Saturday, 2 May 2015

Why Travel Alone?

The prompt for today was 'Adventure', which, combined with something I read on Hazel's blog the other day, immediately made me think of the many adventures I've had whilst travelling solo.

I get why a lot of people never travel alone. Fear of boredom, fear of coping with new situations alone, and, as a woman, worries about safety, can all combine to make us scared of going solo. But if I - a shy, socially awkward and at times cripplingly anxious person - can travel extensively alone, then anyone can.

Lunch for one in Simonstown, South Africa, August 2012

1. Travelling alone means you get to set your own schedule
Feel like sleeping until midday despite the lovely weather? Or want to be up and out of the hotel by 8am to pound the pavements and see the sights? Want to stop for lunch only when you're hungry, instead of worrying about your partner's constant need for sustenance? If you're on your own, what you want, goes. No-one to coordinate plans with; no need to compromise. There's a beautiful liberation in not having to consider anyone else's needs for the duration of your trip, trust me.

2. Travelling alone means you can meet new people more easily...
My solo travel credentials include months spent backpacking across South Africa and America, plus lots of short breaks to European cities. Having travelled plenty with people, too, I can say with authority that it's so much easier to meet new people when you're alone. And, for me, getting to meet new people - whether it's chatting to locals in dive bars or meeting fellow travellers from around the world - is what travelling is all about. I personally found it helpful to do the majority of my solo travel in English-speaking countries, to ease communication while I was out and about. But regardless of where you're visiting, hostels are a great place to stay if you're going solo. As I get older, I tend to book private rooms rather than dorms (I'm too old for that shit), but even then, hostels always have communal lounges and kitchens, plus organised events - such as local walks or movie nights - which make meeting new people a doddle. And once you're out and about, people are much more likely to stop for a chat if you're on your own*. From getting gratis drinks from a bar-tender in Oregon, to being invited back to a house party in Cologne, to being taken to a sangoma (medicine man) ceremony in South Africa, all of the truly unique experiences I've had whilst travelling happened because I was alone and open to meeting new people.

* On this note, I have never once had a bad experience with unwanted attention while travelling. The first time I visited Southern Africa I took the precaution of wearing a ring on my engagement finger, but it really wasn't required. Truly, there are far more good, interesting, honest people out there than otherwise. What I'm saying, I guess, is don't expect the worst as a woman alone. 

The private rooms at Coffee Shack Backpackers, Coffee Bay, South Africa, July 2012

3. ... But you can also enjoy the solitude of bliss
Perhaps you have to be an introvert to get this, but my gosh... the perfect and beautiful state of waking on your own, falling asleep on your own, and choosing exactly when, and to whom, you want to utter a word in each waking moment that falls between the two.

Walking Amsterdam's canals, October 2012

4. Travelling alone means you get to do exactly what you, and only you, want
This is kind of linked to #1, but being a solo traveller means that your holiday is entirely your own, to do with what you will. I personally love to shop - even on a supposedly cultural short break, you're more likely to find me in the gallery shop than anywhere else in the museum - while a lot of my regular travel pals (boyfriend, brother, mother) are frankly bored by my appetite for twelve thrift stores in a row. Travelling alone means that if you want to shop, you shop. You feel like spending eight hours slowly walking the entire Rijksmuseum? That's cool too. The point is it's your trip, your rules; whether that's ancient archaeological sites, quiet beaches, art history, or (in my case) vintage fashion.

My reading spot under the arbor in Cintsa, South Africa, July 2012

5. Travelling alone means you can read a lot
Ok, so I accept that this particular selling point might be particular to a bibliophile such as me. But really, is there anything more relaxing than sitting in the sun - be it by the pool, at a pavement cafe, or on the beach - with a good book in which you can get totally lost? Now, I read quite a bit when on holiday with others (I choose my travel companions carefully, after all), but never do I get more reading done than when I'm on my own. Proper reading, too. Falling into the world of the book, becoming entirely absorbed by it... because there's no-one asking me to rub suntan lotion into their back or wanting to go for a walk.

Yosemite National Park, California, August 2011

6. Travelling alone is an opportunity to learn more about yourself
Being alone for an extended period of time, especially away from home and outside of your comfort zone, can push you to your limits. You may struggle, I'm not going to lie, but you'll also discover reserves of confidence and kick ass-ness that you perhaps didn't know were there. I'm really shy suffer from anxiety: here at home, I sometimes struggle to leave the house because I feel so anxious. Put into a different country, where I've paid a not inconsiderable amount of money and given up free time to be, I don't have the option to hide away. I've never experienced a solo trip that I couldn't handle or that made me unhappy. I always, even when I felt a bit lonely, coped. Loneliness when on the road is a chance at growth, an opportunity to be totally with and within yourself.

All of the photographs in this post were taken during one of my solo trips.


  1. Great read. I'm off on a trip to turkey later this year on my own, and I am really looking forward to being able to meander about as I wish, exploring the places I visit. I'm actually going with a tour group so there will be a ready made group should I want company; but we get the days and evenings to ourselves so I am going to try out this solo stuff in that context. Should be fun!

  2. Have a fab time in Turkey - I've always wanted to go. I think group trips like that are a brilliant mid-point between travelling completely alone and with other people. Being able to choose when to be alone is so important to me when I travel; even when I'm with a friend or partner, I'll always spend some time off on my own.

  3. Love this! Would love to be brave enough to travel on my own. I think I could do it, I just would struggle leaving all my fur babies behind! Were you with your boyfriend at the time or were you single when you went? x

  4. That's a good point, actually, I was single for ten years before I met T so travelled alone by necessity during that time. My first trip to South Africa, in 2001, I left a partner behind in the UK, but since then all my solo travel has been done while single. It was often a case of go alone or don't go at all - I'm always glad I took the chance to have those adventures rather than waiting to find someone to travel with.

  5. I have traveled on my own, but usually when visiting places I'm familiar with. Admit that I do enjoy the freedom of it and miss the potential now that I'm an old married lady - would be tricky at this stage to say "Right, I'm off to Morocco, catch you later!". I have traveled with my Mom and friends, etc, apart from o.h. but once you're part of a couple it is something I wish I'd done more of when I was young and free to please myself! Really inspiring post though, I totally agree that anyone can do it and maybe it's something we think that only really extroverted adventurous types can get up to when that's just not true :-)

  6. Great advice! I love traveling alone but haven't done it out with the UK. I really hope to some time though. I love trips with others too, but there's definite advantages to going alone. As was the case with you, I've been in the situation of going alone or not going at all, but going alone really boosts my self esteem :)

  7. I am a firm believer in the joys of travelling alone! I've done two big solo trips and I loved having the freedom to do exactly what I wanted all day, everyday. I'm so glad I was brave enough to give it a try xx

  8. Hi Janet! Pleased to see you are also doing BEDM!

    This is a great post. I agree to the benefits of travelling alone, I enjoyed many aspects of it EXCEPT the first few days in Indonesia where I was thinking, "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHRGHHHHH, what have I done!?????"

    Kezzie AG

  9. You are so right. On the occasions I've travelled alone it's been so freeing. Eating alone has been strange to start with but I've met so many people, done so many things that have pushed me out of my comfort zone.....but it was so liberating. Great post! X