The Pros and Cons of Travelling Alone

I just spent two months travelling around Mexico by myself. Here is what I learned.

Pro - The freedom to walk anywhere until you can’t be bothered anymore: changing directions at random, going into an interesting looking building to find out what it is, only seeing half a museum because the rest is boring (NB: I never did this), going home only when your feet are too tired.

Con - Deciding on where to go next: which interesting lane to explore, which flight take, which hostel to stay in, which beach to lie on — sometimes it helps to have another head to bounce ideas off. The paradox of choice can be overwhelming at times.

Pro - The surprise you see in people’s faces when you tell them that you’re here alone. Some people are still amazed to find single female travellers in supposedly ‘dangerous’ parts of the world. Sometimes they’re lovely and try and look after you, other times they just think you’re odd.

Con - Strange men coming up to talk to you and ignoring your polite but clear response that you’d just like to be left alone please. Men are scary. Although they often don’t realise it. Getting into a male-driven taxi as a lone female can often take a lot of courage.

Public transport in Mexico City has dedicated female-only sections. It isn’t always enforced, and it’s by no means an answer to harassment, but during rush hour it is infinitely more comfortable to be sandwiched between women than squashed against men.

Pro - Staying inside your hotel room, doing nothing and not feeling guilty about it. The space to sprawl on a double bed that’s just for you and sleep whenever you so choose. Not feeling rushed to get ready and go somewhere. I spent several hours listening to the bar opposite and drawing pictures when the internet cut out. Bliss.

Con - Boredom. Travelling is not all cocktails and parties and mountains to climb and museums to see and exciting new people to meet. There’s a lot of waiting around. Doing nothing. Killing time. And no-one to kill it with.

Happy place — Playa del Cocos on Isla Holbox. Taken by propping up book on shorts and copy of ‘On the Road’

Con - Taking photos of yourself. This is possibly the most awkward thing about travelling alone: balancing your phone on a book and a rock to try and get a good picture of yourself, or trying to ask kindly strangers to take a self-conscious photos of you, or being that person who has to take a selfie in front of everything interesting. So you end up with little to no documentation of what you looked like while you were there.

Pro - Lying about who you are. You’re alone, in a totally new place . You won’t be staying there long. No-one knows who you were before. You are totally free to invent yourself as whoever you want to be. Multiple times.

You could have become fluent in Spanish in a year, or spent the last summer driving around Africa in a pick-up truck. You could have taught english in a yurt in Mongolia or be an award winning choreographer. You could have been arrested for protecting rainforests in Indonesia and spent a year in jail. You could be an astronaut. You could be fun, interesting, dazzling. You could be anything.

Pro/Con - ‘Discovering who you are.’ Who are you, really? Are you outgoing? Anxious? Easily bored? Introverted? Organised? Loud? Depressed? Sincere? And do you really want to find out?

Con - It can be scary out there. Alone. At night. When there’s a ferocious tropical storm. And no-one around. And lots of strange insects whipping themselves into a hurricane inside your mosquito net.

Pro/Con - No-one worries about you. There’s no-one waiting for you to come back, worrying about where you are. And there’s no-one you have to worry about either. You can’t lose someone if there’s no-one around to lose. But then there’s no-one to notice if you’re not eating properly, or if you if you don’t come back one evening.

Con - No-one who’ll tell you if you’re getting sunburnt or flick mosquitos off your legs or rub sun-cream on your back or smother your insect bites in soothing lemon juice and kisses.

Pro - There’s no-one asking you to have some of your food. And you only have to eat when you you want to, so you can enjoy the feeling of being hungry and be fussy about where you’re going to eat.

The most beautiful salad on a vineyard just outside San Miguel de Allende

Con - Having to ask for a table for one. You get used to bringing books as your dinner companions, or listening politely to other people on their dates.

Pro - Quiet. Silence wheneeeeever you want it.

Con - Loneliness. Sometimes you can go for a days without having communicated with anyone out loud (this is less of a problem if you can actually speak the local language). There’s a real risk of being symbiotically attached to your phone and relying on (sometimes dodgy) internet connections to remember that you have friends.

Pro - Being alone makes you notice more things about the world : the way that cloud looks like a moose, the type of vegetation that’s on that cliff, the spectacular colours of that painting, the music over there, that crab. There’s no-one around taking up your attention.

Pro/Con - You have to rely on yourself. And you can be a let down. But more often than not, it turns out that you’re amazing at dealing with tricky situations.

Mega Pro - The people you meet. The incredible, kind, hilarious, magical, fascinating, generous people who will let you sleep on their floors and buy you dinners and share their lives and stories with you and take you to places you never dreamed you’d see.

Heather and Naomi, Elizabeth, Melanie, Maritza, Walter, Ramone — thank you for everything. You spectacular humans, you.

Humans are wonderful. And travelling alone opens up a world of wonderful people that you otherwise would never meet.