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.