Travelling alone is something that is not for everybody, but I think everyone should do this at least once in their lives. My first solo trip was when I was 19; I traveled alone to France to go work on a campsite for the summer. When I was 26, I went backpacking in New Zealand for 2 months on my own.
My backpack adventure to New Zealand was my first intercontinental trip alone and it was when I really got contaminated with the travel bug. My first long-term relationship had just ended, I needed some head space and time away. I had always wanted to go to NZ, so I saved some money, I booked a ticket and I went. It was one of the best decision ever as I had the time of my life, made friends, cleared my mind, and was able to look at my ‘normal’ life at home from a distance (literally) for a bit: my job, my house, my ended relationship. It helped me get through that tough post break-up time tremendously too.
When I returned to NL, I wanted nothing more than to move to NZ, because everything was better there, or at least, that is what I told myself. Life in NL was boring compared to NZ, there were not as many thrills as I had experienced over the two months before. Obviously, that comparison was completely unfair and I was comparing apples with pears, but at that point, I felt like that, fair or not.
That move never took place as I finally came to realize that backpacking somewhere for two months, so being on holiday and doing whatever you like, is not the same living somewhere. Had I moved there, I would have had to find a job, pay rent, pay taxes, make new friends and build a new life, which can be very exciting too, but is a completely different experience than wandering about for two months and going where-ever the wind takes you.
I am forever thankful though that my 26-year-old self took the decision to go travelling alone and I think everyone should do that at some point in their lives, either for a shorter or a longer period of time. Here is why:
1. It teaches you a lot about yourself
Mainly: it teaches you to be at ease with yourself. Going to the cinema on my own or having dinner alone in a restaurant does not bother me anymore. If people wonder and stare, I let them; I will likely never see them again anymore anyway. (Same with wearing heels basically.. 😉 ).
2. It so much easier to make contact with people when you are by yourself
When travelling with someone, you are always in some way, shape or form focused on each other. When you are alone, you will start that chat with the restaurant owner, or with that lady who is having coffee by herself too.
3. You will grow appreciation for the things you normally take for granted
Regardless of where you go, they will not have the things you have at home. Sometimes that’s something minor like your favorite brand of toothpaste, sometimes it’s something bigger like running water or electricity. Or a car. 🙂
4. Distance gives perspective
Being able to literally take distance from your ‘normal’ life, gives it perspective. Distance can give you a new appreciation for the things you have going on in your life at home, see a bigger picture, as you will quickly notice what the things and people are you miss most (or maybe not at all).
5. You have to (learn to) make your own decisions.
There is no one to rely on or to fall back on, you choose whether you go left or right. This can be hard when you are more a ‘follower’ than a ‘leader’, but for that reason alone it’s worth doing it, as it gets you out of you comfort zone.
6. You can do whatever you like when you like it.
No one tells you what to do or when to do it; you do not have to account for anything. And that is so liberating.
7. You learn to be independent and to trust your gut.
I once stayed the night at the house of an elderly couple who I had met at a tiny station in the South of France. I had missed my last bus and they didn’t want me wandering about the dodgy area around the station looking for a hotel, so they offered me to stay with them; I slept at a huge house, had my own room with en-suite bathroom and they cooked me a lovely meal; it was better than many hotels I stayed in (and I have stayed in quite a few hotels). Had I had one hint of suspicion that they were up to no good, I wouldn’t have gotten in that car.
8. You learn to be flexible
Things will not always go to plan: A train might not run, a flight might be delayed, you might want to stay somewhere longer or maybe leave earlier. You quickly learn to adjust, to be patient, to be flexible and to deal with the situations life throws at you. Sometimes that is hard enough at home in your safe environment, let alone when you are in a country you don’t know and where you don’t speak the language. But you adapt, you learn and you will manage. One way or another.
Even though I am married now and the Hobbit loves travelling too, I do still travel on my own (sometimes for work), and so does he. Not for two months, but for occasional weekends. I still enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, I love travelling together with the Hobbit or with friends, but I like it even more BECAUSE I also travel on my own.
In fact, one of the things I love most about solo travel now, is missing home. That sounds contradictory, but it means that I care, that I love what I have at home. That I appreciate the life that I have built here and that I want to go back to that life, rather than run from it.
I’d love to hear your experiences on this: what are the things you like or dislike about solo travel? Have you ever done it? Would you do it again?