This is part four in a four part series, “What Solo Travel Looks Like.” After over a year away from my home country, I wanted to offer advice and a clear depiction of what solo travel was really like for me. Please read along with us and if you’d like to subscribe to my weekly newsletter, sign up at the bottom of this page. (You can read part one here, part two here, and part three here.)
PART FOUR: WHAT'S THE POINT?
I literally began writing this series over a year ago — January 2017. Here it is April 2018 and I'm finally finishing part four.
Can it be lonely? Yep. Can it be dangerous? Mhm. Can it be hard to explain to people? Definitely. Can it be f*cking hard and sort of awful and terrible and heartbreaking all at once? Yes.
But can it also be completely exhilarating? YES. Can it be empowering and freeing? YEP. Can it be social? YUP. Can it feel like the best thing you've ever done with your life? HECK YEAH.
I can't tell you how many times I wanted to throw in the towel and jump on a plane and go home. There was the time I was in Kanchanaburi, a tiny little river town in Thailand, when I was alone in a fan hotel room in 100+ degree heat and there were hardly any backpackers around and there were lots of old white men walking around with young Thai women and I swam in the pool alone at night with a beer and felt devastatingly alone. There was the time I rented a motorbike on my own for the first time in Chiang Mai and almost fell over at a red light and got lost getting back to my hostel and got chased down an alley by vicious barking dogs. There was the time I parted ways with the friends I had met and found myself alone at a party hostel in Cambodia in a 20-bed dorm with no clue about where to go or what to do in the capital city and wandered the Killing Fields (the most harrowing, depressing place ever) by myself. There was the time I got a bacterial infection in a hostel in Bali and spent four days shivering and vomiting.
So why do it? What's the point, right?
Well, I could also tell you about the time that I hiked a mountain alone in Tasmania, a rugged island at the edge of the world, and made it to the top feeling breathless and elated. There was the time I stayed in a tiny mountain hostel in a remote town with no other guests — I was literally the only one in the entire place. (It was slightly terrifying.) There was the time I swam up to complete strangers at a swimming spot in Chiang Mai and introduced myself, just like that. There was the time I took an overnight bus across Thailand all by myself and arrived at 5AM in the pitch dark, navigating my way in a sketchy taxi to my hostel that hadn't opened yet. There was the time I finally ventured out into the chaos of Vietnam and bought myself my first bánh mì and wandered the streets feeling on top of the world.
There are SO many reasons to travel solo. Here are just a few:
- You learn so much about yourself.
Getting outside of your comfort zone throws you into so many situations you wouldn't normally find yourself in — and you learn so much about yourself that you wouldn't normally. You might discover that you're really good at picking up foreign languages or that you're better at being social around strangers than you thought you were or that you prefer being savvy with your money and traveling by bus rather than flying. Solo travel forces you to really inspect who you are and where your values lie.
- You learn how capable you really are.
I can't tell you how many friends have told me, "Oh, you're so much braver than I am. I could never do what you do!" It's such a flattering sentiment, but what I really want to say is that of course you can do what I do. It's not that solo travelers possess some kind of superhuman bravery that no one else has. Flinging yourself into a world of solo travel (even if it's just a weekend trip) forces you to rely on yourself in ways you never have before. You learn that you're actually capable of things like booking spontaneous airfare and introducing yourself to strangers and immersing yourself in solitude and being really freaking brave.
- You meet so many new people you normally wouldn’t if you were traveling with a partner or group.
People assume that solo travel is lonely, but in reality you meet so many more people when you're alone. Being on your own forces you to rely on yourself to branch out and be social, which isn't so crucial when you're with others. You meet other people traveling solo (there are so many!) and there's a certain rapport you develop when you can all bond over traveling alone, together.
- You get to make all the decisions.
You're the only one to worry about! There's no compromising, no need to come up with a plan that suits everyone. You get to do exactly what you feel like doing, at any moment of the day. You get to be selfish and travel for you. It's pretty exhilarating.
Two years ago I was in Vietnam alone for the first time, and wrote this: "I'm not sure I understand solo travel. For so long now I've been following other women who are doing it, research for my impending adventure. And now here I am, a couple days in, and I don't get it yet. Right now it feels largely full of loneliness and discomfort and fear, so much fear. I'm trying to trust that it will make more sense soon."
I've come so far. But solo travel doesn't have to mean jetting off to the other side of the world alone. It can be a night booked at a local hotel, a weekend away one state over, work vacation time used for a week an an opposite coast. It can start as simply as dining alone — little steps to begin letting yourself get used to the feeling of having just yourself for company.
It can certainly be uncomfortable.
Which can be such a good thing.