Solo traveling is not for everyone, I know, but I hope that after reading this text, you will be able to understand why I am happy and proud to call myself a “solo traveler”.
Let’s start by saying that I consider myself to be a fairly independent person. Don’t get me wrong, I like people, I enjoy spending time with friends and I do appreciate having company as I go around in my life. I truly believe I’m a friendly and easygoing guy, the kind of person with whom it would be easy to start a conversation.
However, every now and then I do like to be by myself, alone with my thoughts, walking aimlessly in the town where I live or just quietly sitting on the beach, listening to the sound of the waves crashing into shore. I have learned to enjoy the silence and to be comfortable with the idea of being alone with myself – and solo traveling helped me with that.
I had my first solo traveling experience 2 years ago in Cambodia, Lao and Vietnam. It was not because of some intentional plan to do it, but rather because of the simple reason that I wanted to travel, and due to timing constraints no one was available to do it with me at the time.
Yes, I was a little unsure at first, but I had already known from experience that if you keep on postponing your plans because of other people, you will never get them done. So, I decided to go for it!
And I must say that I loved it! There is something freeing about being in a city where no one knows you and something incredibly comforting in taking the role of the spectator for once, instead of the actor’s.
Being able to take a step back from everything and just observe strangers as they go by, doing their own thing, living their life, felt fascinating.
In a way, being alone allowed me to immerse myself in the culture of that city like I never thought would be possible. I had the time to get lost in the details; to wander in the city, listen to the sounds, to truly feel whichever place I was at. And without anyone to distract me, soon the attention focus turned inwards, and I started to question myself, realizing things I had never noticed before about me and the way I see the world. It was like going on a self-discovery trip while on another trip.
“Oh, that’s very brave…”, I have heard at times. The thing is, to me it doesn’t feel brave – it feels natural.
It’s a different kind of journey: You get to travel at your own pace, in an independent way, taking care of your own stuff, and you don’t need to argue and come to a consensus regarding all the things you would like to see or do – you just do them!
Of course, it requires more responsibility on your part: You’re the one in charge of keeping yourself safe and your things in order, and in case something goes wrong, you’re the one who must find a solution. You must enjoy yourself, but still making sure you are also wise in your decisions.
One thing I have learned though, is that people are actually kinder than you think and in case you are in need of any help, most of the times you will find someone willing to lend you some of their time and a hand.
Another interesting question that I have been asked about this kind of travel is:
“But just how hard is it to meet people?”
Well, in all seriousness, it really is as easy as saying “Hi!”. Really!
I think the number one myth about solo traveling is that it means to travel alone. Truth is, I have met so many people, amazing people, beautiful people, as a solo traveler – certainly many more than I would have ever met if I only traveled accompanied. I think it’s part of our human nature: Humans are social animals. And you do get times when you start to feel alone when you are traveling by yourself. But the human mind is amazing, and at such times, it starts pushing you to interact with other people, no matter how “awkward” or “weird” it would seem, in an attempt to try and forge new relationships. And (again) other people are more receptive than you think.
Possibly they’re even going through the same as you and looking for someone to talk to. Meeting new people, especially nowadays, when you can find hostels full of interesting backpackers everywhere, is nowhere near an impossible challenge. As long as you keep yourself open to the possibility, it will most certainly happen. And you will meet so many-many different people, with so many different stories to tell you:
The couple who sailed down the Mekong River on a fishing boat, the girl who traveled with a motorcycle from Saigon all the way to Cambodia and then to Lao, the French people who always leave you wondering about the meaning of life after a couple of beers and so many other people…
If you were curious about solo traveling and came to me asking for advice, the number one thing I would say would be: “Go for it! Don’t be afraid to take the chance!”By the time you return, you will come back with much more than a sunburn and some souvenirs. You will come back with new experiences, a new understanding of the world, perhaps even of yourself, and new friends who you will hope to meet again, somewhere, someday.
You will come back with an open mind and the spirit of an adventurer.
And that is why I’m a solo traveler.