Do you desperately want to see the world, but are too scared to travel alone?
It’s a scary thing to leave your loved ones behind and travel alone, and anyone that tells you otherwise is lying. Take it from me. There are a million things that can go wrong, and let’s be honest, we all want to have friends around us when they inevitably do.
But what if I told you that you don’t need to be sacred? That, just like the thousands of others backpacking solo all across the globe right this second, you can do it? And not just do it, but thrive on it, getting more out of the experience than you ever imagined possible…
Hands down, travelling alone is the absolute best decision I have ever made, and I could bore you for hours with the reasons why. Instead, here’s the short version: my top ten reasons why you should stop waiting, put on your big girl knickers, and just…. go.
10. The world is not as big and scary as you might think
We live in an age of publicised panic. Mass rape in India, deaths at full-moon parties, abductions, stabbings, kidnappings…. the list goes on.
These things are truly awful, but you have to remember that they are incredibly, incredibly rare. It pays to process the news you intake with a rational, balanced mind, and to look always at the bigger picture… I mean, statistically you are more likely to die crossing the road, than get eaten by a shark whilst swimming at Bondi Beach…
You never, ever, see a news article about things just swimming along nicely in the world, and yet they do, second by second, for millions of people. Ever hear the story about the thousands of backpackers that have been to Wolfe Creek and not been cut up? Ever see the movie about the girls that went to Paris and were not Taken (by Albanians, who I found to be pretty normal)? The media has a lot of fear mongering to answer for, but ultimately it is up to you how you choose to perceive the world.
That said, you DO need to be smart. Research your destination. Dress appropriately. Don’t stay in dodgy parts of town. Don’t wander around in the dark alone. Don’t leave your valuables lying around. Don’t let your guard down just because you’re feeling all excited and have had 12 beers. A little planning, a little common sense, and learning to trust those initiative little warning bells in your head, should all be enough to steer you out of trouble. Just like at home.
Moreover, it has been my experience that people are largely good– for the most part, they all just want to make a living, look after their loved ones and laugh with their friends. Across the globe, across varying races and religions and cultures, these motivations are largely the same. And, for the most part, people are only too happy to help you out and show off their country with pride.
We are all human beings, and it pays to – albeit cautiously – remember that.
I have been absolutely blown away by the kindness that people will show, some of it when I have been a complete stranger. From driving me to remote Croatian beaches, to letting me crash on their sofa, to funding my partying in Vegas, and even changing my tyre for me in the outback…
Really, the world is not that bad- it’s just that we have been trained to perceive it that way- and you should quit using that as an excuse.
9. There are great resources to help you
Perhaps you think you need someone with you to help plan you trip. Perhaps you’re unsure where to go, where to stay, what to see… perhaps you can’t even pick a country! But you needn’t rely on other people to make these decisions for you, because these days everything you could ever need is only a click away.
From the obvious companies like STA that will help you plan your trip, to the Lonely Planet forums, to the ski season job websites, to the teaching abroad websites, to Camp America, to Bunac exchange programs, to working holiday visa programs (though I do not believe these are ever worth the money, you can do it all yourself) … there are literally more resources than you could ever shake a mouse at. It really just depends what you want to do- just whack it into Goggle and begun your odyssey of discovery.
Then there are all the apps whilst you are on your travels, and make it very easy to stay in touch with loved ones. My parents, bless them, are not the best at ‘Skype dates’, so I just load some credit on and call their landlines via my Skype account, and it is obscenely cheap. I have been calling home regularly, for long chats, for seven months, and so far its cost me less than a British fiver.
Leaving home alone will still be hard, but these days with the likes of WhatsApp, SnapChat, Viber, Facebook, Twitter, Face Time and I-Message… I’m pretty sure I communicate with people in the UK more than when I lived there! For free!
Then there are the likes of Gumtree and Couch-surfing, and countless other community based websites that facilitate meet-ups and link you up other solo travellers. I have done a fair amountt of couch-surfing, and have found it to be unrivalled in terms of creating a bespoke experience. I have also undertaken some Wwoofing and Help-x work– where you work in exchange for food and accommodation and these, too, have been incredible experiences which have enabled me to meet some truly wonderful people.
