Get out there and solo travel!
Solo travelling can be done at any point in your lifetime; there is never an inappropriate time. The average solo traveler’s age is, surprisingly, 54. Old or young, traveling alone provides unparalleled opportunity for growth and engagement. Unfortunately, there is often a societal stigma about doing- well anything really- alone. Going to the movies, eating at a restaurant and especially traveling. What a sad, lonely soul is what we’re societally conditioned to think. Which is so sad, because doing things alone can strengthen your personal growth and help you appreciate the times you are with people as well as the times you need some alone time.
The yolk’s personal experience
I was once a victim of this flawed thinking too. When I was studying abroad in Lyon, I was at first reluctant to travel alone. I thought it would be admitting defeat; that somehow no one wanted to hang out with me, or in this case travel to cute, small French towns like Aix-en-Provence or Avignon. But I realized that everyone is a different traveler. I love museums and trying local hole in the walls and restaurants and yes, I use yelp, because my time is limited and I want it to be awesome. Other people on my trip took comfort in the big monuments and touristy things and Subways or baguetteries. I also have a lot more energy than most people have. It was hard to reconcile 10 different preferences and travel aspirations every trip we made and I found myself making a lot of compromises. Until, with my 10-day break looming, I was forced to travel alone because a week before a scheduled trip around Spain with a friend, he canceled on me last minute. I was scared; I didn’t want to travel Spain alone. But I made possibly one of the best decisions of my life and decided to just go at it solo.
What resulted was a blissful week on my own terms. No one to tell me where to go. Unadulterated freedom to explore whatever I wanted. There will never be a time when you have no worries or responsibilities and can just fuel your imagination, as when you travel alone. (Or a time when no one is judging you for the third round of tapas you’ve eaten). I journaled and read books and the thing that surprised me the most was just how social I was. I met new people wherever I went and at random places, whether from Argentina, Australia or California. And that led to other spontaneous experiences. One guy I met at a bar recommended I go to Toledo, a city I had never heard of before in my life. But the next day, I got on a train from Madrid and ended up in one of my favorite cities in all of Europe. It was almost a magical, transcendent experience, and not just because it was the old center of Jewish, Muslim and Christian interaction. And to think I hadn’t even considered it beforehand. Only 11% of the travel population are solo travellers, but I would recommend for everyone to try it. Oscar Wilde confirms that “it’s healthy to travel alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person.”
When traveling alone, you truly feel a sense of empowerment and reckless adventure. In our regular lives, we schedule and plan things around other people as well as ourselves, but this is the one time you will be able to truly plan just for yourself and be a little selfish. You can indulge every single one of your whims and are the master of your itinerary. You can linger for as long as you want staring at a beautiful sunset or really be alone with your thoughts. You are way more flexible with your time. And the added bonus is there will be no drama or fights with friends. Two of my really good friends had a fallout as a result of traveling around Italy together which has since caused lots of discomfort. According to Yahoo Travel, 65% of people want to solo travel because it gives them the freedom to make decisions and be themselves.
If you’re a woman, be safety aware, but don’t let fear define your destination
I definitely won’t sugarcoat it, there are a lot of fears and concerns associated with solo travel, especially as a woman. Woman have to worry about a lot more than men in terms of safety, but in a world with cellphones and social traveling, that doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re worried about safety, you can sign up for an organized solo journey that will match you up with other people also looking for a safe, fun solo trip. I was never extremely concerned about my safety while traveling Europe, a destination 50% of women solo travelers choose to go to. But more generally, one of the biggest misconceptions about traveling alone is that you will actually be alone, and therefore feel lonely, disconnected and miserable. However, staying at Hostels that coordinate day tours, pub-crawls and other activities amongst guests really helps introduce you to people. I met so many awesome people I spent entire days with and didn’t get bored by. Traveling alone can be an incredibly social experience if that’s what you’re looking for, and can help mitigate concerns of safety if you’re with groups of people. People who are alone are also often perceived as more approachable than people in large groups of friends. According to booking.com, 59% of women solo travellers would travel alone again in the next 12 months with a mission to be refreshed and inspired.
Don’t fret over the bill
Another major impediment to traveling alone can be high-costs if you’re not splitting the bills with someone. 40% of those surveyed said high costs is the main reason they don’t travel solo. However, hostels save the day again. I’ve personally stayed at a hostel that was only $11 USD a night and included free breakfast and dinner. It has never been easier to travel cost-effectively. It really isn’t just for rich people anymore.
Catch up on reading and journaling
Traveling alone is also the perfect time to catch up on reading books. I know when I traveled alone I carried a book with me everywhere and at all times, and caught up on a lot of classics when I got tired of walking and picked a random bench by the Barcelona beach to just plop down and read. Your train rides are not spent chatting with your companion but rather reading. I would also encourage journaling or going everywhere with a pen and paper and just sitting down and writing down your thoughts and feelings. Or you can keep a blog to update your family and friends from back home. There will be times you feel lonely, not going to lie, but by journaling and carving time for self-reflection, you will achieve a greater self-awareness. Paul Mitchell once said, “If you travel far enough, you meet yourself.”
One last plug for solo travel
Being responsible for yourself may be daunting, but it will unveil your strengths. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, is a prime example. In Italy, she found true pleasure in nourishment, in India she found the power of prayer and in Indonesia she found the balance of true love and self-love. She constantly asked herself “Is this lifetime only supposed to be about duty?” or can it also be about “dolce far niente: the pleasure of doing anything.”