The first time I travelled alone, really alone, was in 2011. I spent six months on a working holiday visa in Australia. I knew the country already, because I have family over there and had previously visited them and travelled around with family members. But this time it was different, because I would be all on my own for most of the time.
I didn’t really have a plan, other than that I wanted to start in Melbourne. It was an area of the country I didn’t know yet. I had a vague idea of looking for a job there while exploring the city, and then move on to other parts of Australia that I hadn’t seen. Basically, I just took my backpack and let things happen.
On departure I was in equal parts scared and excited. I had grown increasingly nervous as my flight approached, and hardly slept the last couple of nights. Because I’m such a quiet person you cannot alway tell what goes on inside, and many people found it remarkable how calm I seemed. But I really wasn’t.
How can I survive in a foreign country, when sometimes I’m hardly able to make conversation with the people I know?
Questions like that haunted me. As an introvert with sometimes very strong social anxiety it can be hard for me to approach strangers or get through social situations of any kind. But travelling solo would require me to constantly meet new people, get through new and unexpected situations, and deal with any problem that may arise all on my own. Was I really up for it?
True, I had been to Australia before. I knew something about the culture, I spoke the language. That ought to make it easier. Still, travelling solo is scary when you’ve never done it before. There is no one who to support you, advise you, or just cheer you up when you have a bad day. It wasn’t until I actually hit the road that I realised the upside to all of this.
Being alone on the road gives you a freedom not found in other forms of travel
Suddenly, I found that I enjoyed making my own decisions without having to consult someone else. I could go wherever I wanted to go, at my own pace. I could change my plans anytime and didn’t have to worry about going against someone else’s wishes or having to find a compromise.
Many introverts tend to worry a lot about what other people want, to the point where you rather agree to their plans than risk disappointing them. When you travel solo, you don’t have that problem. You can be free of the worry whether your travel companions are enjoying themselves too. The only one you need to please is yourself. That can be a liberating experience.
And there is something else that solo travel does. It teaches you that you can indeed take care of yourself without the help of others. I worried so much beforehand about what I would do when things should go wrong, because something always does. But I found that once that time arrives, there is always a way out. If you really can’t find it on your own, there will be people you can ask, such as fellow travellers, hostel staff, or tour guides. Because asking strangers for help is something you will become better at, too. It’s good practice that you constantly have to ask people to take a picture of you, if you’re as bad as I am with selfies.
The truth is, you aren’t really alone
Solo travel doesn’t mean you’re always and constantly by yourself. On the opposite, you’ll be surprised how quickly and easily you make friends with others. The best thing, you don’t have to be an attention-seeking extrovert for this. Meeting people happens almost automatically when you travel solo.
Typical places for these encounters are hostels and any kind of group tours, including day trips. But you can meet people in any situation. I went on an overnight bus from Melbourne to Adelaide, and by chance the girl sitting behind me was headed to the same hostel, so we spent several days exploring Adelaide and the Barossa Valley together after that. The point is, I have very rarely felt lonely on the road, because I always met people I could hang out with if I chose to.
Of course you also meet people when you travel with friends or family, but I find that it’s different. You may have a chat with them, but you don’t get as close as you would if you travel solo, because you already have a travel companion. Solo travel doesn’t mean you make a lifelong friend of everyone you meet, but I would argue that it is more likely. Often you happen to be travelling the same way for a time, and so you decide to stick together for a few days. Or you catch up the next time you’ll both be in the same location. Just as long as your itineraries keep overlapping, and once they don’t anymore you each go your own way.
The lessons learned from solo travel
Unlike a permanent travel companion, these chance encounters give you the freedom to take off on your own again any time you feel like it. You determine how much social interaction you want to put up with. Doesn’t that sound just perfect for all of us introverts?
Nowadays I find solo travel in many ways more relaxing than travelling with others. Sure, I enjoy the company of friends or family on a trip. But constantly being around other people, even those closest to me, can drain my energy. Solo travel may not always be easygoing either, but I’m free to take an off-day whenever I need it, without feeling bad about letting someone down.
Exploring a new place all by yourself is truly a different experience than doing it with others. It will let you grow in ways that group travel never will. You become more independent, more confident, and more relaxed about things going wrong, because you know you can handle it.
If you haven’t tried it yet, I strongly recommend you do it. It doesn’t have to be a months-long trip to the other end of the world. You can start small. Maybe do a weekend trip to some city that you don’t know yet. Just go somewhere and try it, because maybe you’ll be as surprised as I was about how much you enjoy it.
Have you travelled solo yet? If so, what do you like about it? Were you scared of it the first time, and did it surprise you how well it went? If you haven’t done it yet, is it something you’re thinking about? Share in the comments!