On my last trip I was “on the road” for just over two months (9 weeks, or to be precise 64 days), the longest ever for me. Mostly travelling on my own. Nothing compared to what a lot of people do but enough for me to encourage some reflections.
I loved it, I totally loved it. But it was also challenging at times.
#Being constantly on the move takes a toll on you.
Moving from place to place every few days and trying to cram too many things on your schedule can get tiring. You may soon realise that you need rest days every few activity days. In my case even a trip to the hairdresser’s around the corner did the trick! Staying more than 2-3 days in each town also helps: not only this is a way to slow down but it also offers great opportunities to get to know a place and the local people better.
#Feeling unwell when on the road and on your own is tough.
Getting ill does happen. And all you want to do is to curl up in bed and cry yourself to sleep until it all goes away. Then when you are well again all negative feelings go away too and your travels become your best friend again. In my last trip I was lucky and I didn’t really get ill: no health issues ever lasted more than a day. But things could have been different (as I experienced in the past…).
#Everything is new and unfamiliar.
From how to move around by public transport to buying a local SIM card to booking a half day tour via a random agency. Not to mention any language barriers that you are bound to encounter at some point.
You have never been in that place before. You may have read lots of information online or received advice from other travellers, but you need to learn quickly. Because now it’s you, and only you, there. A build-up of daily challenges can get stressful.
#You may miss your friends back home.
Meeting new people and making new friends is great, a lot of amazing friendships have been born on the road and this is one of the best things about travelling. But we all have moments when we miss hanging out with our long-term friends, the ones who know us best.
#We all need a lil’ bit of “Westernisation” around us.
At least I do! As much as I am excited about discovering new cultures and habits, I am and will always remain a Westerner. Having some familiar culture around us can be comforting and reassuring. Being able to buy food and general items in a westernised supermarket or a visit to a well known coffee chain every now and then is often sufficient.
So there are challenges in “long-term” solo travelling.
But then nothing beats the excitement of arriving in a new town in a foreign country, dropping your bags in your new room and going out to discover what’s there! Eyes and mind well open. Camera always at hand to record moments, places and people.
And then you sit on your bed in your guesthouse/hotel/hostel in the evening, sorting out photos, absorbing the events of the day, planning the next day, deciding where to go next, booking transport and accommodation.
Taking it all in.
This is the biggest reward.
This is what I love about travelling!
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” (Jack Kerouac)
“Are you really going to Vietnam on your own???”
The look on the lady’s face said it all. She kept staring at me, then at my suitcase (yes, suitcase, easier than backpacks these days…), then back at me. And then she added “Who are you going to talk to, if you travel on your own?”.
At that point I couldn’t help laughing. “You are soooo last century, even the century before last” I wanted to comment back. But I just laughed. Then I launched myself in an enthusiastic description of the advantages of solo travel, only to leave her even more baffled. When the bus finally arrived to the train station, on the way to the airport, she wished me all the best while shaking her head and walked away.
It was not the first time that I had to explain why I often travel on my own. Family and friends have asked that more than once. Like I am some sort of oddity :-S. Yet there are thousands of people out there who travel on their own every year – they must be all surrounded by a similar level of surprise/disbelief. If they are not, I’d like to meet their friends and families!
Anyway, back to the main point. Why do I travel on my own? And what are the perks of travelling solo?
Well, it’s great! And it’s freedom!
Yes it can be scary because it takes you out of your comfort zone. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m always apprehensive before travelling solo. But also you realise – trip after trip – how much stronger you have become.
Every decision you make is yours, and yours only. From deciding where to go and when, to the proper planning to the actual travelling, and everything that happens along the way. This is so empowering!
You have to fight battles on your own, and usually in a foreign country with very different habits and customs. It makes you a lot stronger. And if you think you can’t do it, get that thought out of your mind! Now! If I can do it, you can do it too.
People are often more inclined to help you or show you around when you are alone.
I will never forget “Thai mama”, the lady who ran the guesthouse where I stayed in Koh Lanta (Thailand), who took me with her every time she went to the market or to the other side of the island. Without her, I would have missed out on a lot of amazing places and experiences.
Not to mention the bus driver in northern Sweden who gave me a free lift from the airport to my hostel while he was on his way to the depot, as the next scheduled bus was three hours away (my uttermost gratitude to you, man!).
Also let’s not forget about all the new friends you can make along the way! Travelling on your own is the most socialising experience ever :-). You start talking to someone asking for information, or just general chit chat while killing time at the airport/bus station/train station/hostel, and then next you find yourselves travelling together for the following days or weeks. Suddenly you are not on your own anymore, and a friendship for life is born :-).
And if you are lucky you may even have a blog article written about you by your new travel companion (click here for mine. You’ll have to scroll down half page).
Of course travelling solo has downsides too.
But I will leave that for another post.