself and escalated from there.

I’ve traveled to Mexico twice by myself; last time in 2009 and everyone I know thought I’d never make it back to the US. Amazing!

I’m older than much of you guys so my only advice to you is: “Start now. Don’t wait for the rest of the hens or you’ll never go.”

orchid

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Ekua June 1, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Thanks for chiming in, Orchid! People think its especially insane to solo travel through Mexico, but I’ve never encountered so many helpful locals and happy travelers as I did there.

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Wayne June 1, 2011 at 10:58 am

My friends dumped me on a planned two month trip to Europe when I was 27. On that trip I challenged myself to be less introverted. The things I did to accomplish that goal, like not taking a watch so I would have to talk to people to know the time, also helped raise my self esteem. I have been traveling solo every since – well except for the time I was married:-). I love your list.

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Ekua June 1, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Kudos for still going even though you were left to do it on your own. A lot of other people in that same situation might have dropped the idea if their friends cut out. Talking to random people can be challenging, but it gets easier… especially when you realize that most travelers want to make new connections and locals typically enjoy showing people their towns.

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Lola June 2, 2011 at 3:38 am

Solid piece Ekua. The last part definitely resonates the most for many people. There’s always a constant state of waiting and life certainly doesn’t wait.

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Ekua June 2, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Thanks, Lola!

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Torre June 6, 2011 at 9:49 pm

While I love traveling with my partner, the times that I’ve traveled solo are the most fixed in my memory. I think it’s that element of survival involved that makes you feel highly charged and present to the moment. That’s why everything moves at high speed and it’s a great feeling!

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Ekua June 9, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Definitely!

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Liz June 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm

You’re right. One time i traveled solo and it was THE AVENTURE of my life. I met people, i could look clousely all the places and i felt more freedom. Definitively, i’ve to travel solo again.

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Ekua June 9, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Something about looking at places more closely that I didn’t mention is that I’m a very picture-happy person. I love to snap away at the same thing for a long time without annoying someone who wants to move on 😉

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Odysseus June 12, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Yes, I love solo travel because the things I like to do and the budget I need to keep don’t always align with that of my friends. My trip to India with a friend was surprisingly great because Katie and I have very similar travel goals. But most of my friends, even though I truly love them, would just not be a good match for me as travel companions. For one thing, a lot of them prefer traveling in luxury for short amounts of time, while I prefer hotels/hostels (and public transportation and street food) that are plain and safe and cheap enough so that I can travel for the longest possible amount of time.

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Ekua June 12, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Well, if there’s any place (that I know of) that a solo traveler should bring a partner to, it’s India! I have a couple friends who I think would travel in a similar style to me, the problem is ALWAYS scheduling. It’ll be hard to match up schedules unless businesses here decide they want to start letting people take time off…

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LaNae April 12, 2013 at 6:41 pm

I love this article and thank you so much for it. I’m embarking on my first overseas trip SOLO to Bangkok. I’ve gotten alot of negative comments as well from family and friends. It’s my journey and I”m so looking forward to making new friends and reconnecting with myself.

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Ekua April 15, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Have fun!

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Mel November 17, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Thank you so much for this post, it’s really helping me work up the nerve to go it alone.

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Ekua November 18, 2013 at 11:11 pm

I’m glad this was useful for you. Once you get over that first hump and try it out, you’ll never look back!

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Katelin Smith May 26, 2014 at 7:05 pm

I love all the different points you make, they are all so true! I understand where your coming from in your first point, as I know that when I have travelled alone, I am more able to connect with a place. You have definitely inspired me and I’m sure many other people to take more trips alone and truly experience travelling alone! Good luck with all of your future travels and I look forward to following your journey!

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Ekua June 7, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Thanks!

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