5 Things They Don’t Tell You About Travelling Alone
Is travelling solo what it's all cracked up to be? Shafinah Neville dishes the dirt on being your own travel partner and speaks from experience about what it's really like travelling on your own.
Enough about meeting new people and finding yourself. Travelling solo is more than just “wanderlustic” ideals about being able to whatever you want, whenever you want. Scores of articles will be quick to impress upon you the excitement of re-inventing yourself and embarking on that all-empowering journey towards great personal growth; but the truth is, when you’re out there alone on the open road and you find yourself stuck in a situation you can’t get out of, no way in hell will you be assessing it from a higher, more objective point of view and going, Oh, look! Here’s an opportunity to build character!
No. That comes after. Chances are, at that given moment, you’ll be kicking and screaming inside your head, cursing the day you decided to take on this world by yourself.
The idea of empowerment is beautiful, yes, but the process of attaining it isn’t always. Acute self-awareness, discipline, being able to problem-solve without developing a nervous breakdown; these are some of the things people overlook when concocting their own dreamy versions of what being out on the road alone will look like. It doesn’t always necessarily have to be a nightmare, but if all you’re equipped with are romanticized notions about the art of being alone, then you’re breeding a serious fallacy.
For what it’s worth, travelling solo is most parts fun, exhilarating, intensely personal, and highly rewarding; but a lot of it also comes with good effort, realistic expectations, and to a certain extent, an unwavering determination to live the little things and not let tiny details weigh you down. If anything, listed below are five small doses of reality that will dish out the real dirt about travelling alone. And I promise you, this one will go well beyond ‘meeting new people’ and ‘experiencing personal growth’ and ‘being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want’.
1. You Cannot Be Afraid of Being Alone.
Off the top of my head, I can rattle off at least five good reasons why travelling alone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Economies of scale is top of that list; as is perceived safety. Not to mention that being able to make all the decisions by yourself also means having to make all the decisions by yourself. Loneliness will also hit you when you least expect it – usually when you’re having the most amount of fun; and no matter how much of a free-spirited wild child you decide that you are, eventually, you will discover that total independence and self-reliance can work out to be a disheartening bitch sometimes.
Thing is, you need to decide for yourself if all of the above is worth the pain and sacrifice at the end of the day. There is no perfect decision in this world that comes without its own set of pros and cons, and like everything else, travelling solo is no exception to the rule. If anything, you cannot be afraid of being alone, and despite what everyone says, you cannot make ‘meeting people’ the highlight of your trip. It is counter-productive. There must have been a reason why you chose to go out there alone after all, and being overly attached to the idea of collecting friends along the way makes it feel like maybe, you should have set out with your own travelling guild in the first place. If you actually decide to do this, then at least make the effort to meet yourself. Don’t avoid your own company. Even if you chance upon some really great people along the way (and trust me, you will), some things are still best done with your own company, so don’t let that go.
2. Leave Your Baggage Behind.
Not literally, of course – we’re talking about baggage of the emotional kind here. Because if there is one golden rule to abide by when travelling solo, it’s this: you best leave it all behind. Whether you’re travelling to discover or travelling to escape, being alone in a completely foreign land provides a very rare opportunity to break away from whatever’s been weighing you down and to just, let your natural rhythm guide your course. Leave the mess back from where you came. You didn’t go through all that money-scrimping and planning just to lug with you a huge wet blanket nine thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean. Sadness has a way of leeching itself onto our souls in ways so subtle we may not even notice; but trust me, there are far more important things to pack into your luggage than that. Like optimism. And excitement. And faith that life gets better from here.
3. Don’t Feel Obligated to Travel A Certain Way.
If you ever make that quantum leap to start travelling solo, the last thing you should do is travel on someone else’s terms. With all these running images of wanderlust travels and quotes making their way around the internet, it is not difficult for us to buy into that whole hippie-chic gypsy appeal that is heavily attached to the notion of solo travelling today.
Who doesn’t want to hitch-hike and couchsurf and look like a bohemian goddess all at the same time? But this isn’t Coachella. It’s reality. Sometimes, we want to do non-glamorous things that might not necessarily make the travelling hipster cut. Sometimes, we may even want to indulge in a more traditional lodging establishment instead of the trendiest hostel that’s housing all the other cool, hip vagabonds. Instead of cramping your own style with tokenistic ideals, free yourself from the chains of societal norms and just, do what you want to do. Don’t stick yourself into a mold, gain the world and then lose your soul. Essentially, our own travels need to be filled with things that speak out to who we really are, and not just what the rest of the world thinks we should be doing when we’re at a said destination.
Does that make us any less authentic of a traveller? I hardly think so.
4. Indulge in Impulse.
Come on, one of the main reasons you left everyone back home is so that you can call all the shots. Why grant yourself that leverage and then hold back? It’s easy to forget the reason why you signed your name on that dotted line, or what you’d just flown nine thousand miles across two oceans for. But surely it has to be for more than just bumping up your Instagram and Facebook feeds with revered location check-ins and properly primmed selfies? Believe in accidental discoveries, indulge in the exhilaration of the unknown.
In fact, your solo travel itinerary should be cluttered with all kinds of weird and wonderful activities– after all, who’s going to be standing around and judging or veto-ing your crazy (but legal, I hope) decisions? The biggest mistake you could possibly make is to go, “I could never do that,” even when you’re on your own. Because then it seems like the one person you really shouldn’t have brought on the trip is yourself.
5. That Said, Figure Out What It Is You Want to Do On Your Own.
Traveling alone can be as intoxicating as it can be backbreaking, so don’t make things hard on yourself by overdoing spontaneity just for the sake of coming across as this free-spirited wanderlust who’s on the top of every traveller’s inspiration list.
One of the best things that comes with being on your own is that you get to set the pace and the schedule, so what can be planned beforehand should be settled beforehand. Recklessness is whimsical, but small hassles can add up to be an ultimate trip killer– especially when the only person you are relying on 24/7 is yourself. That said, don’t get too ambitious with your planning either. Overscheduling can be quite the downer, especially when you start letting the clock dictate your every move.
Bottom line is that you pick your own battles, and you pick them right. Don’t expect everything to go perfectly one hundred percent of the time because surely, something won’t. Just know that whatever happens, the mistakes are your own to revel in. And so are the triumphs.