Solo travel: 6 reasons to wander alone

Buckling my seatbelt on the flight from New York to London, it finally struck me that I was going on this trip to Europe alone.

Call it a delayed reaction, but after months and months of planning my trip, the fear and trepidation of traipsing across a continent all by myself occurred only at the last minute.

Although this solo European adventure was not my first excursion outside my home country, it was the first time I would be traveling alone.

Why did I decide to go solo? During my previous travels, there was always a part of me that longed to separate from the group. I wanted to take in every sight, sound and smell like a greedy child. With a travel buddy, the journey felt too safe. I felt as if I had cheated and taken the sterile route.

The goal for this trip was to escape the four corners of my cubicle, the frightening comfortability of a daily routine, and my approaching quarter-life crisis. I thought of the comments and protests made by my family and friends, who told me that my plans were impossible and unsafe, and that I was “only a girl.”

Determined to prove them wrong, I reminded myself why I decided to travel solo:

1. Enjoy Complete Freedom

Traveling alone allows you to be the “Captain Of Your Own Destiny.” It is an experience of ultimate freedom. You can choose to satisfy your every desire or indulgence.

You can taste-test an array of cuisines from the local market without someone crinkling their nose in disgust; and alternatively you won’t have anyone forcing you to eat anything you would rather not try.

The time you lay your head on the pillow or decide to rise is your prerogative. You can wander the streets of Madrid at 3 a.m. without a travel partner pouting in annoyance. There is no need to sacrifice any plan for the sake of compromise.

2. Challenge Yourself

You are responsible to no one but yourself. Every wrong turn or misstep is yours – and yours alone.

With only a backpack for company, traveling alone is one of the greatest yet most rewarding challenges you can choose to take on. It forces you to be confident in your choices. Every decision is based upon your own sense of self-belief.

There is no one to seek counsel or rely upon, and so trusting your own instincts becomes a necessary survival skill. If the first step of travel is to take the plunge into the unknown, then walking the road alone requires leaping headfirst off an 80-foot cliff.

It is precisely these challenges that make you stronger. You are responsible to no one but yourself. Thus, every wrong turn or misstep is yours – and yours alone.

3. Attain Deeper Insights

Risk is always a factor when traveling. However, oftentimes there is greater danger to a group of unprepared travelers than a single prepared one.

Loneliness is inevitable. Even so, I have found that the quiet solitude of solo travel has led to my deepest insights about my own nature and the realities of others. The sensation of being connected in a world so vast and varied leaves you humbled and filled with gratitude.

The solo traveler can revel in the the long-lost freedom of becoming ‘one’ with the landscape. There is no need to fill the empty gaps of time with desperate, painful dialogue; rather you can retreat into the deepest recesses of your mind and imagination.

Everything taste better, shines brighter, and seeps deeper into your bones when all you have are your thoughts and a notebook. You become a sponge, absorbing every detail and sensation of a new location. The intensity of your aloneness magnifies this privilege.

4. Leave Home (And Travel Companions) Behind

Taking the road with a companion (or a hoard of them) often means that you’re packing remnants of home along with your guidebook.

As a solitary traveler, observation became my main means of entertainment. I observed people traveling as a couple or in a group who, rather than noticing the windmills of Don Quixote’s Spain, or the different characters that boarded the train in Malaysia, all too often were lost in conversation about the latest gossip from back home.

Thus, they often failed to see the flashing landscape of a country and the habits that made its people unique.

Another tendency that I noticed by observing packs and pairs of backpackers was that they seemed to be surrounded by an “invisible shield” – a force field that appeared impenetrable and intimidating to fellow travelers and locals. It was as though they had a sign stating Do Not Approach in bold, neon lights.

5. Meet The Locals

As a lone traveler, you become more curious and active in your new environment.

As a lone traveler, you become more curious and active in your new environment.

I remember wandering down the beach in Asilah, Morocco, encountering a kif-smoking goat-herder. Despite the language barrier, we struck up a friendship. He took hold of my guidebook and started pointing out places on the map and gave me their names in Arabic, while I stated the county names in English.

Though most of our conversation was dominated by clumsy hand movements and mutual laughter, it was an interaction that I will never forget.

It was also an encounter that I highly doubt I would have experienced if I had been with a partner or a collection of friends.

6. See With Clear Eyes

Whether or not you travel with others can also affect the “eyes” with which you view the journey. The desire to please and be accepted, most especially by those whom we consider our peers, is an innate and almost inescapable social need.

