One of the most-heard questions and cheesy subjects on travel blogs is:
“Why would you decide to travel alone?”
The question often goes accompanied by arguments such as fear, solitude and boredom. However, quite the opposite is true and I couldn’t keep myself from sharing the readily-exploited subject with you, but for the first time from my point of view.
A few weeks ago, I met an Italian guy at Delft station (close to where I live). He had come here for an internship and I had spoken to him on facebook before, however he didn’t have anything planned for when he arrived. Many people would regard that as ignorant, naive or just plain stupid, but I can familiarise with reckless decisions and just going wherever the wind blows. I decided to pick him up from the station and we spent the entire afternoon wandering around the city in order to find him a how-to-Dutch starter-pack, consisting of a sim-card, a bicycle, an OV-chipcard and hutspot for dinner (a very Dutch dish of mashed potatoes with carrots and onion). With my action I wasn’t sleazily trying to score some karma points, but I just liked to help as well as that it was a great opportunity to get in touch with yet another person from another area.
However, the main reason why I loved to show this stranger around so much is because it reminded me of all the people who made my travels as awesome as they were, of all the people who owned a special place in my heart just by being there and the fantastic feeling I had to know that they were there for me and made each destination special. I would like everyone who goes places to be able to experience the same and this felt like a chance to give someone a small-scale refelection of the hospitality of locals. We still hang out.
The reason why I wanted to tell you this story is because it goes to show how easy it initate contacts; locals and non-locals, in a foreign country. This phenomenon mainly occurs when you’re travelling by yourself. The need to ask for directions suddenly seems to increase when there is no one by yourself who you can discuss your assumptions with. You only have your own ideas and resoursces and you certainly don’t want to get lost in an unknown city and a foreign country on your own, so you need to socialise. Sometimes this results in a hurried “left-right-second street left” and a quick smile, but sometimes in a long-lasting friendship.
The exact same thing seems to happen when you’re on a long flight, where you can only spend so much of the time pretending to be asleep on your uncomfortable chair with nowhere to stretch your legs properly. When travelling in a group or with a friend or partner it is easy to start chatting about in your own language, play a game of cards or discuss your travel plans, whereas being by yourself sort of pushes you into conversation with the lucky passenger that you were designated to share your armrest with.
On my journey to Australia, I happened to meet my first true Aussie friend like this, who later introduced me to many more amazing people. I won’t go into too much detail about how we met, but it is quite interesting that the boy that you happen to sit next to on plane flying into Sydney, happens to live in the same city that you are heading to (and is a good three hours from Sydney) and even better that his girlfriend lives in the exact same street as where you will be situated. Perfect invitation for a party and perhaps a little too coincidental, considering the size of Australia…
This was not the first nor the last friend that I met as a result of being by myself and I could (and maybe will) fill an entire post describing all the striking situations in which I met new people that had an influence in my life. If not by accident, then social networks such as meet-up or couchsurfing are the way to go to find like-minded people in your area, but that’s not what this post is about. This is about why travelling solo is such a bless and meeting interesting people is only one of them.
Choosing which road to go down is a second one. We all know that people are different. No matter how much you have in common with someone or how good friends you are with someone, there will be things that you will want to do differently and when you’re travelling together, you’ll have to compromise. Compromising is partly self-sacrificing, which is a social thing to do, but it’s the last thing you’ll want to do when you’re away on a lifetime trip. Imagine having spend year saving up money and even longer looking forward to be able to go out and live your dream, but one of the plans you made can’t happen in the way you had in mind, because your travel buddy had a different plan or perhaps not the ability, skills or certificate to join you on your adventure. You might be too short on time to do both and if you want to stay together, both of you might go home not fully satisfied, where you both could have done it all. This might seem a little selfish, and it is, but in some cases, there is no shame in that.
I have obviously had travel buddies and travelling with company is a relief sometimes, but overall I prefer the solo experience. There is an almost-certain probability that you will meet people on the way that will want to accompany you as far as your paths cross without any forced arrangements to stay together. People come and go, that what happens in life and that’s what happens on the road. It works perfectly fine, as it always has done, but nowadays, people are too scared of being alone.
Get to know yourself
Travelling for a year after high-school should be obligatory if it was up to me. Self-knowledge is valuable, not only in your personal life, but also in later business. Travelling in is an experience that changes lifes, views and… people. Seeing different places, different cultures and moreover being open to accept and experience them leads to a completely new view on the worlds. No matter how unlikely it sounds, but this might change you as a person, in a positive way. Knowledge about the world around you might give you some more knowledge about yourself and more tolerance to other people. It will at least make you think twice about what’s really important. And believe me, being prom queen isn’t.
