So it’s no surprise that when we turn our minds to travel, compromise still finds a way to worm itself into our decisions and desires. We all travel for different reasons, some of us like to visit historical sites and learn the stories from the past, others like to relax on a beach with a cocktail and others like to challenge themselves with outdoor activities that bring them out of their comfort zone. More often than not, we reach some form of compromise with our travelling companions so that everyone gets a chance to experience a slice of what they want to do with their time.
Travel is supposed to be about freedom though, right?
Where’s the freedom in not being able to do what you want?
A few years ago I embarked on an adventure with a friend. At some point, I ended up all by myself. It was in no way a bad thing. In fact, it was the most liberating experience of my life. I learned so many things about myself, life and the kindness of others. Even now, after completing many expeditions to foreign lands, solo travel still remains my favourite way to see the world because of the amazing benefits it brings.
In this guide I want to share my top reasons why travelling alone changed my life and can change yours too.
Every time I have travelled alone, I’ve noticed it seems a lot easier to meet new people and make new friends. I find that people become curious in a way that suggests they actually care what you have to say. They want to find out things about you and learn what lead you to be where you are now. You become united through your joint interests and it generates constructive conversations. Just the fact that you are an outsider arriving alone is a talking point in itself.
Coming from a megacity like London, for even the most confident people it is very difficult to bring new people into your life and start new friendships. People use the internet to find each other and communicate, when they are surrounded by millions of them every single day. It almost seems as if you need a reason to talk to someone new, and simply acknowledging the existence of others with a greeting is considered out of the ordinary. The sad reality is that so many people consumed by the rat race are living such a ‘busy’ life they simply don’t care who you are anymore.
Whether you strike up a conversation with other travellers in your hostel, or you get talking to some locals, socialising with strangers is a brilliant way to practise your social skills and learn valuable things from others that can be both enjoyable and rewarding.
The pressures of our everyday lives can be damaging for our overall happiness and affect the way we view ourselves. Lots of us are battling with personal demons that try to stop us from enjoying life as much as we should. In our usual routine it can become really difficult to find the time to take a break and work on beating those demons.
Managing the important aspects of your journey like finances and accommodation can be great for creating a real feeling of independence and accomplishment. You don’t have to plan absolutely everything, it’s good to allow spontaneous events to be part of your adventure and often the less you plan the more you feel like you have discovered yourself.
New places often offer a warm, welcoming social environment where locals want to show you around and tell you about places they like. From another perspective, communal areas in hostels and campsites are designed to make everyone feel part of the conversation and even if you aren’t much of a talker, it is a wonderful antidote for social anxiety.
Studies have shown that daily doses of green, nature-filled environments are an effective way of targeting depression and that locations with a large amount of grey from concrete are detrimental to the improvement of the condition. The more we connect with the forests, lakes, mountains and valleys around us, the more improvements we can see in our mood.
At some point in our lives we experience moments where we can feel stifled and claustrophobic. We might be trying to get through a difficult time or perhaps have an important decision to make and need the right setting to think things through clearly. A lot of the time the reason we can’t find the answers we are looking for is because we can’t see our choices clearly or understand the situation to the fullest.
Taking a break from your usual routine and planning a simple holiday could be just the distraction you need from your everyday worries. In this scenario I recommend destinations that allow you to connect with nature and be away from people. Go and explore the forest, take walks along a pristine beach or embark on a hike through some mountains. Leave any distractions behind that you don’t need, unplug yourself from everything and take some time to listen to your surroundings. Find a view that you enjoy and become part of it. Listen to the sounds of nature and the difficulties you were experiencing in you daily life will be blown away, giving your mind the space and clarity it needs to think.
Isn’t it tiresome when you’ve known someone for so long that you’ve heard all of their stories multiples times over? Or when the memories people have to share really don’t sound too interesting or memorable? This easily becomes the case when people aren’t regularly encountering new, exciting situations in their life. When you take the leap and go on a solo adventure, thrilling times are never far away and you often don’t need to plan adventurous things for them to happen. You will find yourself in moments where you will almost feel the need to pinch yourself, just to check that you are not dreaming.
Being alone with the world opens you up to so many new possibilities. The stimulating and challenging events that you will conquer alone become fascinating stories you can share with others. Not only will it give you more to talk about and make you more relatable to others, it will convince you that your life is a truly spontaneous journey of wonder.
When we travel with others, our responsibilities are often shared and this means there is not a great burden on ourselves to manage and account for everything that is required. Maybe you have a friend that is good at finding local activities and you trust them with searching and booking fun things to do. You might have a friend that is particularly good at speaking with the locals to find your way around. Maybe even your partner will read the map while you navigate your way through tricky roads with roadsigns in a foreign language. Either way – the assurance of having other people with you that you trust makes for a more relaxing experience for you and it often makes you feel more safe and secure.
When you travel as a lone wolf, all of that safety and security is taken away. There is nobody to rely on but yourself. Things that you may not have been particularly good at like booking flights or hotels, you will have to become better with. You will learn to keep yourself safe in busy streets and markets, and learn a unique kind of confidence that shows people you are travelling alone but you can handle yourself and be independent.
It really isn’t as scary as it seems, travelling solo is a highly rewarding challenge that builds your confidence and shows you that – if you believe in yourself and take necessary precautions, you really can accomplish anything. You will return home from your first solo travel feeling like a completely different person, someone that has been put through their paces in a variety of situations and emerged victorious. I feel like each trip I complete, I become a little tougher and a lot more confident in myself and what I am capable of.
A common misconception with travelling alone is that you will feel tremendously lonely and it will affect your enjoyment and your mood. Some people think that you will get so homesick that all you can think about it is returning home to familiar comforts, this isn’t true. Whether you seek it out or not, you will encounter people on every step of your adventure. Even in remote places where it seems as if there is nobody around, you will still encounter other people going about their lives. People are such a valuable resource on your travels, they can help you with directions when you have no idea where you are going, teach you about places to visit that they enjoy, and they can make you laugh when you need it most!
It’s important not to be scared of talking to people that you don’t know in a foreign country. People all around the world are in fact the same, there and nice and nasty people everywhere. You will very rarely meet people that are negative, rude or unhelpful towards you. Often my biggest surprise is learning just how kind, welcoming and accommodating strangers can be when you are visiting their country! I have lost count how many times I have been given free food, offered a comfortable place to spend the night, been helped out with a bit of engine oil or some fuel and how many locals have wanted me to taste some of their homemade alcohlic drinks. Even in places that are considered dangerous to visit, or that are not used to outsiders visiting you will still encounter happy, friendly people that want to help you on your way!
Learning to enjoy and appreciate the value of being in your own company is a valuable attribute to have as an adult. Being alone gives you time to reflect on what’s going on in your life and allows your mind to enjoy a state of calm that can really help you piece together what you are going through. Whether I am taking a hike through the forest by myself, or going dancing in an edgy nightclub, I really enjoy the feeling of being able to enjoy myself without needing others to help me achieve this goal.
It is important to try and live in the moment and absord your surroundings. Clinging on to your phone to make yourself feel more secure is not the best strategy. Look at what’s happening around you and engage with your environment. The time you spend alone makes your desire to connect with new people a whole greater.
There are so many more benefits to solo travel that this article could turn into a small book! Instead of trying to list them all, I want you to get out there and find them out for yourself!
If you want to feel so much more from your life, or you want to feel so much better about yourself I really recommend that you book that flight, that train ticket or hit the open road and see how big and beautiful the world really is – it might teach you a thing or two about yourself.