Thus, a traveler may often see the world through his partner’s eyes and censor her opinions for the sake of “peace” or “agreement.”

The travel writer Alain de Botton elucidates this point in his 2002 book “The Art of Travel,” stating:

It seemed an advantage to be traveling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially molded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others. They may have particular visions of who we are and hence may subtly prevent certain sides of us from emerging… Being closely observed by a companion can also inhibit our observation of others; then, too, we may become caught up in adjusting ourselves to the companions questions and remarks, or feel the need to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity.

Traveling with others may not only hinder us from being truly ourselves, but also thwart the spiritual growth that comes with a journey. The partner or group serves the function of preserving the identity we constructed for ourselves before the trip.

Shedding the shell that one has built over time becomes an unlikely possibility when fellow travelers are there to constantly remind you of who you were – and who they think you still should be.

The Road Back…or Forward

We return home from travel with a transformed view of the world. People often say that ‘you are not the same person you were in your twenties when you are in your thirties,’ and travel accelerates this metamorphosis. Every trip enriches you in ways that can never be recreated or reproduced.

A traveler who sets out alone is like a bird pushed out of the nest and obliged to take flight on its own. Travel solo, spread your wings, and soar above and beyond your greatest hopes and dreams.

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  • http://surfeatsleep.blogspot.com Brenda Yun

    This is a great, well-written article that I absolutely agree with. How many times have I mis-stepped or discovered something solo and been thankful that it was my mis-step or my discovery alone.

    Thanks for this!

  • http://www.startbackpacking.com Greg

    Well said….! Walking alone is the only way for me. :)
    – Greg

  • http://www.scottstravelblog.com Scott

    I agree, there is something different about being by yourself in which I feel everyone has to experience at least once in their life.

    -Scott

  • http://www.women-on-the-road.com Scribetrotter

    I travel solo whenever I can – and do share your philosophy. I’m not unsociable at all, and often team up with other travelers along the way for a stretch, but the freedom of not quite knowing where I’m going next or what I’ll be doing or whom I’ll be meeting is for me a burst of energy.

    Solo travel makes me face myself in ways I would never do with a companion. Most important, it removes any obligation to compromise, to do something I don’t want for someone who does.

  • http://www.boldlygosolo.com boldygosolo.com

    Until they’ve traveled solo, a lot of people don’t realize how much they accommodate themselves to a travel partner or a group. I wholeheartedly agree with your reason number six for traveling alone (as well as the other five). With companions, we spend too much time preserving an identity, as you say, or trying to please or be accepted. Thanks for putting it into words. They are subtle but very real changes in our behavior that can limit us while traveling. And in life in general. Important to recognize.

  • http://www.whynot46.blogspot.com Edward Harran

    Agree with everyone above.

    A group provides comfort, a security shield, a barrier between you and the culture you are in. Solo travel challenges you, forces you to face real challenges – do I trust this guy? should I catch this bus? where am I?. Ultimately resulting, well, what I felt, was a deeper self-awareness of the fundamental “me”

    The irony of solo travel though is that even though we say we are going “solo”, you never really are. If you force yourself, company will always seems to find you. A friendly local. A fellow backpacker. Your diary. A book.

  • Cindy

    I recently booked a trip by myself to Germany. I have never gone, am not married and have reached the big 5-0. I thought that if I don’t go now, I may not get to go with this amount of freedom and personal “fortitude”. When everyone asks whom I am going with, and I reply noone, they are shocked. Are you sure you are going to be ok??? But you are a female? (and with long blonde hair I had one add).
    I suppose I was amazed at myself. I have always done everything “alone”. I have been divorced for 20 years, and knew that if I wanted something done, I had to do it myself. I have gotten to the point that I would rather go alone. I know myself, and what I like to eat, and do. I can’t think of a better companion for a first time experience!! I have always risen when I wanted, ate what I wanted, and gone into a dark out of the way place when everyone else was backing up. I wanted to know what was inside!!!!
    I don’t know if I will bring a book, as that will make me sit for longer than I like..lol..but maybe I will write one!!!! I have always wante to do that too!!!

  • http://www.romanceexpressions.com Jay Hall

    I enjoy very much to travel solo. It gives you a chance to be yourself and do some of the things that friends might not enjoy. You don’t have to compromise because you are solo. I am not saying never take a friend, but when your opportunity come to travel solo, go for it. You just might decide to seek a little online dating in that area before you leave. Your biggest task is to always use extra caution when traveling alone.