Travelling alone especially will make you more aware of other people around you and their needs, because they need you and your advice as much as you need theirs. You’ll have to share a room and kitches with people (unless have the funds to pay for a private hotel room, but I would still recommend staying in a hostel dorm once, just for the experience. You might hate it, but at least you can say you’ve tried!). Having felt how it is to be alone in a different environment where you want to have fun and want to be accepted, you will realise how important it is to accept other people and help them out. Life is about giving and taking, not for your own good, but for making the world a better place.
This goes mostly for young travellers, who are just leaving their safe parents house for the first time in their lifes. Travelling will force you to take care of yourself and will give you the advantage of becoming independent sooner than non-travellers the same age as you.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll instantly become a boring, responsible adult, quite the opposite, you’ll get to be a perhaps responsible, but mostly self-sufficient and open-minded youngster.
Easy to fit in
No matter where in the world you have travelled, if you have tried to stay on a budget, the above picture can’t be anything new to you. The moment you walk into a hostel dorm room and need to figure out which bed in the sweaty room full of suitcases belongs to you. It happened to me once that there was no free bed at all in the room, the mistake of the hostel, they had accidentally overbooked the room. However, even if this isn’t the case, it is often still hard to figure out which bed is still empty, because all of the dorm rooms in the hostel are continously occupied and you can consider yourself lucky that you have even found that bed.
Imagine the same situation, but now being with two or maybe even more travellers. At certain times of the year places can get so crowded that it might not be possible to find two spots in the same hostel, let alone in the same room. If you’re determined to stay together, it often results in the need to find a more expensive and therefore quiter hostel. However those extra bucks spend could also have bought you a beer or another night’s dinner.
Again, the same phenomenon seems to happen in different situations. When participating in an organised tour, being alone can give you the advantage of being able to fill a lone spot in another tour group. If it’s a busy tour, going solo can save you a lot of waiting time, because you can blend in in almost any readily existing group.
Obviously, travelling solo can be a disadvantage at the same time. Some attractions require (at least) two or four people to participate. However, it is usually easy to find people to join you and to form a group of two or four. If not, you can often skip the line in order to help a group of five out when the groups need to be even. This way I got into most of the waterslides at wet ‘n wild at the Gold Coast within minutes, where people had to stand in line for hours!
I already gave away a few aspects of it being cheaper to travel alone in the last paragraph. However, there is more than that. I especially noticed this when I started arranging my trip for July. Not often have I had to book a flight for two (or more) people before, but this time I was very excited. It was the middle of the freaking night and I was bored and hoped to find cheap flights and as a matter of fact I did (possibly because no one else in the area was looking for flights at that time). However, I had searched for solo flights and then had the brilliant idea to ask a nice, positively weird and rather impulsive girl to join me. And she did. I have already spoken about my excitement of having a travel buddy before, so I’ll leave that for now.
The thing is, that once I was looking for seats for two people, prices went up by €100- €150. Sad, but logical, as people on their own can fill up whatever random seat was still empty, while people travelling together will want to sit more or less at communication distance from each other at least. This is absolutely something to take into account. If you don’t mind being on seperate seats or in drastic cases seperate flights, you might want to book apart from each other in order to save a few bucks.
Fall in love
Last but not least, falling in love is easier to do on your own. Well, not really, because you need a second person to fall in love with, but I meant when travelling on your own. I could have treated this at the “making friends” bit, but decided that it would be nicer to give love the special place it deserves. Holiday crushes, vacation loves or foreign soulmates, they don’t usually last as a result of at least one of the partners is moving about. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a good time with someone special for as long as it lasts.
Falling in love is a wonderful feeling, although in the case of holiday crushes “love” might not be the right word. However, you will meet people that are at least highly interesting to you and when you’re alone, your accesible to speak to or you could just go out and speak to them. Whereas having a friend by your side who might have an opinion or require some more info about the person you are trying to hit on might slow you down.
Besides making you more insecure, you don’t want to leave your buddy hanging when you want to sneaky out for a spontaneous cheeky night out with your new lover. And tell me, is that really something you want to miss out on?
All in all, I am not trying to convince you of anything. Your trip is yours and the most important is that you should live it the way you want. When you’re travelling with your partner instead of a regular friend there will be no need to fall in love, which might change the perspective a bit. However, all the other reasons for travelling alone are still valid. Nevertheless, travelling together can be fun as well. Solo,- group- and buddytravelling might be something to alternate between. Whatever you choose, make sure that you do it for you and not because someone else says so.
However, next time before you’re about to ask someone why in the world they would want to travel alone, think before you speak and consider all these reasons. Besides, they have probably already heard the same question a million times all over again.