Picture this: the glittering beaches of Maldives laid out in front of you, their cool blue waters inviting you in for a swim under the warmth of the sun. Or the crazy, colorful streets of Thailand, aglow with streetlights and abuzz with vendors hawking their wares. How about the spectacle of the Northern Lights, glowing in the skies of Norway? Would you like to travel there?
Specifically, would you like to travel there alone?
Your first reaction to this question might be hesitation or even fear. That is perfectly normal. After all, the idea that humans are social creatures has been ingrained heavily into society. When you see someone by themselves in a social setting, you might assume that they’re on their way to meet up with another person. Or if they’re markedly alone, such as at a restaurant table, you might feel pity for them.
Traveling, by its nature, is seen as a group activity. Surely, if you’re making the effort to take a trip, you must want to have friends or family to share the experience with you. You might even be able to score better deals if you purchase tickets or accommodations in bulk, and having people that you’re familiar with in an unfamiliar place gives you a safety net you can rely on.
However, you don’t always have to travel with a group. You might be resistant to this idea, or you might already be considering it. Here are the answers to some questions you might have about solo travel.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of traveling alone. There might be a lingering stigma against it, but it really isn’t a bad idea.
For some people, one of the worst parts of traveling alone is eating alone. When you walk into a restaurant, being asked to confirm you’re dining by yourself might lead to a sense of embarrassment. On top of that, waiting for the food by yourself could make time feel like it’s dragging on — with no one to converse with, you’re left with your own thoughts. To someone unused to it, this may be strange and uncomfortable.
It might even feel lonely.
This loneliness is perfectly valid, especially if you haven’t experienced it before. However, this feeling isn’t an unsolvable problem. It will only be weird if you allow it to be weird. In time, you will grow used to it and may even find a way to fill in the space in some other way.
If you’re a shy person by nature, the idea of interacting with strangers in the absence of your usual companions might be terrifying. However, if you’ve ever wanted to overcome that aspect of your personality, then solo traveling may be just what you need. It’s one of the best ways to challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone.
When you’re on the road, you will meet a diverse collection of people, all with their own stories to tell. While this is true when you’re traveling with a group, it’s doubly apparent when you’re alone. There will be at least a few other solo travelers wherever you might find yourself, and they will naturally be interested in conversing with you. Whether you end up talking for five minutes or five hours, these experiences will stay with you forever.
Additionally, when you don’t have your friends or family to rely on, you will need to seek out the help of locals or fellow travelers for even the most mundane of concerns, such as asking for directions to a nearby destination. Over time, these small interactions will help you build confidence in interacting with people outside your comfort zone. Eventually, you might even end up going out of your way to chat with strangers traveling on their own, despite being a shy introvert.
Aside from picking up better socializing skills, you’ll also learn how to depend on yourself in challenging situations. When you travel alone, you have to handle everything. If your friend is good at navigating but terrible at picking out deals, and you’re good at picking out deals but terrible at navigating, then traveling together allows each of you to make up for the other’s shortcomings. Traveling by yourself, you’ll need to handle every aspect of the trip, even the ones you’re terrible at. This will be challenging initially, but over time, you’ll find that you can cultivate the skills you need to be self-sufficient. And even if you slip up sometimes, you’ll know that you can simply reach out to someone on the street and ask for their help.
Another benefit of solo travel is the absolute freedom it gives you. Have you ever struggled with trying to get your friends’ schedules lined up for a trip, only for people to want different things when you get to the destination? If someone wanted to wake up at dawn and take a nature hike, but another wanted to sleep in and experience the nightlife, it would inevitably cause friction. As a solo traveler, you will have total control over your itinerary without having to worry about anyone else’s needs but your own.
Now that you are more aware of its benefits, have you become enamored with the idea of traveling alone? The good news is that it can be as simple as booking a ticket and leaving with nothing but your backpack — no schedules to line up, no debating with your friends about where you want to go, no headaches over splitting the costs of every little thing. All you need is a destination in mind.
However, one important thing to consider when traveling by yourself is your safety. It is especially of concern when you are a woman traveling alone. When you’re in a group, you are less of a target for people looking to harass, scam, or steal from you. In the event that theft does happen, you can rely on your travel companions to help you cover your losses, as opposed to only being able to rely on the funds you brought.
Another consideration that you might overlook is the possibility of getting injured, especially if you’re eyeing more remote locations or extreme activities. If you break a leg on a hiking trail, you can rely on a friend to support you as you walk back, attempt first aid, or call 911. Alone, being injured is a lot more serious, as you will need the presence of mind to get yourself to safety no matter what pain you might be in.
While these situations are of paramount importance to prepare for, doing your due diligence before even getting on a flight can help you avoid these scenarios. So although it might be as easy as simply leaving on the next departing plane, you can ensure your trip will go smoother if you do research in advance. Search for safety guides about the areas you’re planning on staying in and read about other people’s experiences. Consider picking up basic self-defense, especially if you’re a woman. If you enjoy partying at night, exercise responsibility and never allow yourself to become intoxicated and unaware. Check-in with friends or family back home so they’re at least aware of your most recent status.
For your first trip especially, consider starting with a country that has a local language you speak, good and easy access to healthcare for tourists, and plan for accommodations in the more populated, upscale, and safe areas of the city. When you prepare accordingly, you will have the peace of mind to enjoy your solo travel and focus on yourself.
Solo travel, by design, will force you to spend more time with yourself than you’re used to. In today’s screen-dominated world, your first instinct to occupy yourself might be to pull out your phone and scroll mindlessly through social media. On a trip by yourself, however, having your phone out all the time will only make you miss the sights and sounds of the world around you.
When you’re watching the sunrise at the Angkor Wat in Cambodia, you wouldn’t want to miss a single moment of it — from the way the sky slowly lightens and shifts, from dark, dusky blue to the soft oranges and pinks that announce the arrival of the sun as it begins to light up the ancient temple. In awe-inspiring moments like this, the magic is in the space it grants you for self-reflection. Allow yourself to simply exist at the moment, away from the restrictions of the places you grew up and from the people that know the masks you’ve presented them.
Solo travel is an opportunity to know yourself better. You don’t have to dance to the beat of anyone else’s drum, and the present moment will gladly welcome you whenever you want to stop and rest for a while. Whatever memories you make as you travel alone, they will be memories you cherish dearly, a shared secret only between you and yourself.