  • http://www.kango.com/hotels/claremont_ca_hotel_9312184.html Kango Suz

    One of the hardest things for me about deciding to get married was knowing that I was leaving my solo travel days behind me. Luckily I’ve also found that my husband and I travel well together. Better yet, he doesn’t feel the need to travel with me whenever I leave the country so I can still travel solo. Solo travel is worth all the work that planning ahead and maintaining a residence in the US is.

  • http://www.on-common-ground.com Roldan F. Smith

    Wonderfully put, Michaela. Often times the best reflection and inner learning comes from the quiet times on a solo journey broken up by the beauty of the meeting of kindred souls along the way whom you would not meet if you were not alone. Alas, the lesson learned by most inner peace solo travellers is that one truly is never really alone in the first place. And that’s the beauty of the experience really.

    namaste,
    Roldan

  • http://whereoldbackpackersgotodie.blogspot.com dromedarius

    Loved it … What a well written, succint and powerfully argued piece. Solo travel also produces intense friendships with those you meet on the road. While most of these friendships do not last longer than the week or two shared travelling they do seem to have a depth, a resonance to them that many friendships at home fail to have. It’s only when travelling solo that I’ve made those strong bonds with a fellow wanderer. When travelling with companions from home the friendships you make on the road seem not to have the same depth or connectedness.

    Dromedarius’ last post was on the Trans-Manchurian at http://whereoldbackpackersgotodie.blogspot.com

  • Alana

    I just booked a trip to Cuba on my own with no idea as to how things will go. All I know is I'm staying in Varadero and then I'm hiring a driver to take me to Havana where I'll stay for a couple of days. I am single turning 35 and I am a woman. None of these things will deter me from the adventure of it all. Thanks for a great article.

  • http://www.vagabondinglife.com/traveling-alone/ Greg

    I agree 100% with you and in fact, just wrote about the same thing: http://www.vagabondinglife.com/traveling-alone/ Cheers for a great article!

  • http://www.travel-varadero.com Varadero Travel

    There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also.

  • Kevin

    Wow! That was great. Very inspiring

  • http://blythe025.livejournal.com Andrea Blythe

    Well said. I will be having my first solo travel in less than a month. I will only be four days on my own in Hawaii. This is only after attempting to find a travel partner in just about everyone I know (none could afford it). There is a certain amount of fear with this prospect. I keep thinking I will bored or lonely on my trip, that I won’t know how to fill my days, especially since I can be shy around new people.

    I think the trip will go fine, though. I’m very excited. I’ve made loose plans with the idea that I can change my mind as I go, something I probably couldn’t do with a partner.

  • http://sanjeevstravelguide.blogspot.com/2009/09/solo-travel.html Sanjeev’s Travel Guide

    Thanks. The extra info helped a lot.

  • http://www.millionclues.com/about Arun Basil Lal

    Also you make more friends when you travel alone, not the mention the cool stories you will have when you return :)

  • Jeronimo

    I just did my first solo trip back in September and it was amazing! I went to Peru. I went wherever I wanted to go and visited the places I wanted to visit at the time I wanted. I made friends and had an amazing adventure! I rode a horse, climbed a mountain, rode the local bus, went to the local market and walked and walked in the magical city of Cusco before going to Macchu Picchu. The lost city of Macchu Picchu was so amazing because I could take in every single detail of it with out having someone rushing me. Now I’m planning another adventure and I am positive that it will be as memorable as the last one.

    • Martin

      Hi Jeronimo,

      How long was your trip to Peru? I live in Canada, and will have a week off shortly. Starting to really enjoy solo trips, Peru is on my list of places to visit. I just don’t know if a week is enough. Otherwise thinking of visiting Washington DC, not too far from Toronto.

      Martin

  • starr

    it’s affirming to read this, because it has been on my mind lately. i always thought it would be too scary to travel alone, but lately i am thinking that anyone else is going to ruin it. i mean, it still seems really crazy; i’m so shy, deal with stress so badly, and people i know still sort of see me as a child. and they think my desire to go to places like serbia, tibet, eastern europe… well, just about everywhere i want to go, they think it’s completely crazy. and that’s not even taking into account that i want to go *alone*. but it’s the only way to be free!

  • http://bethpartin.com Beth Partin

    Thank you, Michaela, for bolstering my determination to travel alone!

  • Matt

    Well written, reading that has motivated me to save up again for my next solo adventure!

