As a serial solo traveler for more than half of the time I’ve been traveling, I have become acquainted with the ups and downs of traveling by myself. For one, it does take courage to venture out there without a companion. Safety is always the number one priority in such endeavor. I can think of a number of scenarios where I thought to myself, “Wtf was I thinking?” …But I still continue traveling solo anyways. Akin to an adrenaline type sport, traveling solo has a certain kind of appeal that almost resembles an addiction. The liberating feeling of being free upstages the loneliness and safety issues. The lure of braving the unknown overpowers any forms of fear that solo traveling presents. In many ways, it is the ultimate challenge for us, humans. In our daily lives, we are surrounded by people 99% of the time. Even at home, we have the online social networks to contend with. If we have any fear of loneliness or insecurities about ourselves, solo traveling is the means for us to face both.
When on our own we fly out to a city or hike up mountains, the anonymity of our existence increases and we are left to our own devices to endure the feeling of aloneness. In that predicament, we are left with two options, either we wither and suffer or we grow and love ourselves more. My first encounter with solo travel was in 2003 when I decided to learn Spanish in Guatemala while in between jobs. It was intimidating to say the least to get out of the airport and realize your survival skills had significantlly diminished due to being in an unfamiliar place where a different language was spoken, among other factors. To make matters worse, while studying Spanish in Antigua, I decided to do home stay. No one in the house was allowed to speak any language but Spanish. The first few days were emotionally challenging for me but as I slowly progressed in my studies of the language, it became a much more enjoyable experience. By the time I left Guatemala two months later, I was proficient in Spanish, gained new friends and felt a major accomplishment with my so called “solo travel” as a newbie. From then on, the urge to keep traveling by myself persisted. Even to this day, solo traveling has not gotten old. In fact, once you’ve been doing it for a while, part of yourself will remind you of the need to do it. In essence, traveling solo has become food for my soul and a much more enjoyable form of therapy.
Besides safety as a concern, I have known by experience and from tales told by other solo travelers that the impressions they receive from people as solo travelers can bend towards the negative at times. While compliments and encouragement are not uncommon from those that find solo traveling impressive, others may see it in a more negative light. Some may resort to judging you as being defective, creepy or weird, and accordingly, avoid your company altogether. I have run into solo travelers myself and majority of the time I find them to have the most insightful travel stories. Those who travel in groups tend to simply hold a more superficial view of their travel experiences, i.e. statements to the effect of I did x, y, z. In contrast, the solo travelers’ rendition of their adventures on the road tend to be more animated, and yes, they love to expand on the emotional, intuitive and the contextual aspects that most of us tend to miss out on when we travel in groups. In their story telling, one can easily feel a deep level of self-reflection. It’s because when you travel solo, you have more alone time to process the entire experience that goes beyond the superficial level. As a consequence, solo travelers tend to hold unique philosophical perspectives on life and a strong sense of survival – both being inspirational at their own right.
Traveling solo, unfortunately, continues to suffer a stigma. However, due to advancement in technology and the increase in options for maintaining contact with our loved ones from home, more people are starting to go on trips on their own. Also, once you hit the road by yourself, the truth is you will always have people to connect with including other solo travelers which leads to you gaining one or more travel companions. In my own solo travels, the irony has always been the fact that I end up never having alone time. It’s only when I return home that I manage to have the much needed “me” time. To compensate for the lack of alone time on the road, I respond by planning yet another “solo” travel.
The moral of all this is if you haven’t traveled solo, do it. It’s a scary experience as a first timer no doubt but the outcome is life changing. If you’ve been traveling solo, keep doing it. Who cares about the haters? Just keep in mind, that what you’re doing is rare and most people would not even have the courage to do it. Whatever negative criticism they have of you traveling solo is a mere reflection of themselves, not you. Whether you like it or not, there are people who do get inspired by your solo travels without you even knowing it. Finally, for those who come across solo travelers on your journeys, have a chat with them; or better yet, invite them to join you for a meal or even to partake in your own travels. If they say ‘yes’ to the invitation, consider yourself lucky as having their companionship even for a brief moment can only enrich your existence by virtue of their personal travel stories and inspirational views on life.
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