Don’t forget the countless other travel blogs out there, some of which are truly excellent, home grown resources, and make incredibly inspiring reads. A few of my favourites are Hippie In Heels, That Backpacker, Nomadic Matt, Seattles Travels, One Step 4ward, This World Rocks, Wandering Earl.
So with all these great resources, and endless online opportunities to find like-minded partners in crime, what are you waiting for?
8. You will have more opportunities
This point mainly refers to working abroad, though certainly it is true of backpacking as well.
Quite simply, couples and existing buddies can turn some people off. I don’t mean this in a horrible way, I have just found outsiders to be a little scared of intruding, as no one wants to be a potential third wheel or have to laugh awkwardly at bizarre private jokes.
For potential employers, they often aren’t keen to employ couples or friends for several reasons; a few being, that it changes the working environment for everyone else, one person does not usually want to be there, and there is always the risk of a spectacular break-up. Of course there are couples jobs out there, but they are not nearly as common as jobs and opportunities for those of us that are free agents.
And it is tough, working abroad with someone else. I have run chalets in the French Alps as both a single host, and as part of a chalet couple, and it isn’t an option to be entered into lightly. I had an incredible time, but even if we were still together I would always prefer to host my own chalet in the future.
Over the last few years I have travelled alone to work season jobs in six different countries – USA, Croatia, France, Turkey,Australia, and the UK – and all of them have been made available to me as an independent traveller only. There is no way I could have just taken myself off to work in Croatia, or get a yacht job in the South of France, or tend bar in the outback, or milk goats by the ocean, or chase bulls through the bush, or, my next adventure, go and live on a tropical island, if I was responsible for someone else. These jobs would just not have been available to me, and the last few years of my life would be completely different.
So if you’re cracking the sads that you don’t have a boyfriend or a best mate to travel with, or you’re feeling depressed as another baby scan or engagement appears on Facebook, then you really need to adjust your thinking.
Because the best opportunities really do exist in life, for those that are footloose and fancy free and able to travel alone.
7. You will meet more people
You can’t just slink off with your boyfriend of an evening, oh no, there isn’t one.
So you take a deep breath, and you ask the hot guy cooking his pasta how his day has been.
When your shift at the bar is over, you don’t just run off home to your mate or your other half, there isn’t one. So you make plans with your new colleagues, or the guys at the bar, or the stranger who just bought you a drink. Why not? Some of my best memories have been made this way.
When you want to see or do something new and have no one to go with, you ask around till you find someone, and they usually introduce you to their friends too. Other travellers always look out for the girl on her own, like the time a bunch of Kiwi’s took me under their wing in Rome.
And so you see, as a result of travelling alone, you are far more sociable. You get involved, you put yourself out there, and you meet a huge amount of people because you don’t have the security of anyone else’s company to fall back on. If you come with someone else, however, it can be all too easy to hide away with them, and you miss out on a lot of the interactions and friendships that a single person would enjoy.
6. New friendships are more intense
Solo travellers still need intimacy, support and human affection, make no mistake.
But when you travel alone, you are completely open, and dependent, to finding it on the road, and it is an indescribably beautiful thing when you do.
You choose people you like, and you build passionate partnerships with them based on mutual interest and shared ridiculousness. It is so utterly in the moment that you become intoxicated by it’s potency; each friendship characterised indelibly by it’s whirlwind speed and it’s pulsing intensity.
You are all each other has- you, and all the other solo travellers you meet- and very quickly you all become family.
Undeniably, if I had spent the last three years babysitting someone else’s reservations, I would not have the friends around the world that I do today. My closest comrades are now people I have met on the road, and I think this speaks volumes about how much I have been free to open myself up, and throw myself into life, with reckless abandon, and unrestrained hunger.
Because the truth is, when you’re alone you’re not just making friends because you want to, you’re making friends because you need to, and it is a difference that will turbo-charge your interactions and gold-plate your memories.