  • Kaz

    Wonderful wonderful piece of writing. I have traveled alone on a couple of short trips, but its been a while, and reading this has reinforced my desire to travel alone to India next year. It is hard traveling by yourself but of course, the unique experiences you gather through your journeys are well worth it. Thanks anyway, for snuffing out any silly prohibitions I was starting to have, traveling solo is so poignantly beautiful.

  • Lisa

    Hi Michaela & thanks for your affirming piece ! :). In fact as of today, I was having an oil change etc. for an extended “solo” road trip through the antebellum South, and the mechanic was mesmerized… ” Alone ? I mean, ALONE ?” LOL. I explained that it was magical to be able to slow and stop at ANY historic road sign; sample penny candy at some dusty country store without someone saying “Let’s JUST GET THERE!” … taking a side route along some twilight shadowed route, having dinner with the locals at “their” diner, and hearing stories of children, ghosts, Spanish Moss…”. :) I’m a believer.

  • http://www.understandinglove.info Sarah Chambers

    What an amazing inspirational article. Your self-awareness and courage to step onto this path and create such a wonderful journey certainly reflects in your words. You write with such depth of feeling and spiritual insight for a person so young, it is so refreshing. Thank you for sharing.

  • Stephanie

    Incredibly Amazing!

  • http://www.thegirlunderthefiretree.blogspot.com/ Katie Io F. Nelson

    Hi Michaela! I’d like to express my deep appreciation for your article. I’ve been wanting to travel alone. The things that you said,

    “I wanted to take in every sight, sound and smell like a greedy child. With a travel buddy, the journey felt too safe. I felt as if I had cheated and taken the sterile route.

    The goal for this trip was to escape the four corners of my cubicle, the frightening comfortability of a daily routine, and my approaching quarter-life crisis.”

    were the exact things that I have been thinking for so many years now! Again, you inspired me with your courage and openness to the world around you. May you find more reasons to inspire us, budding globe trotters!

    Sincerely,
    Katie ;-)

  • Liana

    I think that your article is poignant not only for those who travel solo, but for those who travel with friends and want to avoid making “group think” mistakes. While I hardly have to worry about some of these things when traveling with my partner of ten years (I don’t need to preserve my identity, he knows every face I wear, good and bad), I think your tips will help me be more open, more curious and more aware whether I travel alone or with friends. Great job!

  • Atul

    i am absolutely agree with all above points,,,,,,,,,,i travlled dubai,,africa………..and always alone..and belive me nothing can be compair with this……….Captain Of Your Own journey…………….

  • http://singlesbythebaytravel.com Steve Juba

    This is a great article and I also agree that traveling alone has amazing benefits. I’ve traveled Bali, Fiji, Hawaii, & the Outback on my own and had experiences with people that you can’t have with groups.

    That being said there is a time for both types of travel and many solo travelers can also have fun with an organized group where you can sit back and have all the planning done for you.

    A great one I travel with is Singles by the Bay Travel club

    There info is here: singlesbythebaytravel.com

  • Pablo Ilich

    This article has a lot of time, but it seems is very alive even years after!
    I’m 19, and this weekend is my first big travel alone. I realize that almost every person of my age I know (or knew) in my everyday life has not made an experience like this. It seems more common on other places, and I don’t know why, but I don’t want to lose the opportunity of knowing my own choices (and a great landscape!). And, of course, I really need to disconnect of my family. Greetings!

  • Vicki

    I’m planning my first venture into solo travel two months from now. Not abroad, just 2 hours away. Far enough away to be seeing new sights, close enough to home to not be spending a fortune on gas or plane tickets. I’m from Delaware and I’m visiting Cape Charles, a small town on Virginia’s lower eastern shore. On the first day, I’ll be stopping half way to take a one day cruise on the Chesapeake Bay. I’m so excited, and I needed this article to help me see that traveling alone isn’t scary or lonely.

  • http://twitter.com/Usman_Alone Usman

     herefordshire campervan hireTravel as you know can revolve around aspects such as destinations, coaches, flights and insurance etc and leisure revolves around aspects that you enjoy doing and taking part in within your daily lives. Here at Article Alley we have combined these two to form our travel and leisure section.

  • https://dominiquem.journoportfolio.com/ Dommy Mars

    Excellent and inspiring article! This is something I’m in the midst of doing, so this article provides a lot of insight. There are more pros to traveling alone than cons…and I can’t wait to experience every blissful, dreadful moment of it. : )