The perils and pluses of travelling alone

Several people have written about traveling solo, or being a female traveler, or both. The lessons you learn along the way and more importantly, about yourself, can be life-changing.

But let’s be honest, it can be lonely. Having traveled in my early 20s — my first solo trip being to India to Turkey via Nepal, Pakistan and Iran — I encountered some instances where I put myself out there to the mercy of the Gods and was rewarded with kindness the majority of the time, and at worst, with a really interesting tale at the end of the saga.

I loved the randomness of not knowing where I would be staying that night, or who I would meet, and what I would do. Yet the trips I recall and cherish the most are the ones where I travel to connect with people I love and want to maintain relationships with despite being a hemisphere away, or to learn a new skill by doing a course, do a project or fulfil a long-held goal. Too often otherwise, I’d end up only mixing with other international travelers and minimal contact with locals.

After the overland trip across the subcontinent, tracing parts of the ancient Silk Road, I was determined to work in the field of international development. For ten years, I lived and worked in a multitude of jobs and countries. From Laos to South Africa, Indonesia, Afghanistan and Lebanon. I traveled to several more — Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Vanuatu.

Needless to say, I learned an immense amount. I was privileged and honored to do my job, sometimes outraged at political injustices, often humbled. But now I travel in my spare time with purpose, not ad hoc. No traipsing. Not that there isn’t space and time for randomness — it’s life after all and I’m open to different perspectives. Yet friends and family come first, so seeing them as much as I can is the most important priority. I travel to learn new languages or undertake courses — I recently completed my Masters in Europe on scholarship and am learning Spanish — or to fulfil a life’s dream, such as when I was 21 and hiked Mount Kilimanjaro as a reward to myself after graduating from university.

So while I love wandering, I find that extended roaming can lose it’s appeal and meaning very quickly. For me, I want to engage in the culture I’m living in, and that means traveling with purpose.