Solo travel was something that for me started as a necessity, but has changed my life forever.
It began with the same old story; I wanted to go somewhere/see something/ do something and no-one else in my life wanted to. Previous to this point, I had never actually wanted to backpack alone, it always seemed super lonely, and to be honest a bit sad.
However, I reached the point where
I realized I could spend my life waiting for someone to join me or I could brave it alone and actually achieve my goals.
The truth is, if I had waited for others to join me on my adventure, I never would’ve done it. I’ve come to learn unless you make something a priority in your life, you will continue to have a list of unsurmountable excuses as to why you can’t do that thing. I made excuse after excuse for a long time too, but then I realized, the only real thing that was holding me back was fear.
(Its existential crisis time…)
But you know what is even scarier than the fear of the unknown…. fear of wasted potential. Yes, travelling alone is an incredibly nervewracking thing to do, and yes I do have a mild panic attack where I think “WTF am I doing?!?” on the plane at the beginning every journey. But that is nothing compared to the fear I feel when I imagine myself in my old age thinking about everything I ever wanted to do and achieve with my life but didn’t try because of fear. Now that is truly scary.
This feeling of stepping out into the world with just hope reminds me of ‘The Fool’ card in tarot. Don’t let the name confuse you, because he is nothing but foolish. What he has is faith. He has left to go on an adventure with nothing but a knapsak and a rose. He is walking along a cliff, but because he is not looking down he can’t see that he’s heading towards the cliff edge. But YET he is not a fool. The true meaning of the card is about taking that leap of faith. In reality the fool knows he doesn’t have to look down because he knows he will be fine. The sun shining bright onto him, his pure faith and his positivity protect him from the fall.
Maybe those ramblings were a bit disconnected and now you are reading this like “sorry whuttt??”. But to me this kind of leap of faith that looks super ridiculous or scary is the perfect analogy for solo travelling. It is about taking the plunge and actually doing something with your life.
Which brings me nicely to my first point as to why I love travelling solo….
Solo travel proves something to yourself
I have very rarely learnt more about myself or my strength of character than when I have been backpacking alone. Ultimately shit happens, maybe your accommodation that you were going to move into tomorrow for 6 months falls through (true story) or maybe you just feel like shit that day but are completely alone.
While things like these are not pleasant situations they’ve really been a test of my metal. When you can overcome something extremely difficult alone in a foreign country it adds a chunk to your armour. Now I find it difficult to get stressed in our normal modern-day life because, to be frank, am I mildly homeless in Nicaragua? No- so it could be much worse.
Something that everyone always says when talk about solo travel is how brave they think you are. That always used to embarrass me. It felt stupid and undeserved- how am I brave for visiting a country that people live their everyday life in.
But, I take those feelings back. It is brave. Taking a leap of faith (in whatever circumstance) is brave. Being entirely self-reliant is brave. Daring to actually live the life you want to live is brave.
Travelling alone is liberating
There is something so liberating about being somewhere where no-one knows you. Everything that anyone now knows about you is entirely up to you.
Goffman famously said that in every social area of life we wear a mask in an attempt to gain the best outcome possible from every interaction. In time these masks become a sense of us and we identify as these caricatures we’ve created and thus internalised.
Travelling puts you in such a new and anonomous space, that it becomes easy to take off that mask.
You can leave behind everything that has stuck with you throughout time. Maybe people know you as a certain person, that quite frankly, you just dont identify as anymore. For me this means being more social and chatty compared to myself as a shy teenager. Being in an entirely new place means being able to shed these masks and be the most authentic reflection of your current self.
That IDGAF attitude
There is less of a fear of judgement when travelling too. If people judge you, whatever! you’re leaving in three days anyway so who cares. Because of this general atmosphere, the people that I’ve met when we’ve both been travelling solo have just felt more real. There was no false pretences, no trying to impress. Its always felt like a ‘take it or leave it this is who I am’ kind of attitude and I love that. It created genuine, sincere and strong connections. Connections that have lasted till this day.
“Solo travel not only pushes you out of your comfort zone, it also pushes you out of the zone of others’ expectations”Suzy Strutner
In the past when I’ve talked about my dream destinations, a common reaction has been “why would you want to go there??” or “can’t you go somewhere normal for once”. It should come as no surprise then that no-one wanted to go with me haha!
There is nothing worse than going on a trip with people and feeling like you missed out because no-one wanted to go with you and you were forced to do something else instead (my pet peeve is shopping). But the great thing about going it alone is I can do whatever I want. Maybe I fancy a massive lie-in, maybe I want to hike for hours or maybe I want to take a weaving class. Either way it doesn’t matter- I can do it all because it is my decision alone!
Solo travel is social
Humans are naturally social animals. No matter how much of an introvert you are, at some point you need to escape your own personal cocoon and talk to someone about your day. Put a whole bunch of solo travellers together in a hostel and what do you get?!? Friendship.
One of the best things about solo travellers is the fact that most people want to form some sort of connection with others. There isn’t the stigma of talking to strangers that you face a lot nowadays (talk to a stranger on the tube, see what happens!). And let’s face it, this kind of attitude can make modern life really lonely.
Solo travel to me has always felt almost like the freshers period in university , where introducing yourself to someone out of the blue isn’t the weirdest thing you can do. It all feel kind of liberating. People have their guard down and actively want to chat. As someone who wants to hear about how other people live their life, this is one of my favourite elements of solo travel.
Being alone doesn’t have to be lonely
Having said that, sometime the most valuable social time is with yourself. By this I mean truly checking in on yourself and your feelings. Especially in the 21st century filled with smart phones and instant gratification it is so easy to just distract yourself and, therefore, distance yourself from anything you are going through.
However the real pesky thing about emotions is you have to deal with them, they wont just magically disappear.
The famous saying ‘No matter where you go, you cannot run from yourself’ is no truer than when backpacking solo. You can go to the most beautiful places on earth, but if you feel sad, no amount of scenary or atmosphere will change that. Sometimes it takes being alone for an extended period of time to sit in our feelings and really begin to confront what we are going through, no matter how painful that may be.
Solo travelling truly can be like therapy.
But… it’s not all sunshine and rainbows
I am not going to sit here and tell you every second of backpacking alone is glorious.
Sometime it can be incredibly lonely. We all have days where all we want is a hug from our mum and dad (I know I do) and being alone in times like that is truly shit. As much as you can form a connection with new people sometimes what is truly valuable is talking with someone who truly understands you. I am just thankful that I have such valuable people in my life to miss. So thank you god for skype!
And lastly, you know what, taking that leap of faith is fricking scary! If it wasn’t everyone would do it. You think about worst case scenarios but maybe situations like this are the best time to be proved wrong. Often on days where I’ve felt the shittiest, life has came and surprised me and I have encountered some of the nicest and most caring people who performed genuine acts of kindness. Moments like this feel like the universe is bringing me back to my feet after a fall. Never underestimate the power of humanity.
My final thoughts for today kids…
I hope this blog has served as some sort of encouragement for anyone out there thinking about travelling alone. Ultimately, we can’t sit and let life pass us by. Life is to be lived, so take the plunge and go travelling today (even AND especially if that means you go it alone!)
Want some inspiration of where to go? Check out my Instagram page!
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