How do you imagine solo travel? Scary? Wonderful? Thrilling? For me it is an amazing, rewarding experience. But… It wouldn’t be honest to tell you only the rewards of solo travel. It is also challenging. It is full of ups and downs. It helps you grow. And overall, it is worthwhile.
How do you imagine solo travel? Scary? Wonderful? Thrilling?
For me it is an amazing, rewarding experience.
It wouldn’t be honest to tell you only the rewards of solo travel. It is also challenging. Nothing that should stop you from traveling, of course, it’s something that you can overcome and will make you grow. And balancing the whole experience I can say that the rewards compensate by large the challenges. Overall, it is worthwhile.
So here they are: the challenges and rewards of traveling alone.
(+) Total freedom and flexibility
When I think of solo travel I first think of freedom. Total freedom. I had never had so much control of my time to decide what to do every minute of the day. Which time to wake up. Where to go. How to get there. What to eat.
I can wake up late. Go to that incredible library that had previously been a theater. Take the local bus and come back by walk. And of course, buy my favorite sweets at the end of the day!
And there is another advantage: traveling alone without booking in advance gives you total flexibility. I can go to a place with the idea of staying a couple of days, feel comfortable there and when I realize it, one whole week has passed!
You can do exactly what you feel like doing. No need to discuss.
(-) Need to take all the decisions
The down side of the freedom to take decisions is that you have to take all the decisions, even when you are tired and would rather curl up in bed and say “it’s your turn today to buy the bus tickets”.
You have to do everything, all the time. It’s always your turn.
You have to find out how to go to your next destination, buy the tickets, read the map, find a place to sleep, pay attention that you do not run out of money, ask for directions, buy food and cook or find a place to eat, etc, etc, etc.
For a short trip this is not a big deal, though, since you can plan most of it in advance and spend your time enjoying your travel. A long term trip is a different story, this constant decision-making and looking-for-information can become tiring at times. The best solution in this case is to slow down and let the trip flow by itself.
(+) Discover your way of traveling
Another good thing about solo travel is that it allows you to discover you own unique way of traveling. We are all different and so are our traveling styles.
Traveling alone allows you to focus in the activities that you truly enjoy. Are you interested in culture? Go to museums. Are you a food lover? Explore the best restaurants or go to markets. Are you interested in fashion? Go to the shopping center and discover the trends in this country.
Do what you like, at your own speed.
For example, I like traveling by public transport and walking as much as I can. I love talking to locals and trying new food. I enjoy breathtaking natural landscapes, historical sites and places with water, and I recently discovered a new interest in street art.
(-) Facing loneliness
It’s perfectly normal to feel a bit alone sometimes, specially during the first days. Going alone to a restaurant, for instance, felt a bit weird at the beginning. But after a while I realized that nobody was looking at me, and used that time to read a book or write down some notes.
And as time went on, I never felt lonely again. I did not see spending time alone as lonely but as having time for myself, to assimilate the whole experience. And it felt good.
(+) Meeting more people
All solo travelers agree in one thing: while traveling alone it’s much easier to meet people.
When you travel with someone else, your attention is partly focused on that person. When you are alone, on the other hand, you are more open to your surrounding, and it is easier that other people come to talk with you.
In Asia, where anyone could easily tell that I was a foreigner, I met many other travelers in public transport. In New Zealand, where I always slept in dorms, I talked to more people than I can count. In South America, since I could speak the local language (Spanish) and I was traveling in low season, I met more locals than travelers and learnt a lot.
(-) New friends… all the time
When you travel alone you meet a lot of new people and make a lot of new friends. A lot. But most of the time these friendships are short and superficial.
It always starts in the same way, “where are you from? how long have you been traveling? where are you going next?”. Then you hang out together a few times during the next days and, after that, most people will leave in different directions.
Traveling alone is full of “hellos” and “good-byes”.
The good thing is: a few of these friends will last forever. And who knows, you might meet again in the future!