As I wrote upon leaving an outback job in Port Hedland, WA early this year:
These beautiful comings and goings in my life are like food for my soul. Each goodbye is stored away as another beautiful memory, and it spurs me on for the next hello. Yes, I thirst eternally for new encounters, but I cherish each passing relationship, locking the moment away inside me. A jar of honey to be dipped into later.
My soul reads like a school leavers-book; everyone I encounter occupies a little section with a scrawled message of companionship good, bad, indifferent, but always significant secrets played out together in pulsing live-for-now glory. Neon memories that do not fade.
I am but a patch-work quilt of encounters and memories.
So don’t be scared. Your surrogate family is waiting for you, I promise.
5. You can do exactly what you like
This is pretty obvious, but it will absolutely come to define your entire trip. If you don’t want to get that night bus, or visit that country, or even just go out that night, than you absolutely don’t have to, and there will be no boyfriend or best mate cracking the sads and whining in your ear about it.
Conversely, If you like somewhere and want to stay longer, then you don’t need to discuss it with anyone or get their permission, you just stay. If you want to go and visit something a little more niche, then you can, just like that, and who gives a hoot if anyone thinks its weird, because no one else is obliged to come.
And that’s what it comes down to: Obligation. No matter how long you and old mate have known each other, there WILL be differences of opinion. It is absolutely guaranteed. And you will be obliged to work out a comprise.
But why compromise something like travel? Do you really want your trip defined by someone else’s to-do list? Do you really want to have to consult someone else, and their budget, when you make plans? Or, indeed, do you want to have to justify yourself when you deliberately don’t make plans?
Travel alone, and you wont feel guilty for making anyone do anything, and you won’t feel resentment for being made to do anything either. Your plans are entirely your own, and aside from meaning that you accomplish everything you want to in your own time frame and budget, it is utterly liberating and empowering to be your own master.
4. You can be exactly who you want
There are no yesterdays on the solo road.
No one knows you, and no one knows how you dress, or speak, or talk, or think, or act back home, and, really, no one would care anyway.
This is the time to recreate yourself, a fresh slate to be whoever you want to be, and to live your life in whatever way you chose.
Whatever your niggling curiosity, indulge it. Buy those bright new clothes, go to the alternative concert, give up meat, change your hair, express new opinions, tell your wildest stories, and swim naked in the ocean with strangers.
These are your glory years of neon revelation and sensual evolution. This is the time to experiment and try new things, to sample every delicious dish on the A La Carte menu of life, and to erotically lick the very cream off the top as you do.
But while you’re riding this cresting wave of hedonism, you absolutely do not want to be self conscious or feel guilty about it; which is, if you have someone from ‘back home’ that ‘knows you well’ tagging along, a very real and tragic possibility. This is no time to be looking over your shoulder to nervously see what your mate thinks of your new look, or your latest decision, or your current company, or the way your accent is changing.
If you have a ghost of your previous existence raising an eyebrow and muttering passive-aggressively when you start playing with life’s numerous variables, then it’s not going to help you find yourself. It will undermine your self exploration, and remind you comfortably where you have come from and ‘who you are’.
Your home world and your new shiny travel world- and the new shiny you- will clash, and it wont be pretty.
It is said that the most important part of any journey is not what you pack, but what you leave behind. So leave it all behind, everything, and go as a fresh clean slate of endless possibilities, and never have to justify any of your reckless, dubious, choices to anyone except yourself.
3. You will find yourself
As cheesy as it sounds, it is an undeniable truth. Travel changes you indelibly.
But I believe it can change you more if you travel alone, because you will take more risks and be more receptive to their outcomes. Because to find yourself, you first need to lose yourself, and it is hard to get lost at all if you have a road-map-companion.
But you could be on a journey to somewhere new. A journey that is open, dazzling, and without parameters. A journey that helps you really discover yourself in striking clarity, because you have the space to do so.
Travel alone , and you are forced you to do some serious soul searching, to really discover your strengths and weaknesses. You will need to put yourself out there and make friends, do your own research, do your own paperwork, manage your own budget, find your own jobs, find your own apartment, etc…. and if all this sounds bewildering, please don’t be put off.
Because when the time comes to shine, you will, because you have to. Its literally that simple- no one else will do stuff for you, so you learn to do it yourself.
