5 Reasons You Should Experience (and Master) Solo Travel
What's stopping YOU?
For a lot of people, traveling to an overseas country, even with other people, is a big deal. It means exposure to an unfamiliar culture and environment, potentially losing your way, and possibly having to cope with language and translation difficulties.
So the idea of traveling overseas by yourself (AKA solo travel) can seem crazy, preposterous, or even dangerous.
As a kid, I traveled to Europe several times to visit family. My peers at school thought I had a lot of “travel experience.” But none of these travels were enough to prepare me for my first solo journey. Without more experienced or organised people to rely on, I was completely taken by shock the first time I traveled alone, abroad.
Yes. It is scary. But after the first few times, you feel a lot more than fear. Excitement, awe, freedom, and independence to name some. It takes a number of times traveling solo to start enjoying it, but once you do, you’ll never look back (see my previous article, The 4 Stages of Traveling Solo).
Here are my top five reasons for doing solo travel. Starting with the harshest and finishing with the best.
Let’s be honest, some of us could do with this. I can’t keep count of the number of “adults” I’ve met who are more childish than your average kid. On the other hand, some kids I've met seem extremely mature for their age...
This brings me to my next point, which is that everyone has different levels of maturity depending on their background and exposure. I think most people agree that, while not always pleasant, more exposure and more maturity is better—it's helpful for allowing us to navigate life's challenges, as well as be more conscientious towards others. Solo travel can give you this exposure, as you have no choice but to be completely self-reliant, and look at the world through uncensored eyes. It's easy when traveling with others, or never traveling at all, to remain totally clueless about things like organising a trip, being self-sufficient, and so on.
When you travel alone, you don’t have a choice, buddy. You organise it, or no one will. And if something goes wrong? Well, either it’s your fault, and you’ll have to get over the fact that you’re not perfect, or it was beyond your control, and you’ll have to accept that some things can’t be helped. It takes a startling amount of maturity to come to terms with both, but eventually you will have that outlook.
Through solo travel, you’ll become more practiced at organising and looking after yourself. And once you can do that, you’ll also have a lot more confidence. These skills will definitely come in handy in all walks of life.
As humans, we seem to have a preoccupation with organising things. Making plans, schedules, lists to tick off. This has been taught to us from an early age—make sure you spend so-and-so hours on your homework. Remember to finalise your plans with your friend before the weekend arrives, etc.
This carries on into our study and working lives. While it might be useful in a lot of ways, it also causes significant amounts of stress once we become ingrained in a culture where we have to plan things and be organised.
Organisation is a fantastic tool. But that’s all it should be. It should NOT be a rulebook we have to follow exactly—yet that’s what it becomes for many of us. Whenever something doesn’t go to plan, we have a tendency to become anxious, and may look for somewhere to pin the blame, instead of taking responsibility ourselves and coming to peace with the outcome.
Here’s the thing about solo travel. No matter how much planning you do, things will almost never go exactly to plan. You’re in a different country—you don’t know all their rules, and all their rules might affect all your plans.
The first few times you travel solo, you might panic when things go wrong. But once you become used to the idea of things changing, you become more flexible, able to think on your feet, and most importantly, able to keep calm and carry on in difficult situations. When you return from your adventures, you’ll realise how much less stressed out you are when you can’t do everything you planned on in your day-to-day life. Thank goodness for solo travel!
That’s right! You know how awful it is when half of your trip is dictated by your dear mom wanting to visit all the clothes shops in the area when all you’re thinking about is climbing that famous mountain. Or your nerdy friends want to check out the museum renowned for containing the greatest amount of sewing buttons in the world or something ridiculous.
Of course, maybe that IS what you wanna do, in which case I say go for it, you do you! 😝
The point is, you don’t have to waste an awful lot of time doing things you don’t enjoy. And you can spend more time on the things you do enjoy! Often, we just don’t get to see a lot of the things we’d like to when we’re traveling in a group, because we all have to sacrifice our own wants for the sake of community. Well, guess what? Not when you solo travel! You can do whatever you want!
When alone, you’ll likely try things you otherwise wouldn’t. You know, things you might be too embarrassed to do if you’re with friends, because they might disapprove. Or you might have a tendency to get caught up in the “I’m not gonna do it if no one else does it!” trap.
When you’re traveling alone, this often doesn’t happen because it can’t happen. If you encounter a new situation as you so often do when traveling in a foreign country, you have no idea what your social circles would think about it because it’s so completely different from anything you’ve ever encountered with them before. So, you either give the new thing a try, because you don’t see any reason not to, OR if you’re like me, you do the thing precisely BECAUSE you wouldn’t be able to do it with friends or family. Eating snails, unisex hot springs, you name it. And remember, no one has to know anything if you don't want to share 😉
And those are just the things you can control! There are other things you don’t have any choice over that sometimes just happen when you travel alone, and a lot of them end up being some of the best experiences in your memory.
You’ll meet and talk to more locals, not to mention other travelers. People approach solo-travelers more often, because they want to help them, to make them feel welcome; whereas if you’re in a group, they tend to keep their distance, as they expect you would rather talk to your friends than a stranger. This means when we travel in a group, we often miss great opportunities to learn about the culture and lifestyle from locals, and nothing is quite like seeing or hearing something directly from a person who has experienced it. As for other travelers, they’ll have plenty of awesome stories to tell you from their trips, and you don’t have to feel condescending for sharing your own stories with them! They’re often like-minded people who can make great companions for certain travel activities, or they might give you good advice and recommend sightseeing spots to you. Oh yeah, and did I mention that all this talking to different people is going to give you better people skills? It’s a thumbs up from me!
Finally, if you get in a tight spot while traveling, e.g. get lost, lose something, etc., you are likely to gain more attention and sympathy from people if you’re alone than if you were in a group. I’ve had people offer me car rides, pay my tickets, buy me meals, and had other acts of kindness shown to me that almost never happen when I travel with others. When you experience these acts of kindness, it really makes you grateful to be alive—no joke. One time I was stuck in a really rural area, and missed the last train of the night. There were no hotels etc. to stay the night at, and I had no idea what I would do. When someone offered to drive me all the way back to where I was staying, even though it was a good half hour from where they lived, I felt just about ready to ball my eyes out.
#5: You’ll Learn to Love the World
The last story sums it up really. Traveling solo exposes you to these kinds of experiences, and acts of kindness that you can’t help but be moved by. Sure, bad things can also happen while traveling alone. Someone might steal your stuff, or tell you the wrong directions on accident. But the intensity of the good things you experience is so much stronger than the negative things, that you learn to be grateful and forgive people. Definitely going to come in handy in the future!
You’ll also see and hear many weird and wonderful things that will make you realise how big the world really is, and that no matter how much you think you know, there is always more to find out! A pretty humbling experience. And despite the trouble it might sometimes cause you, once you become accustomed to the quirks of a different country, you’ll only love it more! You’ll become more accepting, and even embracing, of cultural differences.
That’s why I think everyone should get used to solo travel! It doesn't mean you have to travel only by yourself all the time, but gaining the skills to be able to travel solo, and be comfortable doing it is an asset everyone could benefit from. And if everyone's benefiting, it'll only serve to make the world a better place.
What’s more, I want to stress that travel is a lot more possible than many people think. We all need to stop viewing it as something reserved for wealthier people. More on that in this article.
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Blogger, Writer ✍️・Wildlife photographer, Bear Conservationist 💚・Adamant traveler ✈️・ Hiking, Camping・Getting amongst this crazy world 🌍elisooker.wordpress.com
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