When I was in Argentina I saw a friend who I had met in Estonia more than a year before. I was going from Bolivia to Buenos Aires and she was traveling from Paraguay to Chile. And we happened to be in the same city, the same day. Thanks destiny, and thanks facebook!
(+) Better connection with people
The most unexpected thing that happened to me while traveling alone was this: I fell in love many times.
Every time I left a country where I had spent several weeks alone, I felt like I was leaving a small piece of myself behind.
Why? I can only guess. While alone, I was more open to my surroundings and so I had more interaction with people. Like the group of women who wanted a photo with me in India. Or the shop vendor who told me about her arrival to Buenos Aires as a 3 year old exile. Or the kids with whom I played on the sand in Laos.
I also had more time to learn about the history, culture and lifestyle.
I felt more empathy and more connected to people. More than ever I realized than even though we had a different culture, we were not that different.
For me, this connection with people was one of the best rewards of solo travel.
(-) More expensive
Some costs remain the same if you travel alone or not, such as the public transport, food and activities. However there are some others that become more expensive if you cannot split, as the price of a room and the cost of a taxi.
In some countries in South East Asia, for example, there are no single rooms and sometimes no dorms, so there is no choice but to pay for a double room. Also in South East Asia some cities don’t have internal public buses so you have to get a taxi or a tuk tuk to move around. The only option is to find another traveler to share the cost, or pay the full price.
Buying food and cooking also becomes a bit more complex due to the amounts: sometimes you end up eating the same thing for several days, or carrying it in a bag to your next destination!
(+) Better control of your budget
On the other hand, it is easier to control your budget, and to spend money in what you really want.
Once you discover your way of traveling you can adapt your budget accordingly. If you love good restaurants, stay in cheap accommodation. If you want to do an expensive activity, slow down and save on transport. If you enjoy walking around and eating street food, you can indulge in a more comfortable room.
Again, the decision is yours!
If I can afford it I usually prefer to have a private room or sleep in a dorm with maximum 6 beds. To compensate, I save on transport by traveling slow, using public transport and walking a lot. I do not do a lot of activities and I eat cheap food but indulge myself from time to time (specially with fruit shakes and sweets!).
(-) Attention to health and security
Being alone, without anyone to watch your back, sounds scary. Dangerous.
Obviously you need to take care, but over time you learn how to stay safe and healthy. It is mainly about common sense and being well informed. Visiting a doctor before the trip is a good idea to get health information, and locals can always give advice about which places are safe to visit.
In addition to this, I learnt that the world is not as dangerous as news might make us believe. Most people I met were friendly and helpful, and I was in a lot of places where I felt safer than at home.
(+) Experience help and hospitality
I have never received so much help and hospitality as when I was traveling alone.
Even more, I dare to say that being a girl, specially a small one who seems to be twenty-something years old, vulnerable and defenseless, is even better.
In India, in an extremely crowded bus, a woman pulled me to her side and let me sit next to her and her daughter. In Cambodia, a woman invited me to sleep in her place, and another one gave me a ride by motorbike and gave me a bunch of bananas.
In New Zealand, several times other travelers who had a car offered me a ride even before I asked. In Uruguay, a couple that I had met in New Zealand received me the day of my birthday with the whole family, a traditional barbecue dinner and a wonderful cake.
And these are only a few examples.
(+) Gain self confidence
Probably the most important reward is that traveling alone helps increasing your self confidence.
To travel alone you need to go out of your comfort zone and face challenges.
And do you know that feeling when you have worked on something for a long time, spending hours and hours of effort, and finally you succeed?
Solo travel gives you the same uplifting feeling. Hey, I did it!
I overcame all the challenges I mentioned above, without any major mishaps. I’ve learnt that I can take care of myself, that I can travel and live without depending on another person, that I can organize a trip and carry it to the end with limited luggage and money.
In addition, by spending time alone I got to know myself much better. I explored my social side and discovered my introvert side. I looked at my life from a different angle and now I know what I want and what I don’t.
Now I’m more confident. I have less fears. I have enlarged my comfort zone.
And I crave for more.
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