When I first decided that I wanted to travel, I only knew one other person who was doing it. Everybody I had grown up with, went to school with, or went to work with was quite content in their life back home, or was just not interested in life as a backpacking nomad. As a kid I was exceptionally shy and attended school to the bare minimum, so when I eventually left and started to consider my options, I realised very quickly that I didn’t have that comfort blanket of having a group of friends I could go travelling with. I had two choices - travel solo or stay home. Somewhere in me I got the confidence to go it alone and I am so glad I did.
Travelling solo is an entirely different experience to travelling in a group. You can change your flight path, route, or just whether or not you want to have a lie in that morning, at the drop of a hat. Flexibility is at its utmost. You can come and go as you please without having to consult or disrupt anyone else’s plans, and just the freedom to do whatever you want.
A common misconception with solo travel amongst many people is that you will feel lonely, have no-one to talk to, or just get bored on your own. I have found on every trip I have taken in the last 4 years since I started travelling for the first time, travelling alone brings me out of my shell and allowed me to make more friends on the road, for the simple reason that I have had to. Don’t get me wrong, the first day, especially on your first trip, you may feel a little lonely, but you soon find the confidence if you didn’t have it already to talk to other people. Travellers are a friendly bunch too. You often find if you are sitting down to a meal yourself or chilling out in the common room at a hostel people will invite you to join them, or your room mate will invite you to drinks.
If I could offer any hints and tips for those apprehensive about travelling solo for the first time it would be:
1. Stay in a hostel - hostels are a great place to meet other travellers, especially those travelling solo too. Pick somewhere with a good common room or kitchen where people can hang out.
2. Don’t be afraid to go up and speak to someone – Don’t be afraid to speak to other travellers, even if they are in a group most backpackers are friendly enough and will invite you to join them for a cheap drink or dinner at the hostel.
3. Share some goon/booze/food with your room mates. I found that the best way to get to know people was just to go for a drink. In places like Australia I would buy a box of goon (a very cheap wine that a lot of backpackers drink) and share it with my room mates or whoever was in the kitchen/common room. Nobody turns down free drink(!) and it gives you an opportunity to chat. More often than not people return the favour too. That being said I would only do it on the first night or with people you become good friends with as people will begin to take advantage of it like in most situations.
I think one of the biggest concerns I have come across with people thinking about travelling solo is safety. In reality, if you follow the same general rules of safety you would back home there really is no need to worry. Of course bad things can happen, but they can just as much in your home country. I come from a part of Glasgow which is the murder capital of Europe, from an area of the city where the life expectancy is only 62 just because of gang violence, yet I wouldn’t think anything about walking down the street to visit my relatives. If you are really worried about it then keep to populated areas, don’t go out alone at night, find other travellers to go out with, always carry a mobile with full battery, plus make sure your family have a copy of your flight path, insurance, and a regular update of where you are.
Solo travel allows you the freedom to do whatever you want. It gave me the confidence that I never had a kid, and although it is definitely possible to travel with other friends, partners, or tour groups, and have a great experience, I would urge you to try it at least once. There really is nothing like it.