Going Solo: 10 Things I Learned While Travelling On My Own
Incredibly brave or slightly insane - that are pretty much the two responses I got when I told anyone that I would go travelling on my own to South East Asia. Last month, I returned from a vacation to Thailand and Cambodia where I travelled around backpacking-style for three weeks on my own. Whenever I mention(ed) this fact to colleagues or my wider circle of friends, most people were and continue to be quite astonished and tell me how brave I am/was to go there on my own as a twenty-something woman. Even though you meet tons of female (and male, of course) solo travellers while on the road that are out there for much longer than I was, it still seems to be an usual choice to many - but it is something I can only recommend, to women and men! So here are ten things I learned while travelling on my own.
But first things first, a bit of back story: I'm a social person but I never had a problem spending time on my own. While I love spending time with my family and friends, I also enjoy being on my own. The first time I travelled solo, I didn't even really think about it: I spent my gap year in Australia working as an au pair in Sydney, naturally going there on my own and trying to see as much of the country as possible whenever I had time off. Most of the time it was with friends I met while living down under. As our schedules didn't match at the end of my au pair year, I went on my own to the Red Centre, the Top End, Cairns and Cape Tribulation. On my way back to Germany, I also stayed in Singapore for a couple of days. Since then, I have occasionally travelled on my own through Europe for (part of the) holiday.
#1: Alone doesn't mean lonely
On my travels - whether in Asia or beyond - I was never really alone, unless I decided to. Backpackers are the friendliest community and you’ll never be alone unless you choose to be. If you stay at a hostel, chances are high that you will know half the life story of at least three fellow travellers within the first hour or two of your arrival. Of course there will also be hostels where you won't immediately run into tons of other travellers but trust me, you will eventually meet people. While you may meet friends for life, most will simply be fleeting acquaintances and that's fine.
#2: To be on your own
Yes, there will days when you will wander through a metropolis all by yourself, an evening where you will see the sun set on a beach on your own or no one to talk to at dinner. But guess what, that's fine. You learn to love your own company and feel at peace while being on your own.
#3: To (force yourself to) take the first step
Since I was a child, I have always been an introvert. I'm just not a person who enters a large room figuratively screaming "Here I am!" immediately striking up conversations with strangers. However, my travels taught me to be less shy about taking the first step to meet a person, whether they are fellow travellers or locals.
#4: To be myself and myself enough
Being on your own also means being away from other people’s needs and expectations, so you can truly be you. At first, it's a very new thing to spend that much time by yourself and it is something you have to 'learn' for lack of a better word. However, you will soon discover new things about yourself and also have a lot of time thinking about yourself and your life. Eventually I learned to be myself enough and that I do not need to fit other peoples expectations and constantly earn their approval - probably one of the most important lessons I learned in life generally!
#5: Difficult situations let you grow
Of course there will be moments when not everything goes according to plan - and there is no help so you have devise your own new plan. But there has never been a situation I could not master. I don't think I have ever met an unfriendly local who blankly refused to help me.
#6: It's okay to feel uneasy
...or maybe even scared. While I can't actually recall a situation where I felt really scared, there have certainly been a bunch of moments when I did feel uneasy because I wasn't really sure what was going on, I was lost or because of the neighbourhood I was in and it was getting dark or the people around me - but that's totally fine and even good. It makes you assess the situation around you. Always trust your gut instinct.
#7: It empowers you
Solo travel is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. There is no one you can rely on but yourself - and if you do it and you are successful, you become stronger and more confident in your own abilities. There will be fears you need to face and there is no easy way to do it. But when you travel alone, your confidence levels grow and you develop as a person. You prove to yourself that you can take on new challenges and deal with problems as they arise. A valuable lesson for all your life.
#8: To just go with the flow
When I was younger, I felt the constant need not to miss anything on my travels. I'm not actually sure whether my solo-travelling is the reason or just becoming older and a tiny bit wiser, but I learned that it is alright not to see every tourist sight a place has to offer. Just go with the flow and do what you want, even if that is just sitting in a café for hours reading a book. The best holiday memories rarely include a city's most famous sight but those little moments in between. Be selfish and seek out the opportunities you want to experience.
#9: Seeing the world with different eyes
When you travel in a group, you are in your own little bubble, a place where it is easy to live in. However when going solo, you will need to face your prejudices and assumptions much more. You will encounter people and situations that will challenge your views on the world. So it is essential to keep on open mind and ultimately you will start seeing the world with different eyes.
#10: Sometimes travelling solo is sh*t
Because yes, there will be moments when nothing goes according to plan, you feel powerless and there will also come moments when you feel lonely and just want a friend to share a meal with, talk to or say nothing at all - but they are just as fleeting as the moment you'd wish to be on your own during a trip with family or friends. It's normal to not be happy and content all the time. But I would do it again and again...
...because above all travelling solo is wonderful!
And not just because it allows you to eat your favourite food for three days straight, spent hours in a café or sitting on a bench in a crowded street to observe life - but because it enriches you in so many ways that are hard to describe. I can't and wouldn't to force anyone to do, but if you ever thought about it and then thought you couldn't do it, trust me: You can! If there is a place you want to visit but nobody lease wants: Just go! It will be worth it.