Solo travel can be awesome. It can also be some of the lowest moments of your life. Many people rave about it, many are afraid of it. Here’s a look at both sides of the story:
Freedom and flexibility: Solo travel allows you to have the freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want. Go cheap and stay in hostels, or splash out on a night of luxury. You can be flexible with your mode of transport and destination, stay longer or shorter in places if you want to.
Independence: Solo travel gives you a sense of independence. You’re doing this all alone, it’s your responsibility to stay safe and find your own way around. Overcoming obstacles will give you a sense of accomplishment.
Adventure: Travelling alone provides adventure. You can go skydiving or bungy jumping all on your own without anyone to convince you that it’s not a good idea. One day you can be in Egypt checking out the pyramids, the next you can be in Petra. Maybe you fancy trekking in Africa to see Mountain Gorillas. Do it! No one is going to stop you.
Memories: Your memories will be your own. How many times have you been to a movie or exhibition and once you’ve discussed it with someone, your thoughts about it have changed? When you travel on your own, your memories and experiences of a place and culture are your own; no one can change those.
Become more social: Meeting new people will become second nature. Solo travel teaches you to become a personable sort of person. Talking to people in restaurants, hostels and at tourist attractions will give you opportunities to share experiences with like-minded people and learn of new and exciting places to go to.
Health: If you get sick, you’re on your own. You have to find your own help and make your own decisions about where to get that help. Travel insurance is a must and learning not to wait too long to seek help before your health gets worse is important. Admitting yourself into hospital on day two somewhere and missing a few days is better than ending up in hospital the day before you leave that city and missing several travel connections.
Getting Lost: If you get lost, you’re on your own. It will happen, it is just a matter of whether you’re prepared or not. Try to know where you’re going before you start out. Be prepared to point to a map and gesture for assistance to people that speak another language.
Loneliness: You’ll get lonely. Your independence is great, but there will come times where’ll you just miss your family, friends and familiar things. Skype and email can be great. Consider taking a small photo album with you on your travels, not only to remind you of home when you need it, but also to share with locals and fellow travellers that may not know anything about your home country.
If you don’t like eating alone in restaurants take a book or consider alternatives. You could eat a larger meal at lunch or try the local street food and find a nice spot near a tourist attraction to relax and enjoy people-watching while eating.
Unwanted Attention: Solo female travellers can get you unwanted attention in some countries. Ways to reduce this can be wearing a wedding ring, dressing appropriately and figuring out a story about your other half being somewhere nearby if someone asks. Consider how safe it is out at night, listen to your heart and do what you think is safe. Be smart, but don’t be scared.
Costs: Single supplements and minimum numbers are some of the most frustrating aspects to solo travel. Consider hostels to avoid paying an arm and a leg for accommodation. Buddying up with people you meet on your travels can help keep the cost down on tours. Sometimes it can be cheaper to take local transport to sights and do it your own way than paying for guided tours.
So should you travel solo or not? Short answer: Do it. Just be prepared and take it in your stride.
It’s important to remember that it is all part of the experience. Things will go wrong, but you will become stronger for getting through them and feel like you have accomplished something personally. If you miss people, join the odd group tour or talk to other solo travellers you meet. Try not to shy away from solo travel experiences, instead, embrace them. The experiences can be so much more rewarding when you do them your own way.
Text and Photography by Ngaire Ackerley. Ngaire Ackerley is a Kiwi travel and photography blogger at kiwifootprints.com and designack.com. She’s never far from adventure, with her camera close at hand.