However, if you have someone with you that can share the burden of all this, then you will never really find out just how much you can do alone. And it is such an important lesson to live through, not least because these challenges will breed character, cultivate stamina, and make you endlessly tougher.
When you stand on your own two feet, you are firmly removed from the comfort zone, and it forces you to grow. This is when the magic happens. Did I ever think I could lose 9kg, buy my own 4wd, take on feral bulls in the outback, drive myself across Western Australia twice, AND build my own website?
No. Course I didn’t.
But I have. And every time I hear Destiny’s Child ‘Independent Woman’ on the radio, I get all frothy inside, and I do THE most elaborate chair dance imaginable… cos its like they’re singing it to me, baby.
Travel alone then, and let yourself be surprised by what you can accomplish when its all on you.
2. Your memories are your own
This seems a little harsh, and I’m not in anyway trying to discredit what a beautiful thing it is that couples travel together and build lifelong memories with each other. I have been there, and I will forever cherish the memories I have made as part of a travelling couple, because they are indescribably beautiful and speak deeply of love and companionship.
However, there is a certain sense of empowerment and private pride that comes from having your very own personal memories, ones that you constructed and directed completely independently, which no one else can ever claim as theirs.
For example, I will always know that I couch-surfed solo across most of Europe in 2011, and that is entirely mine. I made it happen, and no one else can see into that little box of delights but me.
This might not sound very impressive to some people, but I believe it is a beautiful thing to foster personal recollections. It breeds self belief, and it reminds you that you do not need a significant other to orchestrate your interactions, and define your reminiscences.
It is about ownership of one’s own mind, both in the past (memories) and in the future (things you will come to remember).
Travel alone, therefore, and you are authoring a story totally unaided, and whilst others can skim bits of it, they will never read between the lines like you do.
It is a treasure chest that only you have the key to.
It is an epic musical circus playing over and over in the auditorium of your mind, and you are simultaneously the ring master, the director, the conductor and the usher to the audience of one; you. Sprawled naked in the stalls with cake crumbs in your fat folds, eyes sparkling enraptured, resplendent in your indulgent solitude, majestic in your private gratification.
Yes, when I am old and deranged and my mind is nought but a West End theatre screening scenes of my life, there are some memories I would like to watch alone.
1. You’re not actually alone
If you’re still not convinced, and you think that I could never understand what its like to be shy (and you’re probably right, cursed as I am with an enormous gob and an embarrassing lack of social restraint), then this last reason should win you over.
Yes, you will not actually be alone.
I recently had an interesting discussion with an Aussie that basically went like this…
Real person: ‘You all claim to be big and brave by travelling alone, but you’re not actually ever alone’
Me: ‘What are you talking about? I came here completely on my tod…’
Real person: ‘But since you arrived, you’ve never actually been alone.’
Real person: ‘You’ve always had friends here. Always’
Me: ‘Well yeah… but…’
Real person: ‘And you travel with them. Or you work with them. Or you make future plans with them… whatever… you’re just not actually travelling solo, you’re travelling the whole time with everyone you meet’
Real person: ‘It just annoys me when people claim to be solo travellers, because travel just isn’t a solo thing. You always meet people. You’re never alone.’
Aside from the curious chip on his shoulder, it’s a good point to consider, when worrying- like everyone does- that you wont make friends.
You will travel alone on the plane, perhaps on the bus, perhaps the first half hour at the hostel… but as soon as you say hi to the crusty Norwegian on the bunk below, or lend your lip gloss to the busty girl in the bathroom, or get a job, or go on a tour, or have a beer, or cook dinner, or do pretty much ANYTHING…you will have people around you.
And, shock, they all want friends too.
This is the nature of backpacking- it is social, and in my experience, it is actually often hard to escape everyone!
So don’t worry about being billy no mates in the corner, and don’t let a million lonely ‘what-if’s’ ruin your adventures before they’ve even begun; because the truth is that as soon as you start living day-to-day, you will actually never be without companions.
And what will unite you all is the glorious reason you all came here in the first place: travel, your beautiful shared passion.
What can I tell you? Stop making excuses, and if you wanna travel… just travel alone.