Why I Prefer to Travel Solo
Everybody should try it at least once.
When I tell people I lived out of a backpack for ten years, they always ask in disbelief, “On your OWN?” The thought of being essentially alone in the world for such a long period of time seems to terrify people.
The answer, of course, is that I was and wasn’t on my own. I often travelled for stints with people I met along the way — I couchsurfed, made connections in hostels, was visited by friends from back home, and had relationships of various lengths.
But no matter where I was, I always took time out to travel solo — even if it was just for a few days at a time. Here’s why everyone should give it a try.
You meet a LOT more people
The first time I went backpacking for months, it was with a good friend from university through Eastern Europe. She was an easy person to travel with — but when you’re two or more people, you inevitably make far less effort in meeting others because you already have someone to do things with. But when you’re alone, you’ll strike up a conversation with your dorm buddy and drag them to a Croatian Rock Club. If they’re travelling solo as well, they’ll definitely say yes. Some of my lifelong friendships began with a trip to a Croatian Rock Club (or whatever the equivalent was in different countries). Ditto chatting to locals in a cafe.
You get outside of your comfort zone
The great thing about my first overseas trip was that my travel buddy had already done the backpacking thing for six months before me, so she knew how to get around. The downside was that I naturally relied on her to sort things out for the both of us. She carried the guide book and learned enough words of each language to book us train tickets and hotels, and I followed along. It wasn’t until she flew back to Australia that I had to figure out these things for myself — but I discovered that there was a whole world outside my comfort zone, and it was the most exciting place I’d ever visited.
You become very resourceful
I lost my bank card during our travels around Eastern Europe (swallowed by a machine in Serbia) and my companion lent me enough money to get to an embassy. I learned nothing from this experience — in the years that followed, I lost access to my money in several other inconvenient places (Cuba, Rome, Sudan) while travelling alone. It could have ended terribly I suppose, but something about having $20 in your pocket and working out how to survive is actually a real adrenaline rush. You learn all sorts of skills that you didn’t know you have, like busking and the art of negotiation with border patrol officers.
You don’t have to compromise
In my experience, the more people you travel with, the more time you spend arguing on a street corner about what you should do next. And potentially, the more time you spend doing activities that someone else in the group chose. When you travel solo, you’re 100% in control of your time — you can keep your plans flexible so that if you like a place (or you lose your bank card) you can stay there a bit longer, without being rushed along according to someone else’s itinerary. The most memorable things that happen on a trip are usually unexpected, when you go with your own instincts.
You learn about yourself
I’m an introvert so I don’t have a problem with spending long chunks of time without having any human interaction. As a solo traveller, I also became very skilled at making myself sleep on cue — so that if I ended up in a hotel where there wasn’t really anyone else around, and I didn’t have a book or internet access, then as soon as it got dark I’d be out like a light. But even if you’re a social person, these stretches of alone time are an excellent opportunity just to listen to your own thoughts and get to know yourself a whole lot better — which is something we often forget to do in our everyday lives.